Practising scales and arpeggios over an extended range

The problem of the traditional approach to scales and arpeggios

Many woodwind players, even experienced ones, play scales and arpeggios from key note to key note (see example 1 in the PDF attachment at the bottom of this page). 

If you play scales and arpeggios like this you inevitably practise less in the highest and lowest registers of the instrument. A saxophonist who plays the scale of A major as shown in example 1, misses out the notes from high Bb to high F# and from low G# to low Bb, in other words nearly one and a half octaves of an instrument that only has a range of two and a half octaves! 

Practising scales over the extended range

The highest and lowest registers are a challenge for saxophone, flute and clarinet players alike. If you want to develop a good technique and even tone over the whole range of the instrument you should play all your scales and arpeggios over an extended range, adopting the following method:

  • start on the lowest available key note
  • ascend to the highest note in the scale that you are able to play
  • descend to the lowest note in the scale that you are able to play
  • finish on the key note, where you started

A less experienced player, who can play up to high C# and down to low E, would therefore play the A major scale as shown in example 2.

A more advanced player, who can play over the whole range, would play the A major scale as shown in example 3.

Extended range practice of arpeggios

The same principle should be applied to arpeggios, so the less experienced player would play the A major arpeggio as shown in example 4, and the more advanced player as in example 5.

Applying the method to the clarinet and flute

Flute and clarinet players have a much bigger official range of notes at their disposal, since the flute has a range of three octaves, and the clarinet three and a half octaves. In order to maintain command of tone and technique throughout the register, players of these instruments should adopt the same method for practising scales and arpeggios as the one I have outlined for saxophonists.

Final thoughts

I vividly remember my first teacher, the late Don Rendell (a great British saxophonist who played with Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and Billie Holiday) saying ‘look after the top and bottom, and the middle takes care of itself’. It was good advice!

Download ‘Extended range practice of scales and arpeggios’ (PDF)


2019-09-26T10:08:04+00:00September 26th, 2019|Practice tips|