SYOS

Beginner Scales

jeremyjuicewah

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I have been playing now for 14 months. I am pleased with my progress. When I started sax I also started reading, pleased with the progress there, too. I play styles of music I would never have played before (on guitar) and find it very satisfying to pick up a piece of music and understand it. I am far from perfect at this, but very pleased with it. I am also beginning to improvise. I have been putting a piece together in Eb minor (so I can cheat with the keyboard) and have discovered how C minor pentatonic and the Bb major go together and what combinations work best for the piece on alto sax. I have just visited a site about improv. which begins "First learn major, minor, dom 7th, pentatonic/blues scales and arpeggios in all 12 keys". Yes, I know that that would be a good start but for a good while now I have been avoiding just this as I am a bit overwhelmed by the amount of learning that has to go into it. With the guitar, you just dont have to learn the scales, just the pattern for one scale and move it up or down the neck. That will get you by till you learn a little more.

So, are there any cheats that can be used, or any advice out there just how to get all this knowledge remembered? Or, is it really not as hard as I am thinking it is. I have learned a few scales off by heart but maybe its better to work on, as have been this week, since actually playing and experimenting is a great way to learn, at least for me. But is it the quickest way?

I am asking for advice here not because I am too lazy to do this but because it scares me a
bit. Would I be right in thinking that it would take me years to learn all that stuff that is asked for given that playing sax is something I can only do for about eight or ten hours a week?
Any advice at all very welcome.
Mike
 

BigMartin

Well-Known Member
Messages
3,908
I have been playing now for 14 months. I am pleased with my progress. When I started sax I also started reading, pleased with the progress there, too. I play styles of music I would never have played before (on guitar) and find it very satisfying to pick up a piece of music and understand it. I am far from perfect at this, but very pleased with it. I am also beginning to improvise. I have been putting a piece together in Eb minor (so I can cheat with the keyboard) and have discovered how C minor pentatonic and the Bb major go together and what combinations work best for the piece on alto sax. I have just visited a site about improv. which begins "First learn major, minor, dom 7th, pentatonic/blues scales and arpeggios in all 12 keys". Yes, I know that that would be a good start but for a good while now I have been avoiding just this as I am a bit overwhelmed by the amount of learning that has to go into it. With the guitar, you just dont have to learn the scales, just the pattern for one scale and move it up or down the neck. That will get you by till you learn a little more.

All the above sounds excellent, although you lost me a bit with C minor and Bb major.

So, are there any cheats that can be used, or any advice out there just how to get all this knowledge remembered? Or, is it really not as hard as I am thinking it is. I have learned a few scales off by heart but maybe its better to work on, as have been this week, since actually playing and experimenting is a great way to learn, at least for me. But is it the quickest way?
Mostly, I'd say "Not as hard as you think it is", as long as you take your time. Don't try to learn them all at once. Just keep adding another sharp or flat when you're comfortable with the scales/arpeggios you already know. Eventually, your fingers will seem to be finding the notes on their own. Try and really listen to each scale as you play it so you can anticipate the sound of the next note (this is something I'm struggling with myself currently). That way, you're getting some ear training at the same time which will help with your improv and general intonation.

Playing scales and arpeggios with backing tracks (eg Aebersold Vol 24, or use Band-in a Box) can make it less dull, and it forces you to keep the timing even.

I am asking for advice here not because I am too lazy to do this but because it scares me a
bit. Would I be right in thinking that it would take me years to learn all that stuff that is asked for given that playing sax is something I can only do for about eight or ten hours a week?
Any advice at all very welcome.
Mike
Ten hours a week isn't bad. Much better if it's an hour and a bit each day than 5 hours twice a week, though! It won't necessarly take years to learn all the notes but these are the sorts of things that you have to keep practising no matter how good you get. In fact it seems to me that. the more experienced you are as a player, the more time you spend working on basics like long notes and scales.
 

Young Col

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2,419
Mike
I agree you really do need to spend the time learning all the scales. Like Martin says, add a new one when you are ready, unless you have a teacher who is doing that for you. It helps to know the scale patterns, like all majors are (tone/semitone) t,t,s,t,t,t,s. Then you can work out scales in your head without referring to books. I always play scales as part of practice. Also learn fingering patterns by finger and say, but not actually blowing, until you don't get them wrong. You don't have to do this with an instrument. My teacher suggest doing it in supermarkets, but whether you want to be seen trying to play scales on a cucumber or leek is at your discretion!

