Last time, I described my approach to learning and practicing scale patterns. Summary: learn the pattern, memorize it, and transpose it from memory. As my colleague and former teacher Shawn Spicer once said to me, “You don’t memorize scales, you know scales.” I find it fascinating how this approach is standard practice for jazz musicians but completely outside the comfort zone of most classical musicians.
Before we get to this week’s scale patterns, I wanted to say a few more words about the trumpet-specific benefits I found in practicing these scales:
- Finger technique: There is a world of difference between fast notes and fast fingers. This is something I overlooked, partially because I could always play fast passages, and partially because I often misdiagnosed bad finger technique as missed notes.
- Range: Most of these scale patterns don’t move in a straight line. There is some kind of alternating motion – for every short-term ascent there is a corresponding (often shorter) descent. This helps keeps things “low” and reduces tension. Even though I play Cichowicz long tone studies almost every day, I often find with students that they overshoot every interval on the way up, and as the studies enter the higher register they accumulate so much tension that their range actually shrinks. For me, scale patterns were a huge breakthrough and my range has improved dramatically in the past two years.
- Flow: my sense of flow has also improved. This can be heard over longer phrases since I am constantly practicing long scale patterns that traverse the complete range of the instrument. However, the improvement is even more noticeable in the short term, as I am constantly seeking to improve the connection across small intervals in all keys and registers. I also strive to maintain even airflow whether I am playing a valve slur or a lip slur, and the repetitiveness of scale patterns helps reinforce this idea. I see this issue constantly as a teacher: all my students have outstanding flow playing Clarke 2 in F major. B major, though, is another story.