When do you start teaching scales?


Julie said: Nov 14, 2013
Julie Bamberger Roubik
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Milwaukee, WI
12 posts

I have always preceded Book 1 with an A major scale (or D for my violists). I had a conversation with a colleague the other day who does not teach scales at ALL in Book 1. I’m curious what people’s thoughts are since it would never occur to me to not make sure my students at least can play a 1 octave scale in the key their pieces are in.

Julie Bamberger Roubik
Wisconsin Conservatory of Music Suzuki Faculty
[javascript protected email address]

Connie Sunday said: Nov 15, 2013
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

Second or third lesson. I get the pdfs of one octave A, D and F major and G major two octaves here:


We have three youth symphonies here and the youngest group requires at least Perpetual Motion and the 2 octave G and one octave F in the audition. But we start with A, with Suzuki bowings. And repeated explanation of the form of a scale, half and whole steps (demonstrated on the keyboard, too), hexachords. And lots of listening and comparing. But most people start their kids at seven or eight, not three or four.

So every lesson starts with scales and arpeggios.

I have a huge amount of material so I get most parents ( or my adult students) to give me a blank flash drive and I put it all on that.

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:

Phyllis Calderon said: Nov 15, 2013
Phyllis CalderonViolin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Piano
Chicago, IL
22 posts

I begin the A Maj scale at the end of Twinkle Theme or right before starting Lightly Row. I have students play the scale using the Twinkle rhythms. When they are ready to learn stopped bows and slurs (prior to the Minuets) I have them do the scales using stopped and then slurred bowing. I make sure they learn/practice the scale of the piece they are studying, understand finger patterns, etc. I am constantly drilling. For my slightly older students I’ll have the tetrachord discussion. I find that they understand it and it makes learning circle of 5ths that much easier. But yes, I agree that the earlier scales are taught the better.

Phyllis Calderon
Director, String Instructor
A Touch of Classical Plus, Inc.—Calderon Music Studio

Renee Shaw said: Nov 15, 2013
Renee Shaw
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
19 posts

Within the first three or four lessons. I believe it is very important to start developing aural skills as soon as possible and the scales are a wonderful way to do that.

Phankao said: Nov 17, 2013
Phankao WanPiano, Viola, Violin
128 posts

I do think my little one started A major scale after Twinkles.

Amanda Hockenberger said: Nov 22, 2013
Amanda Hockenberger
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Marlton, NJ
10 posts

At the very least, students should be able to play A Major Scale, D Major Scale, and G Major Scale with confidence by the end of Book 1. Even very young students understand the concept that certain scales “go with” certain pieces. This is the start of understanding that every piece has a correlating key signature/scale/finger pattern.

Sue Hunt said: Nov 23, 2013
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
389 posts

I’ve never questioned teaching the scale of the key of the next piece. A (D) Major before Twinkle, D (G) Major before Allegretto and G before Etude. (My computer won’t bracket C. Is it helpfully reminding me that violists learn the low 2 fingering with a piece in a minor?) In any case, I don’t touch minor scales till the middle of book 2.

Lisa said: Nov 24, 2013
Lisa Liske-Doorandish
Suzuki Association Member
8 posts

Regarding the use of minor scales…I have found the absence of pieces in a minor key in the early Suzuki books (Moon Over the Ruined Castle an exception) to be a lack. I had one particularly interesting learner who (when we finally reached the g minor in Book Two and on into Book Three with d minor and c minor) was unable to “get” the interval arrangement of a minor scale in her ear. At that time I vowed to do something with minor tonalities from the beginning. I now use an open string harmony to Moon Over the Ruined Castle during the Pre-Twinkle stage, start each lesson with a “happy/major” scale song about beginning the lesson, and finish each lesson with a “sad/minor” scale song about having to end the lesson and say goodbye. The three versions of major can be worked in later. This has demonstrably helped my students “get” the diatonic arrangements upon which we are so dependent.
I have felt intrigued by the absence of much in the way of the minor affect in the early Suzuki material. The whole “sad” element of musical expression with which we associate minor keys offers the human being, whether young or older, an important deep opportunity for expression of our reality. Small children also need the opportunity to choose a sad piece of music to play some days! Improvising in minor keys and learning short minor pieces from outside the Suzuki repertoire can freshen and deepen young students’ connections to the expressive role their instruments should have in their lives. On the cello, it is easy to introduce a-natural-minor in Book One (this relates to the second half of Minuet II), or the lowest octave of d minor.

  • Lisa Liske-Doorandish
    Community Cello Works
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Wendy said: Nov 24, 2013
Wendy Seravalle-Smith
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Cello, Violin
Thornhill, ON
119 posts

Yes I definitely teach scales all the way along. We make fingerboard maps and especially in group with each student in ascending and descending height playing a note to have great fun with it. It is easy to teach minor this way by starting on note #6 or student # 6 for natural minor and then learn raising 7th note by moving student closer and moving finger to understand the finger pattern and melodic minor same way—with students first moving higher then moving lower in the line. I do teach relative minor by Minuet 2 in violin and viola and have fun with a “minor” version of earlier pieces by low 2nd finger instead of high 2nd (although it is really dorian mode) We also physically move during the modulations in Minuets to indicate the change of scale—it is an early introduction to the fact that the composers are changing key. Depending on student we can get into more details as they can understand but introducing the vocabulary and concept these easy ways are fun especially in group when everyone moves together from one area of room to another.
Later on I keep adding scales as they appear in the repertoire and to be honest, I tend to organize review blocks by scales and playing Perpetual Motion in the same key (and position if applicable) and then repertoire and even reading exercises. Sometimes even writing these review blocks on separate practise cards is helpful. It helps also develop independence

Daniel Gladstone said: Nov 25, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Southold, NY
4 posts

I teach the A major scale (to violin students) as they are learning to pluck Twinkle. I have them sing words (”I am go-ing up to my room; then I’ll go down to the kitch-en.”) to the scale, so they hear it as a melody. They enjoy substituting other destinations for kitchen and like to repeat it. Soon after I have them sing and pluck Mary Had a Little Lamb in A major and some other simple melodies that can stay on the A string so they can experience that adding and removing fingers raises and lowers pitch.
I introduce minor tonality with an a minor version of Go Tell Aunt Rhody, referring to the sadness of the Aunt Rhody’s loss of her goose. I also have my students also play a minor versions of Perpetual Motion, Long Long Ago, etc., also to prepare them for the challenge of c natural in the G major pieces.

