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Before I post the first video demonstrating the most effective way (in my opinion) to practice scales, I wanted to talk about some very basic concepts.

1. Slow motion:

This is a very important distinction, one that comes up again and again when I teach. The idea is not to play slowly, but to slow all the movements respectively as if one is moving in slow motion.

2. Control:

The idea of practicing in general is to gain control. we develop control by slowing our motions as much as possible. It requires much more control to move slowly than to move at regular speed. Think of Tai Chi (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBvF6r6DOvc). Why do we practice control? One of the hard things about playing an instrument is that the circumstances under which we practice are very different than those under which we perform. In an audition or concert, when we get nervous our vibrato get may get faster, our sense of time may change, our hands might get sweaty and thus change our feeling of the fingerboard. If we develop only the amount of control needed to perform well in the practice environment, we will crash and burn in an audition or concert. Therefore we must develop much more control than we actually need when we practice.

3. Shifting:

When shifting, most of us think of the position we want to reach. That means that most of us throw our hands upwards. Shifting has a speed that must be in relation to the notes before and after.When shifting slowly, in one speed of motion, we force our brains to memorize the distance to the next position, not just the end location of the next position. Learning to shift as slowly as possible develops a greater control and reduces the chances of errors.

4. Bow control:

Practicing scales is not only for the left hand. Equal bow-division forces us to create a mind-bow connection. It forces us to think about what bow speed we need to use in order to get to the tip within 4 beats of the metronome. It also forces us to be aware of where we are in the bow at all times.

5. Point-of-contact (the place on the string where the bow is placed):

By focusing on keeping a uniform point-of-contact throughout the scale, we force our mind to be aware of the point of contact.

6. Sound:

the sound we create changes by manipulating 3 variables: point of contact, weight and bow-speed. When playing scales, we don't change the point-of-contact or the bow-speed. Therefore the weight we use must be adjusted to maintain an even sound. This forces us to practice the changes we need to make to compensate for the various elements that make playing with an even sound a physically unnatural thing. For example, the weight our hand applies to the string is much greater at the frog than at the tip. We must learn how much weight to apply to the bow to counter that difference.

7. Back to speed:

When a baby learns to walk, it first slowly stands us holding on to a rail. Then it learns to balance, shifting its weight from leg to leg. Most of us try to run before we can walk. We practice at a speed which is greater than the speed in which our brains can control all the elements we are trying to incorporate. My philosophy is keep it easy. The last movement of Bartok concerto would not seep difficult if it were titled Molto Lento. Practicing slowly allows our brain to internalize the elements of the motions we are trying to practice in a much more effective way than trying to jam all of the elements together at the same time. For me, the concept of difficult means trying to play beyond the level of control I currently possess. As I wrote earlier, one develops control not by practicing very slowly, not too fast.