Scales Necessary for Improvisation

Scales? I remember when I was in high school, learning scales was the last thing on my mind. I would only learn the ones that were required for all-district band tryouts, and subsequent competitions.

My junior year in high school we got new band directors; two sax players and one trombone player. Dennis Eichler was one of the saxophone players (also my saxophone teacher my freshman year in college), and he introduced us to jazz. He started an after-school jazz ensemble and began to teach us jazz improvisation. It was an exciting new world for me.

Some things came naturally for me, like finding bluesy sounding notes in a given progression. But without learning scales the rest was impossible to grasp. And as a young kid, it was impossible to convince me that I needed to learn my scales; all of them, and there are quite a few. I wanted to be a good improviser, but, I didn’t want to do what it takes to have that happen.

It wouldn’t be until my second year of college, a new school (McNeese State), and a new sax instructor. His name was Rick Condit, and he was a great saxophone player and teacher. Unfortunately, I only went to McNeese for one semester, and like an idiot, I decided that I didn’t want a college education.

In that one semester though, Rick got me to learn my scales and a few other things. I began to know the importance of scales. Without them, you can’t possibly hope to improvise or understand chord progressions. I mean, everything comes from scale structure. They are the basis of all music.

And now I’m in the process of relearning my scales. Of course, it is not as hard as the last time. They are still in my head. My brain understands, but my hands are slow to cooperate. I’ll get it done though.


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