I guess your point about Cmin pentatonic and Bb Major is that all the notes of Cmin pent are in BbMaj?
Good luck!
YC
 

jeremyjuicewah

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1,890
Big Martin and Young Col

Big Martin.

If its the right type of music with guitar in Eb minor you could play Eb minor pent., F# major, and C# major and I wouldnt be surprised if there were more. But with a guitar in Eb minor and alto sax in C minor you couldnt play Eb major over the guitars Eb minor but you can play the Bb major. Someone told me the other day its called the Dorian. I can believe it. As Young Col says, all the notes are the same but for the extra two , D and A in the Bb major. With care I can run the two together and if I think ahead, where I want to go next or close to it, it is actually hard to make a mistake. (I can do that too though)
This really goes to show I suppose that I can learn it but there are so many options for so many keys.

I am very pleased to be told that this learning may not be as hard as I think. I do find it easier to place the next note I want on sax than on guitar, but I still guess a lot and get it wrong quite often too. I know I have a little tendency to avoid getting to grips with anything that I find a bit confusing and I cannot comprehend the scale of this task clearly, so I dont.

Yes, I practice every day, always have done. Despite the block about this I love this instrument. I practice more when I am doing something of my own than when I am reading but I love the fact that I am achieving something that I never dreamed I would ever do. Read music, that is.

Young Col

I can work out major and minor pent. scales quite quickly in my head but not quickly enough to play them right off and I have to think hard in the sharp and flat keys. In fact I have a lot more trouble with flats in general than with sharps. I find keys with flats harder to read than keys with sharps.

My teacher says to plug away, learn the patterns, that my fingers will come to recall them, but I have not been so sure. I suppose I can play D major and C major and F# minor pent without thinking so it must come along in the end.

Whatever, thank you both for your encouragement and advice. I will get at it this afternoon hopefully feel a bit better later on.
Mike
 

MandyH

Sax-Mad fiend!
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3,558
This is probably not much help. but my teacher taught me the fundamentals of constructing most of those scales you mentioned with reference to the circle of fifths. Now you'd either need to learn the order of the major notes in the circle, or carry one about with you, but once you've got the circle sussed, the majority of the scales follow fairly swiftly on.
Or maybe I'm talking nonsense??
 

Sweet Dreamer

Senior Member
Messages
505
I was working out some pentatonic scales for the sax just today, what a coincidence. ;}

Here's what I've been doing, since I also play the guitar. I know the pentatonic scales in the key of C on the guitar so I just list them and then use the circle of fifths to covert over for Eb (Alto sax). This works out really slick on a circle of fifths because the inner minor keys are a direct transposition for Eb. In other words, if you want to cover concert C to alto sax just play an A note (Am is the minor of C). So if you look at C on the wheel of fifths and just look at its minor key, you have an instant transposition. This of course holds for all the notes on the wheel.

I just made the following graphic today to quickly transpose a few pentatonic scales from Concert C into Eb.

Pent-Eb.jpg

I listed each pentatonic scale twice because it helps me visually see how they wrap around. If you're playing a tenor sax, then you need to use an "offset" but it will always remain constant, so once you know what the "offset" is, it should be just as easy to use the wheel of fifth for that too.

Like I say, the Alto sax works out nice because it's already lined up with the minor keys perfectly. By the way, I just made this graphic this morning so it could contain errors or typos that I haven't yet realized. ;}

The hard part for me is not the transposition, but rather training the fingers to play the new finger patterns. For example I've been improvising in Concert A today, that's F# on the Alto sax, and while it's an easy scale to play I need to train myself to "jump over the G note". My fingers want to naturally improvise a G note on the sax, which doesn't sound good at all in this setting. So I'm learning quickly to train my fingers to skip over that G note.
 

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kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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Good work. Yes it works because the Eb instruments are a minor third 'above' concert pitch, and the relative minor of any key is a minor third below the major. I don't think this is a coincidence, although I don't know enough about transposing instruments to know why they picked Eb.

Minor typo, it says boldly Pentatonci, not Pentatonic.

I'm not sure how the circle of fifths helps here. Must be missing something.
 

Sweet Dreamer

Senior Member
Messages
505
Minor typo, it says boldly Pentatonci, not Pentatonic.

I'm not sure how the circle of fifths helps here. Must be missing something.

Thanks for the catch, I'll fix that.

