I’ve put off posting for awhile because I’m running into some specific formatting issues with the top post in my drafts folder that I’m hoping a friend of mine can help me with. In the mean time, I thought I’d dig up some resources for other music educators I’ve been meaning to post. Today I’ve got some handouts for students on understanding major scales.
Beyond just knowing how to play any number of major scales on their instrument, it’s important that students understand the fundamentals of constructing them. Beyond the muscle memory (that is itself a valuable skill for performing most diatonic music), it forms the basis for understanding a great deal in theory, and specifically serves as the best foundation for learning other scales (minor scales, modal scales, etc.)
While I’m sure there are more ways to conceptualize scales effectively (especially outside of the concert band set-up), through my own teachers and teaching experience, I’ve encountered two dominant approaches that I’ve made handouts for:
The first is understanding them by the circle of fourths. This is my preferred method for teaching scales. The way I see it, it builds a more innate understanding of the relationships between keys, which encourages a faster mental turnaround. Of course, there’s a lot of bias in that viewpoint, because that’s the way I learned my scales. I was fortunate to my former high school band director—Steve Stickney’s presentation at the 2017 Iowa Music Educators’ Conference on warming up bands, where he discussed teaching scales this way. He had some useful warmups in his presentation notes that he has graciously permitted me to share. These are useful regardless of your teaching approach on scales.
The other way that I have been exposed to teaching scales is through a series of rules that focus on the relationship between the last accidental and the name of the key. While I think this requires more steps of processing longer in the learning process, it does better allow a teacher to guide a student to getting their answer and formatively assess where the comprehension may be breaking down in a lesson more easily.
I know both seem a little wordy, but during my student teaching, I was seeing light bulbs go off for seventh graders who were reading the latter handout after having had scales explained more than once in class. While I’m fine with my second handout as is, I’d like to update the first for students down the road. It would probably need to go on to a second page, but I would like to elaborate a bit more and discuss how “adding flats” to a key with sharps is just removing sharps (and vice versa).
I hope others find these useful! Feel free to drop a line in the comments or on any other platform on the side bar regarding these!