Here’s a simple yet powerful practice technique: Alternate between a tune and its scale.
- If you’re practicing Arkansas Traveller, alternate between playing the tune and the D Major scale.
- Use a D drone to help with tuning and to make the practice more fun.
- Also alternate between playing small phrases from the tune and the scale.
If you make a habit of this, you’ll start to hear music in the scales and you’ll start to hear scales in the tunes you play.
- This will help you to learn tunes more quickly.
- It will help you to play backup parts and fills.
- It will help with improvisation, because you’ll have a better feel for what notes work in a tune.
- It makes daily practice more interesting.
- Finally, this practice will enrich the experience of listening to music. You’ll hear things that non-musicians just don’t perceive.
- Beginners can alternate between playing a mini-scale like D0-1-2-3 and a beginner tune like Bile ’em Cabbage Down, Fais Do Do, or When The Saints Go Marching In.
- Alternate between the Road to Lisdonverna and E Dorian.
- Add rhythmic variation of triplets or long-short (quarter-eighth)
- Alternate between Old Joe Clarke and A Mixolydian.
- A Mixolydian is A0-1-2-3-E0-1-L2-3
Alternating between a tune and its scale is an example of what I call a “practice loop”. The basic idea is to alternate between two complementary things. Some other examples:
- Alternate between singing and playing
- Alternate between reading and playing a piece of music
- Alternate between basic and variation
Usually a practice loop involves alternating between something easy and something more challenging. The easier thing is grounding. It allows you to relax and reset. In this case, the scale is the easier thing and the tune is the more challenging thing.
Here’s a more general lesson on Practice Loops.
Scale and technique practice does not have to be torture. If you manage to make scales and other techniques fun, then you will accelerate your learning.
Further learning and practice
Make a game of this by practicing several tunes that use the same scale. I call this the “Dronopoly” game. Here’s an example of this:
- Play D Major scale
Here are some other relevant lessons:
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