This article is about scales… “Uh oh”… if you didn’t say that out loud I bet you thought it!
Why do you see sports men and women warming up before they compete? Pretty much for two main reasons. Firstly because they will not be as prone to straining something when cold, and secondly they will perform better when the muscles, joints and tendons are nice and warm. The truth is you are not too likely to pull a hamstring when practicing on an accordion, so the first reason doesn’t really apply to us musicians. However, when warm, your fingers will move more freely and possibly more importantly if you consider the brain to be a muscle, think on how the warm up process can be applied to concentration!
Think of scales as your warm up exercises. Fingers first, important if you are in a colder climate (or if age is slowly creeping up!) it is really important to get the blood flowing before you start to play. All through my playing years I have been in the habit of rubbing my hands together before even picking up an instrument. Simple friction can help a lot. Personally I interlace my fingers and use the same process as I find it more efficient to get the heat into my fingers rather than my palms.
So now we get to the brain, scales are very useful in the first few minutes of a practice session as they focus the link between the brain and the fingers. 40 years of playing and I still do a couple when the instrument gets picked up. They are not as interesting on the whole as playing a song but they do serve to focus the mind and this is a very useful function.
We will cover scales in depth in the future but here I wanted you to consider why the habit is a good one. Using previously talked about 15 minute sessions just two or three minutes should be spent at the beginning of a session so you are not going to be doing this for long. A beginner should start with simple major scales and as you become more experienced minors, bass scales, two hands together, two hands together in opposite directions (my favourite), chromatic, jazz scales and more.
Why play scales? Because a few minutes a day will make the world of difference to your standard of play. It won’t stop there though, as time progresses these natural shapes will fit into your everyday play i.e. runs between melody notes and of course chromatic scales are a favourite here. When you get to jazz scales a new world is likely to open up. I know I sound like a parent saying eat your greens they are good for you, however don’t hate scales as they ARE good for you.