How to Practice Jazz Scales: Violin, Viola and Cello

Have you ever wondered how to practice jazz scales?

Christian Howes details how in his new book, “Jazz Scales for Violin, Viola, Cello.” Find it here!

If you’re a classically trained string player, you probably practice scales off the page. I bet you have Carl Flesch right there. Don’t pretend like you don’t.

You’ve probably seen scale methods help you with technical skills like intonation, vibrato, facility, and tone production.

But jazz musicians and other creative musicians don’t practice off a page. They often play scales from their heads so they can memorize or internalize melodic and harmonic relationships.

Want to learn how? Here are 4 ways that you can practice scales like a jazz musician. These steps will help you consolidate and generate more benefits from your precious practice time and still improve your technique.

1) Play the Scale in Root Position

For example, if you want to play a D melodic minor scale, simply start on D. Play the scale up to the next highest octave and back down. You’ve probably done something like that before.

2) Play the Scale in Extended Range

Don’t start on the root this time. Find the lowest note in the scale on your instrument and go to the highest note on the scale in first position.

For example, if you’re a violinist, you’d start on open G for D melodic minor. Then you’d play all the way to 4th finger B on the E string, and then back down. That’s extended range. Every possible note in at least 1 position.

It might help to visualize a key signature. In D melodic minor, there’s only 1 sharp. It’s C#. So you’d play every natural note in first position except sharp note C.

3) Start the Scale on Different Notes

In other words, start each scale repetition on a scale tone. For example, the first time through, you might play D melodic minor starting on your lowest possible note (open G for violins). The next time though, you might start on 1st finger A on the G string. The next time, you might go up another step and start on second finger B on the G string. And so forth.

The key is feel comfortable playing the scale starting on any and every scale tone.

Essentially, you’re playing all the modes of 1 scale.

Pro Tip: Still play in extended range, but in EVERY position.

For example, start D melodic minor in 2nd position (1st finger B on the G string for violinists), and play all the way up to 4th finger C# on the E string. Then, alternate starting notes just like you would in 1st position. Try it in as many positions as you can!

4) Play Sequences and Patterns

The next step is to vary the scale pattern. These can be 2 note patterns, 3 note patterns, and really anything else you can think of! Start simply and then try harder patterns.

For example, here’s a simple one. If you assign a number to each degree of the scale, a simple 2 note pattern would be 1-3, 2-4, 3-5 etc. Play that pattern up and back down. Then (you guessed it!) start from every degree of the scale. (see video for example)

So with that, you have the first 4 strategies for practicing scales!

Bare in mind that these exercises are important not just for developing your understanding of these melodic relationships, but for your listening. You’ll be able to hear and recognize what each scale sounds like.

Ultimately, you’ll want do do all this from your head. However, if you want something to read off of to get started, check out the book Jazz Scales for Violin, Viola and Cello.

In the meantime, please leave a comment about what helped you or anything Christian can help you understand!

Posted by: Susie Hofheins

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