Why you should not practice singing with scales

When I thought about this topic, I can almost hear the rants and flames from purists who have been trained to use the traditional methods of scales, trills, etc. As a person who enjoys singing, I have tried out a lot of different methods to train and develop my voice so that it can be used effectively in a variety of singing situations. One thing I was exposed to a lot was scales.

The problem with applying the concept of scales to singing is this: the guitar and drums are outside of the body, while the vocal chords are inside the body. If I play a wrong note on the guitar, not only can I hear the error, but I can also see that my finger was not on the right fret. I also know which finger it was, which note it should be and exactly how many frets to adjust to get to the right note.

Not so with the voice. I can hear a wrong note. In most cases, anyway. If I’m singing a very high note, the place where the notes resonate are so close to my ear that the sound gets distorted. The best way for a vocalist (singer, lawyer, speaker, etc) to check themselves is to record the session and listen to it. So if you have no way of checking for yourself how accurate your notes are, how far off you are, etc, don’t you think we should reevaluate the effectiveness of using scales in singing practice?

So what’s the alternative? First of all, what are scales? Scales are basically a form, a mold from which we create ideas, phrases and stuff. If we did not have scales, we would just have a fretboard or keyboard with a lot of notes. Scales make it easy to make sense of the notes available to us. With scales, for example, we can say that this is the note C, and these are seven other notes that relate to it. And since the notes give the C a very bold, brilliant, flavor, we’ll call it a C Major scale. From there we can form chords, phrases, lines, melody – anything we want so that it becomes a song that makes sense to the audience.

Notice here that the scale is not really the basic function in music. The basic functions are the movements of the fingers, of the sticks, of the vocal chords that create the sounds. When a painter learns how to draw, what does he learn first? Not the kinds of drawings and the moods of the paintings, but the stroke. The artist has to master the stroke. How straight are his lines, how good is he at doing curves, circles, and so on. After that ability has been developed, then he goes on to learn how to apply those strokes to express what he wants on the canvass.

The artist does not learn to trace the Mona Lisa on a piece of paper. So why then, does the vocalist have to learn using scales? Rather than forcing the voice to conform to the mold of the scales, why not work on them separately? Why not get the voice to the range, tonality, volume, etc where you want it to be, then use that well-developed tool to perform the scales, trills, vibrato and any acrobatics that you need to express your ideas through your music.

How did we start using scales? The answer is simple. That’s the only way they knew how to do it back then. Nowadays, we have technology that can show the vocal chords in action and discover from there what really works. Scales actually cause us to strain our voices more than necessary because of the perceived “high” note we are working towards. In fact, many of the notes that singers complain about not being able to hit when they sing scales, they actually produce very effortlessly in everyday speech.

That’s what my website is all about. I have been trying a few methods of vocal development and I have gotten the best results by separating the two processes and working on them individually.

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