Practice Tip: Accumulative Scale Technique

opening run in Maurice Whitney's Introduction and Samba

Have you ever seen a run like the one above and thought there was no way you could play it cleanly?  So instead you just moved your fingers without even bothering looking at the notes, hoping to land on the next quarter note or eighth note at the right time.  Or would you like to learn how to play all scales BOTH clean and fast?

One of my favorite ways of practicing scales and runs is using the accumulative scale technique.  A long term for a very easy process.  Now, I won’t take credit for inventing how to do it (but maybe take credit for putting it out on the interwebs).  I learned of the practice method from Curt Hanrahan, but as most teaching methods go, it was probably passed to him from legends such as Joe Aaron or Jack Snavely. 

The method can be used to clean up ascending or descending runs, as well as help you learn to play scales fast or even commit those harder scales to memory.  It helps build up finger dexterity and muscle memory.  I would say it is a more advanced practice technique, as it does involve speed, but I’m sure even it can be helpful even to a novice player.  It works very well on any woodwind instrument due to the nature of how those instruments are played with both hands, although I’m sure it would work well on any instrument.  If you have tried this method on other instruments, please share your experiences in the comments below.

I’ll use the above example to demonstrate how to approach using this practice technique, but remember it can be applied in numerous ways.  If you use it for practicing scales, I would recommend not starting on the root, but on the lowest note your instrument can play in that key.


Repeat the first 2 notes of the scale/run four times, back and forth.


Add the next note in the scale/run


Continue ‘accumulating’ notes in the scale/run in the same manner


And another...


And another...


Of course you can connect all these steps together.  Practice as fast as possible with COMPLETE CONTROL.  Do not add the next note unless the previous pattern was perfect.  Breathe when necessary.


Reverse it!  Know the scale/run forward and backwards.  Start from the top and work down


Now it's time to go perfect those difficult runs and scales.  Happy practicing!