Charliah Best said: Nov 28, 2013
Charliah Best
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Guitar, Piano, Viola
Hamden, CT
3 posts

Consider teaching E Natural Minor (one octave) to the students to prepare for G Major Scale, 2 octaves. This way, only one finger is changed and their aural training for minor starts early.

My preferred order of teaching the scales:
A Major—Pre-twinkle
D Major—Song of the Wind
G Major—shortly thereafter
(because most students are confident to learn this scale on their own by then)
E Natural Minor—Go Tell Aunt Rhody

I’ve also started teaching my violinists “Bohemian Folk Song” just before Etude, similar to the viola repertoire. It’s phenomenally helpful for Etude!

These goals sound ambitious, but you’d be surprised how quickly your students will adapt to the sound of a natural minor scale, and then eventually all minor scales, when the standards are established. Harmonic Minor is introduced with G & A Majors (two octaves) just before the end of Book One. Melodic Minor in Book Two with Lully Gavotte.

Hope that helps!

Sera Jane Smolen said: Dec 11, 2013
Sera Jane Smolen
Suzuki Association Member
Ithaca, NY
24 posts

Thanks for this rich question. I was moving house when it first came up, but wanted to respond to this.
At some point, between Twinkling and perpetual motion, I find the idea of the scale will come up in an organic way. When we start Long Long Ago in G major, we do the G major scale as a tonalization, shifting to 4th position.
Parallel to this, we are improvising in D major with creative ability development, and the D major scale is explored in creative ways in exercises 1-10.
Later, as a preview to the C major portion of book 1, we do the C major scale as a tonalization, and as a preview to minuet in C we add slurs to this.
Parallel to this, we begin the C major portion of creative ability development, playing exercises 15 and 16.
As we proceed through book 2, we then continue with all the modes of C with creative ability development, becoming fluent with the C major finger pattern with all the inspiring improvisations in exercises 17-28. I find that as we learn each mode, we begin to learn the notes on the fingerboard. So often, notes are intuitive until now, when we begin to name them more. For example, when we play E Phrygian scale as a tonalization, and then as an improvisation, we find all 3 E’s. We make E the musical home base for our improvisations. This builds knowledge of the fingerboard, while at the same time, allows each of us to feel the special mood of each mode. Over the years, I have come to appreciate this as a birthright of each young musician.
When we are learning the forward extension for the F# in Gossec Gavotte, we begin to be ready to learn the D major scale 2 8ves…..and next the A major scale.
At this point, we have studied all the “open string” scales.
I find that in book 3 there comes a time when each cellist has explored a number of the positions in the Rick Mooney “Position Pieces” book….and we have enough repertoire from book 3 that is solid, which presents cellists with the neck positions.
It is then that I begin the “universal scale fingering” scales (all the other scales which do not have the name of an open string). We work on them one by one, usually starting with Eb, then E, then F, and F#.
Parallel with this I have been using the Jamey Aebersold Volume 24 “Jazz in every key” to enable each musician to improvise in every key.
I have asked Alice Kanack to create a book and CD with “What’s the answer to my question?” in every key. I am so happy to hear she has been working on this, with a “fantasy piece” in each key as well! Can’t wait!
As a player, I always found that I understood music theory at the instrument better than with “pencil and paper learning”, as Howard Gardner calls it. Improvisation and scales can be presented together in an enjoyable and rich way.

When we learn to truly hear the music of children,
we learn to hear the music of the future.
—Michael Deeson Barrow

Mengwei said: Dec 11, 2013
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
119 posts

In my Twinkle & book 1 group class we sing major scales (movable do and letter names). In individual lessons, I introduce A major around Song of the Wind and D major when we start transposing. Around Perpetual Motion is when scale warm-up gradually replaces Twinkle warm-up, and I do 4th fingers going up and open strings going down.

Based on everyone’s comments, I am going to start having them at least hear minor scales in group! I already do Bohemian Folk Song before Etude but E natural minor seems like a great idea too.

Laura said: Dec 14, 2013
Laura Mozena
Suzuki Association Member
Palm City, FL
105 posts

I consider the pre twinkle song “Monkey Song” to be an introduction to scales .

Sarah said: Dec 15, 2013
Norfolk, VA
3 posts

Scales happen naturally, but I emphasize “stepping up” and “stepping down” with
- Monkey Song
- Lightly Row and Song of the Wind phrases with words “A steps up to E E E (E)
- descending A major scales in group classes starting early and using variation bowings, with words “down, down, down down, the leaves/snow are/is falling all over the ground.”
- By O Come Little Children we have all the notes in the scale and have a long bow to play A Major as a tonalization
-D Major Scale and Twinkle on D before Allegretto
- G Major and Twinkle in G (in both octaves) before Etude. If the student can play that they know all the notes in Etude. Knowing that builds confidence! Then I preview Etude with all the small stepping passages (G-A-Bs and A-B-Cs…)
-From there the student can skip around the keys, but it helps to get the finger placement right by playing through the scale first!

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