There are many reasons why practicing violin scales is so essential when you are trying to learn the violin. Working on violin scales allows a student to focus on intonation, or in other words, where to place your fingers down in the right places.
Being that the violin is a fretless instrument, there needs to be a significant amount of time spent on mastering muscle memory in the left-hand. This can be done by working on violin scales.
The key to effective violin scale practice is having a sense of focus. Just playing through a few violin scales is not going to increase your ability level if you don't practice scales properly.
What Violin Scales Should You Practice?
I recommend working on these scales based on your ability level on the violin:
0-3 Months Experience - D Major 1 Octave
10+ Years Experience - All 3 Octave Scales (including minors)
Here is a link to download every violin scale that you can practice. My recommendation is always to be working on 2-5 violin scales and focus on these three things.
1. Intonation (finger placement)
2. Right-hand technique/bowing
3. Left-hand habits
Focus #1 - Intonation work with Violin Scales
In the case of working on intonation, I recommend downloading any violin tuner on your devices and working on getting each note as close to in tune as possible.
My favorite tuner is INSTunerLite on Iphone, but there are many others out there that will do the job.
Don't kill yourself trying to perfect intonation on EVERY note, as perfect intonation is very challenging to achieve.
Try to be at least 95% accurate with all your notes when focusing on intonation with violin scales. This type of practice will carry over into how in tune you sound in general when playing the violin.
Focus #2 - Right-Hand Practice with Violin Scales
When focusing on right-hand technique/bowing with scales, try to identify any bad habits you have and focus on fixing them during scales.
If you aren't sure what some of these bad habits are, I recommend you go through my playlist on Youtube that helps you identify any bad habits you may have on the violin. Equally as necessary, you can work on various bowing patterns when practicing violin scales.
Here are tips for practicing violin scales related to bowings based on ability level:
0-3 Months Experience - Focus on using the whole bow, keeping the bow moving the same speed.
3-12 Months Experience - Throw in working on two notes per bow stroke (slurs)
1-2 Years Experience - Work on staccato, and the staccato slur with various scales
2-4 Years Experience - Practice thirds with scales
4+ Years Experience - Practice spiccato (off the string), and four notes per bow stroke
If you aren't sure how to do any of these techniques, I recommend you start going through my playlist on Youtube of how to play the violin which will cover all of these concepts in detail.
Focus #3 - Left-Hand Practice with Violin Scales
There are so many habits you can be doing incorrectly on the violin related to the left-hand (outside of just being out of tune).
Having a solid structure of the hand is key to your success - many students are doing these things improperly:
1. Moving fingers too much to find notes
2. Fingers popping up in the air
3. Over-pressure into the fingerboard
4. Not having the hand high enough
5. Using stress/strain to make finite adjustments
These are just some of the things that can be challenging for students, and it's so important to identify them. If you haven't done a lot of technical work with your violin playing, understanding these things will give you a significant boost to your progress efficiency.
I cover many of these concepts through my Youtube playlist especially in course one, as it's key to have a perfect left-hand to succeed with the violin.
How long should you practice violin scales?
I'm huge on balance when it comes to practicing the violin, including how long to practice your scales. The amount of time that you spend practicing scales should be based on a percentage of the amount of time you dedicate to practicing the violin each session.
Have the mindset that your practice sessions should be split up into these three parts.
1. The first third - Focus on drills, violin scales and any technical habits that you need to improve.
2. The second third - Focus on intonation, rhythm, articulation, and dynamics with etudes and short excerpts/songs.
3. The last third - Focus on longer pieces, thinking less about technique and more about the musicality of your playing.
So if you decide to practice for 30 minutes, spend the first third (10 minutes) practicing what's in the first third (violin scales and drills). Even if you only plan on practicing for 6 minutes, use this same structure to get optimal results with your violin playing.
If you want detailed help on how to establish solid technique on the violin, I highly recommend my Perfect Vibrato course which covers foundations of setting up the left hand, right hand and detailed steps on how to improve your sound.
This course covers how to improve vibrato, and also is an excellent four-week study of how to get rid of many bad habits you may have currently when playing the violin (learn more here). It is appropriate for beginners as well as anyone under fifteen years of experience who wants to improve their sound.
I also recommend checking out these blog articles if you want to improve on the violin: