Fundamentals - what exactly are we talking about? And why?
Post-olympics, there's a lot of talk about having strong fundamentals as the basis of anything we do, whether in sports, carpentry, or music. Fundamentals are defined with these catch phrases: underlying, basic, being an essential part of a foundation or basis, and being primary source. Like diagramming sentences (does anyone do this anymore?), these "basics" seem less glamorous, less "fun," yet essential parts of experiencing the joy of turning a fancy or inspiring phrase...so it's more than tempting to skip over them. Who has that kind of time, anyway?
Well, keep in mind this fantastic quote from Noa Kageyama's terrific blog on scale practicing:
“What people don’t realize is that professionals are sensational because of the fundamentals.” ~12-time MLB All-Star, 1995 MVP, and 1990 World Series Champion shortstop Barry Larkin.
There must be some value in investigating fundamentals, right?
Consider any new skill we wish to acquire - let's try learning a new language. Often the best course of action is to start with essential skills that help us execute the eventual activity. We spend hours studying vocabulary, listening to native speakers to get the cadence and pronunciation in our ears, watch movies with subtitles, conjugate verbs...these are all like lifting weights to become stronger on the field. The goal is not to be a fantastic verb conjugator and weight lifter, but to be able to function in the moment with confidence and ease.
Convinced yet? Give it a try, and let's start with scales, since Florida requires all all-state auditionees to play ALL major scales in the circle of 4ths (go, Florida!). Why are scales fundamental? Scales allow us to become comfortable in a particular key, to hear and feel the pull toward home base, to get ready to play pieces or phrases in that key. The more we are "at home" in that key, the easier (more comfort, less stress and tension in our bodies, more musicality and freedom we can express) any phrase or piece will be. Scales are basically just formulas - plug in the correct notes and intervals (distances between pitches) according to the formula, and you're all set. Isn't that great? A simple yet powerful tool!
Already a scale convert? Try a few of these ideas to freshen up your scale encounter:
So give some of these a try and start your very own scale notebook - have some ideas jotted down and ready to attack for the next day, or when you're feeling slightly less inspired. Take one step at a time - work to keep the load (mental and physical) simple so that you lessen any resistance of this new habit. As you gain fluency, start changing one thing at a time - perhaps try one of the new ideas from the above bullet-point list one day, and return to "go to" ease of playing the next day. The overall value is accrued over time. Each day is an opportunity to put money in that scale bank - you'll gain rich rewards! Try this for two weeks, even a month - and notice the difference fundamentals can make. As my husband just pointed out to me, practicing scales is a lot like playing pool - the two purposes of any pool shot is 1. to sink a ball (get it in the pocket) AND 2. to set up the next shot. So - let's be ready for that next shot.
Some scale blogs to check out:
Why I'd spend a lot more time practicing scales if I could do it all over again
Why do I need to practice scales?
How to practice scales - 10 reasons why they are important
Practicing scales effectively