Wind Band Scales

An easy way to learn scales!

This scale program is designed to assist the development of intermediate wind players who already know the chromatic notes within a range of at least 1.5 octaves.

The ability to learn music quickly will be enhanced if the muscle memory of your hands knows how it feels to play in every key. Any player with the determination to improve themselves can master this valuable skill.

The Circle of 4ths

This is a logical pattern that includes all 12 chromatic notes. In band rehearsal you might start the cycle on C, F, Bb or G but the order will be the same.

C - F - Bb - Eb - Ab - Db - Gb - B - E - A - D - G

Each note becomes the tonic of the scale to be learned. The first scales add one flat to the key signature. From B major onwards, starting with five sharps, you subtract one sharp each time.

The process of learning all 12 keys can be spread over a full school term. Set aside 10 minutes per day to work on this aspect of your playing.

Play each note in your lowest register until you have memorized the order.

Set your metronome at 60 to establish a tempo then turn it off and maintain an internal pulse in your mind.

Sound each note for three full beats, stopping exactly on the count of four. Strive always to produce your most beautiful tone.

The pattern will soon become familiar and your muscle memory will begin moving automatically.

After memorizing the pattern use an electronic tuner to check that you are playing accurately in Equal Temperament (piano tuning).

Repeat the circle an octave higher for notes within your range, then try the following pattern. Check that the tuner needle remains stationary as you jump octaves.

Low C High C Low F High F etc.

Ask your teacher about problem notes for your particular instrument.

Play all 12 notes in both low and high octaves with your eyes closed. Do not write out the music using traditional notation since the long-term goal is to develop an intuitive sense of how different scales and arpeggios feel to play.

Finally, play each note separated by rests of a different length. For example, sound each note for three beats followed by five beats of silence. This process will activate your musical mind in a powerful way. You need to think of the next note in the series while counting, a mental exercise that may take time to master.

Electronic tuners

I recommend Cleartune for iPhone or Android.

Ask your teacher about using a tuner correctly. The pitch reading is more reliable if you close your eyes, play the note with your best tone and only then look at the screen.

Do look at the screen for long notes that crescendo or diminuendo. All wind instruments go out of tune with volume changes unless you are alert and ready to compensate.

Set the transposition function to the natural key of your instrument. This adjusts the main screen to match the letter names of your notes rather than the Concert Pitch of piano keys. Set the transposition as follows.

Tuning and intonation

Tuning means adjusting the length of your instrument to match a uniform tuning note, usually a concert pitch Bb.

Intonation means actively listening to other players and making adjustments to posture, breathing and embouchure that slightly alter the pitch of individual notes as you play.

A tuner will help identify the natural tendencies of your instrument to play sharp or flat on certain notes. Compensating for these is vital when performing with piano accompaniment.

However, in orchestras and bands the pitch of any one note can also vary slightly depending on the key signature. For example, an F# in the key of G major will be slightly different from an F# in the key of B major or D major, and none of them will exactly match a tuner.

Enharmonic pairs such as C# · Db may be slightly different on orchestral instruments despite the fact that they are both played with the same black key on a piano.

Always be listening and ready to make tiny adjustments, sharper or flatter, so your sound blends with those around you.

It is entirely possible that you could play a note that looks perfect on your tuner yet sounds horrid, depending on what harmonies are sounding around you. Having a tuner on your music stand during rehearsal is counter-productive since very few notes will actually match during real music making.

Work with your teacher to listen closely and lip up or lip down for better intonation. Playing slow duets is a great way to develop this vital skill.

In rehearsal, think of your part as a duet with whoever is playing the lowest notes, usually the tuba, bassoon, baritone saxophone or bass clarinet. Simply being aware of the lowest pitch makes it easier to play in tune.

Gregory Lewis — Band Director