Contrary motion scales are awesome. Not only are they fun to play and sound cool, but they’re a wonderful way to teach scale fingerings – especially when students are first learning to play scales.
A step up from a simple contrary motion scale is playing scales using what’s called a “formula pattern.”
P.S. I’ve always wondered why it’s called a “formula pattern” so if you know, please educate me! I find it to be a boring name for such a fun scale! Ha!
Actually, I think we should call them zig-zag scales instead! What do you think?! LOL
What is the Formula Pattern?
If you’re unfamiliar with this scale pattern, it is basically a 2 (or 4) octave scale with a bump in the road.
- Begin by playing the scale ascending in parallel motion.
- At the half-way point, play a contrary motion scale, returning back to the middle.
- Finish the top half of the ascending scale in parallel motion.
- Once again, after descending halfway back down the parallel motion scale, throw in another contrary motion scale (out and back in).
- Finally, finish the pattern by descending the final half of the scale in parallel motion.
Why the Visual Works
The first time I tried to teach a student the formula pattern, it was a struggle. I try to avoid using formal “scale books” for students to have to read every note and fingering, so I needed to find an easy way to explain the pattern.
Since I’m a visual person, I came up with this simple visual for my students. Every student I’ve used this with has found it very helpful – I hope that perhaps it will help your students as well!
Formula Scale Progressions
To give you a rough idea of a good progression of this particular technical skill, here is the leveling based on the Royal Conservatory of Music program’s technical skill requirements.
Level 1 = C Major (2 octaves)
Level 2 = C, G Major (2 octaves)
Level 3 = D Major (2 octaves)
Level 4 = C harmonic minor (2 octaves)
Level 5 = A Major, A harmonic minor (2 octaves)
Level 6 = E Major, E harmonic minor (2 octaves)
Level 7 = D Major, D harmonic minor (2 octaves)
Level 8 = Eb Major, Eb harmonic minor (4 octaves)
Level 9 = Db Major, F Major, C# harmonic minor, F harmonic minor (4 octaves)
P.S. Joy Morin has a great free downloadable PDF of the Technical Requirements for the 2015 RCM Program.