Are You Playing Scales Like a Robot?

"There’s a phrase often repeated both in sports and performing arts:


I have found this to be spot on. When I play with people who’ve practiced very stiff and methodically, the way they sound to me is, well, stiff and robotic. I’ve noticed this in my own playing too.

Scales are helpful to musicians in the way that ingredients are helpful to chefs (as I mentioned recently in this forum post). Scales aren’t the meal or even the recipe, but simply the ingredients that we can use to create and understand melodies. And to be able to play them in a musical way, it’s wise to always practice them in a musical way too.

Step one when learning any scale is to memorize it, and that requires us A LOT of repetition to build up the muscle memory. But even in this “robot” phase of the process of mastering a scale, here are some ideas to consider making the exercise more musical, my “play like a human - not a robot - scales cheat sheet”

  • Play all the notes as quietly as you can
  • Play each note with a crescendo (soft to loud)
  • Play each note with a crescendo and diminuendo (soft to loud to soft)
  • Play the scale with different articulation such as “Ka,” “Ta,” or “Taht”
  • Play the scale using tongue blocking
  • Play each note with a tongue slap
  • Play each note with a hand wah (closed to open to closed)
  • Play each note with a throat vibrato / tremolo

Here’s me demoing several of the above, notice how this is training your musical skills?

Pick a scale, and try and memorize it while you try these ideas out.


And all the ingredients come into the food little by little. That’s how learning is, step by step!
Only at the end does a very good menu come out, maybe with some chilli :wink: for :metal:.
It’s the same with learning and playing the harp.
Well constructed @Luke.


Thanks for the great ideas to practice techniques, I apply a few of them but will definitely try a few more.


Though I didn’t respond about this at the time, I’ve thought a lot about what you say @Luke

I’ve integrated your excellent advice into my harmonica practice and also now as I learn scales on the piano :balance_scale: :sunglasses:

Could it be that the harmonica is a gateway drug to other instruments? :thinking:

My first attempt at learning something about music a couple of years ago was a bust, never getting beyond Twinkle :sparkles: Twinkle :sparkles: Little Star :star2:

But since I started checking my notes on the harmonica against a keyboard :musical_keyboard: I bought for my girls many years ago I have become more interested in the piano and am now learning all the major scales. I like adding the major chords and arpeggios to make it more interesting as I move around the circle of 5ths to hit all the notes :notes:

As a side note (different kind of :memo: :joy:) , my first two :v: songs I have written have been based in the Blues Scale and Minor Pentonic Scale.

I hear people say how boring scales are to practice but I find it fascinating how music works with the different steps and intervals. Different keys used to scare me both on the harmonica and the piano but they are all related.

When we practice our scales in a musical way it seems to make all the difference, at least for me.

Thanks for your wisdom Master @Luke :pray:


Very cool brain training advice


Great stuff Bobby! Practicing scales (and chords, inversions, and voice leading) on a piano is such great work for ANY musician, regardless of what instrument they play! Kudos to you!

Also, since you have a keyboard, that’s a great way for you to work on getting your bends in tune!