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Musical scales in the circle of fifthsGame time.

Have you mastered your Power Scales (12345)? They’re short, they are part of what you already know (major and minor scales). It pays to put in some quantity/quality to make them very fluent under your fingers – they are going to show up in music a lot more frequently than octave scales (or two- or three- octave scales, which don’t show up at all in compositions).

Here’s the challenge: play through all PS’s up and down (1 2 3 4 5 4 3 2 1) in all keys, any articulation, your choice of register, through the cycle (which I hope you have memorized by now: C F Bb Eb Ab Db F# B E A D G). If you nick a note or otherwise make any mistake, you must repeat that particular PS until you get it right (you are on your honor to be honest here).

Have a friend time you, preferably with a stopwatch, or, if you must, watch the second hand (or digit) on a clock. It’s better if a friend (or teacher or coach) does it so that you can focus on the challenge (sprinters don’t check their own times…).

Tip: Don’t immediately go for time. Practice each a bunch. Figure out the fastest speed that you can play every scale. Often playing them slightly slower but relaxed and accurate will yield a better time than pushing up against the edge of the possible. First times through, put a little gap between each scale. Later, reduce or eliminate this gap as you gradually increase fluency.

What’s your time on the Major PS?

Minor PS?

Keep a record of how you do. Watch your progression over a week, two weeks, a month.

First attempts may be in the range of 30 to 40 seconds, perhaps more. A bit of practice should get you under 30. 20 or under is a good time. 16 seconds or less is really movin’.

Stay relaxed and don’t force it. Speed will come gradually and naturally as you build the neural pathways. Quick actions must be relaxed actions (otherwise opposing muscle groups fight each other), and that comes from quantity and accuracy, not forced speed.

Minors are usually less familiar than majors and are typically a bit slower. See if you can make them as fast as majors or nearly so (this simply means spend more time with them).

Once you feel comfortable rattling off your major and minor power scales with your favorite articulation (e.g. two slurred and two tongued), make a chart and compare your times with different articulations: all tongued, 2 + 2, all slurred.

Let me know how you do.