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Putting a Scale Book to Good Use - Understanding Scales and Music Theory

Putting a Scale Book to Good Use - Understanding Scales and Music Theory

It’s been 16 years since we first published Progressive Scales for Violin. As I used it in my teaching, I saw many ways that it could be improved. We have implemented these changes in the recently published second edition and in our latest book, Progressive Scales for Viola. After working with it this fall, I am very pleased. Here's how I used it to help my students understand scales and theory.


I started all of my Suzuki Book 2 – 5 level students at the beginning, with the one octave scales, regardless of their previous experience.

I asked them to read the ‘To the Student’ introduction, which explains how to read a key signature, the concept of major and relative minor, arpeggios and the whole and ½ step patterns that make up major and natural minor scales.

Important Concepts

All possible keys

An examination of the circle of fifths diagram at the back of the book was a helpful introduction the idea that we can build a scale on any note and that there are many possible keys to play in.

Half and whole steps

We developed a working knowledge of half and whole steps in the following ways:

  • Relating the sound to music that the students know

“Do you hear the first two notes of Perpetual Motion or Minuet by Beethoven?”

  • Recognizing both a whole and half step on the musical staff

“Is there a note in between?”

  • Playing them in the different ways they appear on the violin - fingers close, open string to low first, high 3rd to open string

Scale patterns

I asked my students to memorize the whole and half step patterns that make up the major and natural minor scales. Reciting the pattern rhythmically helped.

Working with the Scales

Now the student was ready to start the one octave scales. Each page in the one octave section of Progressive Scales presents a major scale and arpeggio and it’s relative natural minor scale and arpeggio. At the lesson we would work through each page as follows:

  • Visually, by reading the key signature and marking the half steps

  • Aurally, by singing and playing it

  • Kinesthetically, by playing it and feeling the half steps

The new 2nd edition of Progressive Scales for Violin (as well as the brand new Progressive Scales for Viola) contains one octave scales in all of the keys. Although students will not see some of these keys often, having them go through this process with scales such as C# major and A# minor is a great way to test their knowledge.

As a result of this work, my students now have a much clearer understanding of scales and arpeggios. We can now build on this strong foundation by moving on to the next section of Progressive Scales, where we add a second octave, shifting, and all three forms of minor. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Amy Matherly

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