The circle of fifths helps those of us who are lame-brained. :)))

It's easier for me to just glance at the circle of fifths and get the transposition for any given note. I can also use the circle of fifths to quickly find a new pentatonic scale because I've learned to see the "pattern". It's always the same pattern no matter what key you are in.

Sure, you could use the Whole-step, half-step, patterns to figure out the scales, but that requires a little bit of thinking. If you just glance at the wheel of fifths you can "see" the scales right there (if you know what patterns to look for)

In the following diagram I numbered the C minor pentatonic scale 1-5 and show the pattern it creates on the wheel of fifths. Now if you just move the #1 to the root note of the key you're interested in and read off precisely the same pattern, you can just read off the notes for the minor pentatonic scale in that key.

It's just easier if you happen to have a wheel of fifths chart handy. Otherwise you have to remember the whole-step, half-step pattern and figure out each scale. This way you can just "see" the scale at a glance. Especially if you are good at seeing patterns, like me. :D

Pent.jpg

It's just a crutch for those of us who are too lazy to have to think. :)))
 

jeremyjuicewah

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Second post

Hmmm, just posted a reply, gone again, must have forgotten to log in, but cant see how. Will have to abbreviate it. I think SD has got something with patterns, I dont think I see them. I can see some of what he says about the circle of fifths but will have to read it all again, more carefully, and try it to see if it will help me.

I am a bit ashamed because I really should be able to see through the fog better than I do. I have done a lot of work over the weekend and have found that by following 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 and 3-2-2-3-2 I can name the notes in every key pretty quickly and can play them reasonably, albeit in order. I first started to visualise the neck of a guitar for this but I can do it mostly now without that aid. I do convert flats to sharps, strangely not always, and must stop doing that. I can play these scales reasonably too, and after a few renditions can mix up the notes. I cant just jump in do that yet. That is a pretty big step forward for one weekend. Clearly I have been thinking this way for some time but have blocked myself by persuading myself that the job was just too big, I am too old, anything to avoid it I guess.

I also dug out some backing tracks and played along. The hardest thing was finding the key. I am pretty good at this with guitar but yesterday I had to cast about to find the root note and then ask is it major or minor? I will have to record to see if what I hear is what I am actually playing, but it went well.

I am very pleased that I actually brought this up and all the comments and tips have helped to move me along. I know where the term "shrink" comes from now. I really feel my head has shrunk.

GOOD MORNING EVERYONE
Mike
 

jeremyjuicewah

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arpeggios

Forgot to ask. Is the arpeggio for a major the 1-3-5 of a major chord repeated over as may octaves as you can get, or the music calls for? Then flat the third for minor, add the seventh etc? Seems reasonable but I havent tried these yet.
 

kevgermany

ex Landrover Nut
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Arpeggio simply means playing the notes of a chord in sequence, either from the root or the highest note. So 1-3-5 is right, and you can continue 1-3-5-8-11-13 if you want to go up another octave(ish).

So first pick your chord, then play the notes in sequence.
 

BigMartin

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3,908
I am a bit ashamed because I really should be able to see through the fog better than I do. I have done a lot of work over the weekend and have found that by following 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 and 3-2-2-3-2 I can name the notes in every key pretty quickly and can play them reasonably, albeit in order.

That's the problem with this approach, I think. A scale isn't just a sequence of notes, played in a particular order up or down. Playing them that way is an important exercise, but it's not the whole story. A scale is a set of notes which belong to a key, and they all have different functions within that key. That's why I think it's better not to try and learn them all at once, you need to really get to know them thoroughly before you move on. You need to just know that D major has the F and C sharpened but not the A, for example, without having to mentally or physically run through the whole scale. Also you need to get a feel for the harmonic implications and roles of the various notes. For example,try playing "Happy Birthday" in C major, G major and F major. It starts on the dominant, ie the fifth note of the scale (G in C major). Listen for the tension at the end of the first phrase (B in C major) and the repose at the end of the second phrase (C in C major). Sorry if I'm trying to teach you to suck eggs here, but it's easy to miss how much is going on even in a simple tune like this. I know I missed it myself for years! Once youve done it in C, play it in F (starting on a C) and hear how different the note E feels in the two keys, even without any harmony being played underneath.
 
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jeremyjuicewah

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Nope, no egg sucking getting taught. Funnily enough I have been thinking about this this morning. I need to get home and see a circle of fifths cos I cant remember if there is any relationship with the sharps/flats that are added as you go around. But, I was thinking that a better way is to remember the sharps and flats for the keys. I had the happy birthday treatment in a guitar lesson years ago. It brings you down to size.
 

