Scale Ear Training



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Scale Ear Training

Scale Ear Training is a big topic. First there are so many important scales to know and secondly scales can be played in many types of patterns which can make them difficult to distinguish or sing. Fortunately there are many ways to practice scales and do ear training at the same time.

Singing Scales

Singing a scale is always a good first step when doing scale ear training. I recommend playing the chord(s) that the scale work over and then singing the scale. For instance: A C Major scale works over a C Major chord so play the chord and then sing the scale. A C Mixolydian scale works over a C7 or C7sus4 chord so sing the scale over those chords. If you don’t know all the relationships between chords and scales I recommend the Essential Scales book. This book also covers modal sequencing which we will talk about in a minute.

Playing Scales with a Drone in the Background.

When you play scales if you always play them initially with a drone in the background you will naturally hear the scale in the right key center. This is crucial especially for guitarists who are playing scales from different degrees all over the fretboard. I recommend the MetroDrone for this because this type of drone can be used for many other exercises. See the link for all it’s uses.

Apply the Scale to Real Music Situations.

It is crucial that you apply any scale you learn to real music situations. I recommend using Jam Tracks for this so that you know you are using the correct jam track for each type of key center. I would spend 30% of the time learning a scale by thinking of the note names or the degrees and then I would spend 70% of the time applying the scale to Jam Tracks.

New Ideas for Playing Scales

Beginning students to scale ear training often just run out of ideas to play when they are applying a scale. Using the aforementioned Essential Scales you are give a large section of modal sequences for each scale. Think of modal sequencing as a fancy name for “patterns.” I recommend modal sequencing for a beginner or advanced player as a way to find new melodic patterns for any scale.

Practicing Scale Ear Training

I recommend initially learning one new scale a week. I would go through 22 scales: The modes of Major, Melodic Minor Ascending, 3 symmetrical scales (Diminished, Symmetrical Diminished, Whole Tone), Two modes of Harmonic Minor (Harmonic Minor and Mixolydian b2,b6),
Major and Minor Pentatonic and finally the Blues Scale. I also recommend you take a look at the modes of Harmonic Major 1,2,3,4,5,b6,7.
It usually takes about 5 months to complete this initial scale ear training exercise in the key of C. You then want to take all these scales through all keys cycle 5. C,F,Bb,Eb,Ab,Db,Gb,B,E,A,D,G.

Common Pitfalls of Scale Ear Training

First students get freaked out that they have to learn all these scales in all keys. Here are some things to remember:

  • As you move from one key to the next many scales will get much easier so they will take less time
  • If you learn the scale by first memorizing the note names and/or degrees you will initial move slower but then much faster as you see that many scales are closely related.
  • Be very conscious of your technique. Start slow use ergonomic movement and no tension in your body or hands.
  • Be consistent with your practice try to dedicate at least a 1/2 hour a day to practicing scale preferable one hour.