Alternate between a tune and its scale

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.

More examples

  • Beginners can alternate between playing a mini-scale like D0-1-2-3 and a beginner tune like Bile ’em Cabbage DownFais 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

Take-home message

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

This lesson is part of a series called “Power Practice Habits” 💪🏽. I’ve started to take notes on all the little unconscious things I do when I practice. I’m trying to translate these strategies so that you and other fiddlers can also use them too.

Many of these strategies are based on the idea of a practice loop; alternating between something basic and something more challenging (or at least different).

For example, practice loops can be used to learn and practice note-reading.

Learn more about this in the Note-reading for Fiddlers course. And you can find more Power Practice Tips in the How To Practice Fiddling course. Here are a few related lessons to check out:

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:

Here are some other relevant lessons:

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3 responses to “Alternate between a tune and its scale

    1. Hey Henry…just keep practicing. I’m hoping to do group lessons at two different times: 12 and 6 PM PST. That way people all around the world can tune in at a convenient time. Now training a fiddle tutor to help with this. 🤓