Mandolin: Round and Round goes the Scale
By Jean Comeau
A band rehearsal way too soon in the morning? A recording just a few minutes after a three hours bus ride? An unexpected performance? Or simply getting ready for daily practice? Nothing beats a good warm up exercise, especially an efficient one.
We all have one or two that we can use in case of emergency. But, isn't it great to share? Here's mine; maybe it can help you!
A warm-up routine
This little routine of mine is based on a proposition found in The Mandolin Companion from Chris Acquavella and Alison Stephens (p. 8) It allows us to notice that, with a limited number of fingers positions of the right hand, we can play all the major and minor scales as well as all their respective arpeggios.
Let's adopt the following hand position: 1st finger—gap—2nd finger—gap—3rd finger—4th finger. Let's start the routine on the G string, 5th fret: C. We get C—gap—D—gap—E—F. If we move our hand on the D string while keeping the same fingers position, we obtain the rest of the major scale. Let's get down the scale, back to C.
Back to C, let's play the following arpeggio: G string: fingers 1—3 (C—E); D string: fingers 1—3 [minus one semitone]—4 (G—B flat—C). Let's go down this arpeggio. We have just played the dominant 7th arpeggio on C in the key of F: this arpeggio suggests playing a new scale in the key of F.
When the scale and arpeggio on C are done, the new key (F) is back two frets on the next string, the D string. Let's play the scale and arpeggio beginning on this F. The dominant 7th arpeggio invites us to play in the B flat key. This new key is also back two frets on the next string, which is the A string.
Going a little further
The dominant 7th brings us to the key of E flat. We can't go back two frets to reach this E flat. To find it we only have to come back on the D string without moving our hand on the neck. Scale and arpeggio on E flat, we must move to A flat. Once again, we'll find this A flat by coming back to the G string without moving our hand on the neck.
After playing the scale and arpeggio on A flat, the first cycle of our routine is finished. The last dominant 7th brings us to the key of D flat.
To play the second cycle of the routine, all we have to do is play the same sequence by replacing the 4th finger with the 1st where we can find our new key, D flat.
If we play this sequence five times, we come back to the key of C on the G string, which is our starting point.
We just played two times all the major scales of the fifths' cycle.
The amusing part is that we played all the scales, except F, F sharp—G flat and G, on two different strings in two different positions. We have played the C scale on strings 4+3 and2+1; the B flat scale on strings 2+1 and 4+3; the E flat scale on strings 3+2 and 4+3; the A flat scale on 4+3 and 3+2; the D flat —C sharp scale on 4+3 and 2+1; the B — C flat scale on 2+1 and 4+3; the E scale on 3+2 and 4+3; the A scale on 4+3 and 3+2; the D scale on 4+3 et 2+1.
Another benefit of this routine is that we play three times in half-position, four times in second, five times in third, two times in fourth and once in fifth.
Of course, we can vary the rhythmical patterns in ways that train the right hand as well as the left one.
Usually, 25 scales and arpeggios later, we are ready to tackle any score. If not, we can always start all over again!
Jean Comeau for Mando Montreal
Jean studied piano in his childhood and was addicted to Chopin's concertos. He also studied serial composition, flute, organ and singing. During his career as a french and theater teacher in high school, he founded the Bateleur's theater company for which he has written, composed music, made costumes and builds sets for 17 years. Now retired from teaching, Jean devotes himself full time to his passion: the mandolin