Why Scales are Important
If you asked any one of my students if they know any scales, they will say, “Why, yes! As a matter of fact, I know my majors and all three forms of my minors in more than 1 octave!”
I teach scales for three main reasons:
Lets address number one: “Auditions” is number one on my list because that is where scales come in most handy. It doesn’t matter if my student says, “I am not going to go to college for music, this is just a hobby.” I still have them learn their scales because, even if flute is a hobby to them, they may still want to participate in a community orchestra or band. In many cases, scales will be asked at the audition process. Especially when it comes to youth ensembles, camps, and college entrance auditions.
It is sad to me that band programs don’t teach more than the C, B flat, E flat Major scales. I have many students come in without the knowledge of the existence of more scales than those mere three! Many are oblivious to the fact that there are scales with sharp key signatures. If students are to excel in auditions, they must learn ALL the major scales, and then some.
Number two: Scales are great way to “noodle” before you actually begin to dig into a practice session. It is a way to warm-up your fingers and sometimes your articulation (if you add articulations to your scales, such as Taffanel and Gaubert Daily Exercises.) It also a great way to fill your lungs with the air you need in order to properly play the flute.
If you practice scales, you will be able to notice them in more and more of the music you play! For example, Mozart’s Concerto in G Major is FILLED to the brim with variations of G Major and its surrounding relations. Maybe an etude you practice will soon become easier because you are noticing scale patterns more obviously. Perhaps sight reading in your band audition was easier than it was last year because you noticed the A Major scale patterns in the music.
Number three sort of goes along with number 2. But memorization in general is great for our brains. Playing scales from the back of the band book may be what many students are used to, but memorizing them gets the brain thinking about the notes under the fingers rather than the notes written on the page. Knowing scales from memory means you can go in a corner and warm up...without the need of a book!
In conclusion, scales are the foundation on which all music is built, and in order for our music to stay structurally “sound”, we must know our scales like the back of our hand.