BigMartin

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3,908
Nope, no egg sucking getting taught. Funnily enough I have been thinking about this this morning. I need to get home and see a circle of fifths cos I cant remember if there is any relationship with the sharps/flats that are added as you go around.

Definitely. 1 less sharp or more flat for each step round the cycle (depending on direction, obviously). The sharps go up a fifth (or down a fourth) each time you add one (so: F# C# G# D# A# E# B#). And the flats go down a fifth (up a fourth) (Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb Fb)

But, I was thinking that a better way is to remember the sharps and flats for the keys. I had the happy birthday treatment in a guitar lesson years ago. It brings you down to size.
But that can be a good thing. It less you pass through low doorways without banging your head. I know this because I'm tall and have the bruises to prove it ;}.
 

Filton

Member
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243
For example,try playing "Happy Birthday" in C major, G major and F major. It starts on the dominant, ie the fifth note of the scale (G in C major). Listen for the tension at the end of the first phrase (B in C major) and the repose at the end of the second phrase (C in C major). Sorry if I'm trying to teach you to suck eggs here, but it's easy to miss how much is going on even in a simple tune like this. I know I missed it myself for years! Once youve done it in C, play it in F (starting on a C) and hear how different the note E feels in the two keys, even without any harmony being played underneath.

This is one of the best exercise there is to help you to start relating what you hear in your head to the notes you are playing. Take any simple tune which you know well. Pick a note to start with, doesn't matter what note, and play the melody from that note. You have to anticipate the intervals so you can play what you are hearing in your head without thinking about scales/modes/notes/dots etc..

After all most of us can happily sing a tune (after a fashion) without worrying about what scale or key we are singing.
 

jeremyjuicewah

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O gosh!

Relationship of sharps and flats in the circle of fifths? That was an understatement. I have it in front of me. I actuall drew it a few months ago thinking that doing the work would help me remember. Its just perfect isnt it? Still learned the sharp side better than the flat side though. Brilliant!
 

jeremyjuicewah

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1,890
Anyone still there?

Hi, sadly mum died which among many other things has meant a few weeks back in blighty and no sax. But, I took a circle of fifths with me and hey presto I now know every key signature. It is a remarkable thing this studying business. I also began, when I got back, with arpeggios, and started with the diminished chords, cos there are only the three. But, each one has four names so I started to get bogged again until I realised that the intervals in these chords are always three semitones. This helps a lot at the moment but when I get to the stage when my fingers just know them it wont matter so much but it will be no less amazing for all that. The question here is Sweet Dreamer's graphic for the pattern of the minor pentatonic scales on the circle of fifths. I dont understand why you have used that sequence. Eg. C minor pent as C-Bb-G-F-E. True, all the notes are there, but 3-2-2-3-2 would give you C-Eb-F-G-Bb. What am I missing here?
Best wishes
Mike
 

Sweet Dreamer

Senior Member
Messages
505
C minor pent as C-Bb-G-F-Eb. True, all the notes are there, but 3-2-2-3-2 would give you C-Eb-F-G-Bb. What am I missing here?
Best wishes
Mike

My apologies for the confusion Jeremy. I wasn't constructing these scales using step patterns. I learned these from a blues guitar book based on fingerboard patterns. I also learned them "upside down". In other words I'm starting with a high C note and playing the scale down. My apologies for that. This way of looking at things is not conventional.

In other words, C-Bb-G-F-Eb-C, is just C-Eb-F-G-Bb-C read backwards. The first is starting with a high C and descending, the second (conventional view) is starting with a low C and going up. That would match with the standard step-patterns that are taught.

I learned it upside down because I learned it using fingerboard patterns on the guitar, and I'm looking at it upside down and thinking of it in terms of descending instead of ascending.

I actually realized this after I had posted my graphics and realize that it would have made far more sense had I numbered the notes from the bottom up rather than from the top down.

My sincere apologies for the confusion. The main point I was trying to make is that however you view the sequence of notes, that sequence is always going to remain the same on the wheel of fifths for every key. So if you can find a single scale using the wheel of fifths then you can find them all by just rotating that scale interval pattern.

But you're right, convention is to count up from the bottom using the standard interval-step relationships.

I've renumbered my own sequence to reflect this standard convention as well.

Again, sorry for the confusion. I'm only just learning this stuff myself.

Also sorry to hear about your mum, I lost mine 6 years ago and I still miss her dearly on a day-to-day basis.
 

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