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Practicing, Scales, Improvising and Free Stuff

by David Birrow Birrow.David@MacPhail.org

My mallet students begin to improvise once they can play a scale up and down and arpeggiate the tonic chord. Improvisation is an ultimately more useful technique compared to the classic "band/all-state/method book" approach of tonic for a quarter note then the scale up in eighths. Here is the typical progression during a lesson:

  1. I tell my students to "wander" around in a scale, changing direction whenever they feel like it
  2. When that feels comfortable, they can change up the rhythm, dynamic, sticking or whatever else might be useful to focus on
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 with the tonic triad
  4. "Wander" around both the scale and triad, switching between the two whenever they feel like it

Step 4 might sound like this:

This is a variation on the "Big Scale" practice technique in David Berkman's excellent book: The Jazz Musician's Guide to Creative Practicing. The idea is to get the student to play the scale musically rather than strictly kinesthetically.  In order to boost the musical nature during a lesson, I'll accompany on marimba, vibes, or piano while the student works on the scale.

When the student goes home however, they need something to accompany them, so I used GarageBand on my MacBook and threw together 12 practice tracks: 1 for each major key. Each are about one minute long, in various styles and instrumentation, and at a variety of tempo (they are also license free). I clip these to the student's lesson notes in their Evernote notebook so they can listen to them while practicing at home.  I thought I'd share the mp3's here so you could use them as well with your students.

Please note: I don't claim that any of these are masterpieces of music production, however I do claim they are way more fun than a metronome. 

You can download all twelve of them by clicking here.

Or you can just play them below:

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