Scale practice routine that’s as fun as drugs are bad

I promised to come back with more non-boring scale practice routine ideas, so here they are. I think I made it clear enough in this blog that I hate doing mechanical exercises and thoughtlessly practicing patterns. That’s not very helpful in a real-life situation (still, knowing fingering is important!) Anyway, here’s what I do when I want to learn the scale and be able to use it and also enjoy the sound of my exercise.

I call it scale dissection. You literally take the scale and divide it into small diatonic lines and then snort them in one after another (I swear I tried to come up with the better analogy). It could be something as easy as 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-1, or more sophisticated as b7-1, 1-b3, 5-1, 1-5-10 — you name it. Bottom line, it has to consist of scale tones. To keep left hand busy, you can choose something not very brain-processing-heavy, like a common pattern (see previous post) or — in this case — arpeggiated inversions. This would also improve hand independence. Playing dissected scale and arpeggiated inversion in the adjacent octaves is recommended for the maximum level of brain fuck.

Just like doing an ollie 360 on a skateboard, trying the whole thing unprepared might result in injuries, therefore it might be helpful to approach in three stages:

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I’m making a one measure pause after each bit to buy me some time and figure out the notes and fingering. Next, making sure I can play arpeggios steadily enough to not to care too much about the right hand:

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And, finally, the full version:

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And that’s just one scale! You can do the same in C minor now:

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And the beauty of this routine is that you don’t have to play the same stuff in all keys. If you feel like it, you can dissect C minor in a completely different way — and then practice switching to in from F minor pattern seamlessly! Sounds like another 2 hours of work right?

Also, all arpeggiated inversions could be replaced with chord permutations (like, 1-3-5-7 or 3-7-5-1, etc.), which can then also be inverted. And what about blues and bebop scales? What about bloody Vagadhisvari scale? You get the idea. Have fun—

More descending motion practice + making it hurt for the right hand

“I only start counting when it starts to hurt” — inspired by this Mohammed Ali quote, I decided to make it hurt (well, for my brain) during today’s practice session. I am currently focusing on descending motion in the left hand as it’s my weakness (due to the years of ignoring reverse arpeggios), but, as you know, I don’t like doing just one thing as it quickly gets boring and frustrating. So I took two of my older exercises and added some mindfuck to them to also work on right hand.

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This is the continuation on the original one. I simply play 9ths over moving inversions, and because there is this panicky moment when hands are about to overlap, this version makes me think more, i. e. makes it hurt in a more effective way. Right?

Secondly, I came up with an improvement for this exercise. Now the right hand is involved, too, and it has to play the pattern that gets more and more complicated with each measure. The biggest fun for me happens in the last measure where I have to think about different scale degrees that I have to play with my left and my right hands. Yes, brain, it feels natural both physically and sonically to play C and then D with both hands, but in this case, it has to be D and then doubled Eb! (See sheet music for the explanation of this inner dialogue.)

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Descending motion is important, too!

Just realised that since I have discovered broken 10th patterns, I’ve been focusing heavily on ascending motion, almost completely ignoring the descending part. Here’s a workout that I’ve recently come up with to make up for that.

Left hand plays descending 10-5-1 pattern and then also continues with descending pattern of diatonic intervals alternating with the root. Doing it around the cycle of 4ths, as always!

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Then, of course, there’s the Fear Of Overlapping™ that has to be addressed — also in the context of descending motion. So here’s another exercise that does the job for me:

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Here I’m doing the same trick with alternating voicings (3-7-9 to 7-3-5) and forcing the left hand to play the same key as the right within one measure. I wrote about this here a little bit more in-depth.

Piano day (1h 40m)

Modal studies

  • Lydian DNA in 7th arpeggios
    • LH only
    • LH + alternating shells in RH (gave up pretty quickly, need to approach it slowly)
  • Harmonising Lydian scale in chord pairs around the cycle in growing gaps (Imaj7 — II7, Imaj7 — iii, Imaj7 — #IV, etc. — e. g. C — D, F — A-, Bb — Eø, etc.) — extra cool exercise!

Arpeggios + combined LH & RH melodic studies

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This badass workout achieves three goals:

  • Improve LH technique by drilling the 2-octave arpeggios along with harmonic intervals
  • Think in chord tones and improve key fluency
  • Enjoy the non-boring exercise that actually sounds nice even though you’re still just playing a diatonic pattern around the cycle of goddam fourths

Improv

  • Major blues scale improv in all keys (recap)
    • LH: harmonic 5ths & 6ths
    • Broken 10ths + blocks

Just for the hell of it

  • All Lydian scales (similar & contrary motion)