My university students take a scale exam covering all the major and 3-forms-of-minor scales, plus arpeggios, in all 12 keys, memorized. In preparation, I provide them with a scale “sheet,” with all of the scales and arpeggios written out note by note.
There’s a part of my brain that objects to this, since I don’t really want scale playing to be a reading exercise. My students should be able to work out the notes for each scale from several different angles, by using (for example) interval patterns, transposition, and/or playing by ear. And the true goal is muscle memory—the ability to play all these scales on auto-pilot, without relying on any particular thought process.
The scale sheet shouldn’t be a crutch, but can it be helpful? I think it can. Here’s why:
If I’m working on a complicated repertoire piece or étude, I will certainly work from a piece of printed music, even if I intend to memorize it. Besides the printed musical information, the paper (or digital) copy also gives me a place to annotate the music with hints to improve my performance.
A scale sheet can work the same way. It’s not merely for laying out all the notes, but also for marking in:
- preferred fingerings, articulations, etc.
- current playable metronome markings
- unresolved problem spots
- some tracking/tally of which scales I’ve practiced lately (I find that if I let myself choose scales “randomly” to work on, I end up choosing the same ones repeatedly, and completely neglecting others)
- indications (stars? check marks? smiley faces?) of progress and successes, that might help me feel motivated to continue
If you’re not using a scale sheet of some kind, I suppose you could figure out an organized way to write this information in some other document, but it’s hard to beat the convenience of the scale sheet.
As a teacher, I provide scale sheets with the ranges, rhythms, articulations, fingerings, and so forth that I want my students to use. You should produce your own, by hand or with the commercial or free music notation software of your choice. (Hint: use the transpose function to turn one key in to twelve, and minimize the chance of errors.)