Bb C D Eb F G A Bb C D Eb F G A Bb
Last night I had a rap session with a student on the subject of his favorite scale. And it quickly dawned on me that this whole area of discussion, while definitely out of the mainstream and not a life or death issue, might be worth a survey.
Did I hear myself right?
If, for example, I asked myself what scale was the most difficult to teach, it would be a no brainer: Bb Major, resoundingly!!
In talking with myriads of pupils that have come through my studio over the years, the overwhelming consensus was that Bb Major had been a finger tripper, if not a confidence crusher.
But why? It only contains TWO FLats, Bb and Eb!
One student called it the “daddy long legs” scale because of its many strands, ins and outs, with a glaring absence of black key patterns to hold it together.
Well said: B, F#, and C# Major and their “enharmonic” equivalents in FLATS (Cb, Gb and Db) are a piece of cake by comparison despite their generous content of black notes. At least the thumbs meet between the double and triple black keys which use mirror fingers. (Easy to “chunk” or block out during practice routines)
Bb Major is another story
In fact when playing Bb Major with two hands, the only place the same fingers land on a common note is on G, the sixth tone into the scale, hardly the CORE of this step-wise progression. So when the 2’s land on G, one hardly notices it. In fact that very spot can be a finger-trapper because of what precedes and follows. A student might consider himself lucky to make it to G in the first place, let alone with the correct fingers along the way, in sequence.
Because the internal “organizers” of this scale are few and far between, and on the surface non-existent except for the G already mentioned, the brain has to come up with a different way to piece it together.
First think of this scale as having a symmetry in its asymmetry?
(Would Shakespeare have been amused with this play on words?)
In Twelfth Night, He nobly said, “If music be the Food of Love, play on..”
(But would he have known in the 17th Century, that Bb Major might have ruined his love banquet)
To salvage the ruins and restore a modicum of love for the Bb scale, consider the following:
Begin the scale on Bb using finger no. 3 in both hands. (At least you think this scale will be a piece of cake with an easy start like this, and having the right frame of mind is half the battle)
Next, notice the second and third notes into the scale which are C and D..
Between the hands, there are MIRROR images of the fingers that play these notes.
In the Right Hand C has finger number 1 (thumb) and D, finger 2
In the Left Hand C has finger number 2 and D finger 1
Everyone loves a MIRROR when prepared to look at it.
Just wait, it gets better:
Eb is the fourth note into the scale:
In the Right hand, use finger 3
In the Left hand, use finger 4
If you say, 3 over 4 enough times you realize there’s a happy reconciliation between the two numbers–at least they’re chronological.
The good news is we have just accounted for the second black note or flat in this scale, but we had deceived ourselves into believing the very first flat (Bb) would always have common 3’s in each hand.
When Bb comes back again, right at the scale PEAK as the 8th note, before it goes into the second octave,
the Right hand uses finger 4
the Left hand uses finger 3
A REVERSAL OF FORTUNE–oops, I meant the opposite of what happened with Eb
Reminder, Eb uses 3 in the Right hand
Eb uses 4 in the Left hand
Bb uses 4 in the Right Hand
Bb uses 3 in the Left Hand
In every subsequent octave, the player just needs to keep track of Bb and Eb, thinking chronological number reversals in both places.
The numbers 3 and 4, therefore are the biggies
If one hand has 3 on a black note, the other must have 4
So keeping track of just TWO BLACK NOTE FLATS is not too big a serving for most who are willing to give the scale a second chance.
Finally there are THREE notes, unaccounted for in the GROUP context.
And they are F, G, A
We already tagged G as having common finger number 2 between the hands, but that’s not enough to pull this scale together.
The brain prefers to think in groups or chunks:
So think of F,G,A, which are the remaining notes, as having a MIRROR fingering between the hands
In the Right hand F uses 1; G uses 2 and A uses 3
In the Left hand F uses 3; G uses 2 and A uses 1
Summary for F, G, A
1, 2, 3 over 3, 2, 1
1) Isolate all the Bbs after the first introductory one, and play with both hands (RH 4 over LH 3) Use the 4 octave model.
2) Isolate all the Ebs across the keyboard with both hands
(RH 3 over LH 4)
3) Chunk or BLOCK all the C, Ds (RH 1,2, LH 2,1) Reminder: 4 octave model
4) Chunk all the F, G, A’s (RH 1,2, 3 LH 3,2,1)
5) Finally Play the flats, followed by the chunks until you reach the last note (Bb)
6) Note the 4 finger roll-out in the Right Hand at the conclusion of the scale, going up: F G A Bb (1,2,3,4)
Get used to ending the scale on 4 in the RH.
Time to play it straight (in Legato-smooth and connected) with the following rhythms with MF dynamic (medium loud)
Two Octaves: quarters
Two Octaves: 8ths
Three Octaves: Triplets
Four Octaves: 16ths
Four Octaves: staccato 16ths (medium loud/medium soft)
For more advanced students, add 32nds Legato/staccato MF/mp
While mathematical strategies assist in navigating a scale in the course of learning process, above and beyond these numerical twists and turns, the rendering of a scale must be musical, with a permeating singing tone, and internal shaping.
It’s the teacher’s job to illuminate the dimensions or properties of a scale, and subsequently integrate them into a whole.
Please share your favorite or most challenging scale.