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Why you need to learn your scales!

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Just the mention of the word ‘scales’ is often enough to send students to one of two extremes of emotion – a glaze of boredom or a spin of fear. 

Unfortunately the fastest way to improve on the saxophone is to play plenty of scales. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be like learning your times tables by rote, you can have fun while practising them. The sax school has specialised videos for scale practise, see the sample video.

This video gives you the chance to practice C major for Alto or F major for tenor

There are a lot of scales. Each of the twelve notes in the octave has a major scale and several variations on the minor scale. You’ll hear these described as being in the ‘key’ of C major or A minor for instance. Plus, there are chromatic scales and a whole host of jazz ones (e.g. pentatonic and blues scales). 

But beginners needn’t worry. The notes of scales all follow the same patterns, and you will start with the easiest ones for fingering, major and minor. Set yourself small goals – for instance, play the scale that matches the key of the piece you are learning.

You could use a backing track to play your scales rather than just going straight up and down as if you were in exam conditions. Then you can play around and improvise. 

  • The chromatic scale is used at speed for glissandos and other similar effects, but needs to be worked at daily to make it very even. 
  • The jazzier scales are fun and really useful for improvisation, such as the blues and pentatonic scale, again initially, only learn the ones you are going to use. 

Soon you will build up experience in a few different keys and understand the patterns of the notes in the scales. That will give you the confidence to try keys with more difficult fingering and notation, until you reach a point where the hard keys won’t seem so bad. 

Here is a list of scales presented in an easy order to learn (for alto and tenor):

C Major

G Major

F Major

D Major

Bb Major

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