Effective Scales Practice

All athletes practice basic skills before a game. For instance, baseball players practice basic skills like throwing, catching, fielding, hitting and base running before the first pitch of a game is ever thrown. Likewise, we need to practice some basic skills everyday. One of the most important basic skills we need to practice every day is scales.

Practicing scales helps us to improve bowing, fingering and intonation long before we play any songs. However, just playing scales with slow single long bow strokes is quite boring and does little to prepare us for playing songs. That’s not to say that practicing scales with single long bow strokes is not important, but to really benefit from scales practice we also need to incorporate variations. After all, if the purpose of practicing scales is to prepare us to play, shouldn’t they resemble elements found in our songs?

The more our scales resemble our lessons and songs, the better! Just look at how many of our lessons and songs contain elements of scales played with variations. Scales are an integral and basic part of so many tunes. So, how do we do this? Here are some aids and tips.


Start slow and speed up. Here is an audio file I asked Jason from Fiddlehed to make for me, and he was kind enough to accommodate me. In this file the BPM start at 60 and progress to 100 in increments of 10 BPM over a two minute period.

Progressive Beats – 60 to 100 BPM in 10 BPM increments over @2 minutes

This one is a 60-120 BPM Accelerating Metronome.

60-120 BPM Accelerating Metronome

A search for Accelerating Metronome or Accelerating Beats Per Minute will yield all kinds of YouTube videos, websites and apps that can assist with increasing tempo when practicing scales.

Patterns and Rhythms

There are endless pattern and rhythm variations that can be played while practicing scales. Here are just a few.

  • Play 1, 2, 3 or 4 bow strokes on each note in the scale. Do them legato (smooth flowing manner without breaks between strokes) and staccato (each bow stroke with a distinct separation between each).
  • Alternate between notes with the number of bow strokes, i.e. 1st note, 1 stroke – 2nd note, 2 strokes – 3r note, 1 stroke – 4th note, 2 stokes, etc.) The variations are endless. Try it legato and staccato.
  • Most fiddle tunes consist of 1/8 (call this short) and 1/4 notes (call this long). Create patterns for each note on the scale from 1/8 and 1/4 notes.
    • A common pattern in fiddle music is short, short, short, short, long, long. Fiddlehed calls this patter Tucka. Play this pattern on each note in the scale, then reverse the pattern starting with the two long notes, then split the pattern between notes on the scale by playing the 4 shorts on the first note of the scale and the two longs on the second note of the scale, and continue all the way up and back down the scale in this pattern. How about playing this pattern in legato and staccato? This one pattern can be played in many variations.
    • Another common pattern in fiddle music is long, short, short. Fiddlehed calls this pattern Hoe Down. Repeat this pattern with the variations explained above.
  • Play scales soft.
  • Play scales loud.
  • Play scales using tremolo (wavering on each note with a fast back and forth wrist movement)
  • Come up with more variations!

Rather than me go on and on, take a look at these two videos from Fiddlehed, because watching these and other variations will provide a better illustration.

Rhythmic Scale Variation

Melodic Scale Variation

Depending on the style of fiddling you are trying to learn, there may be variations that are more useful than the ones mentioned in this post. Do a search! The purpose of this post is to illustrate that just practicing scales one way can be very boring and less productive than practicing with variations.

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