101 Ways to Differentiate a Scale

In the Feldenkrais Method we use two main principles, usually with movement, to improve function: Differentiation and Integration. These are the same two principles which are used similarly in mathematics to explore and understand smaller or more particular parts of a whole and recombine them to further clarify some larger function which we might be exploring, such as speed of movement or acceleration. Feldenkrais broke down functions into incremental explorations of movement and sensation using a concept he called “differentiation” and and then “integrated” them back into functions that brought the individual self into a relationship with the world and used this functional integration to not only clarify movement, but also the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that are interconnected in these relationships. Because the concept of a large function was so tied up well established networks of thoughts, feelings, and sensations that we have developed over years without even knowing it (habits), Feldenkrais theorized that by using these concepts of varied and subtle exploration of the infinite parts of a function, we could get around some of the burdensome complexity and learn more effectively. We could affect maximum change and come closer to our potential by allowing our learning to be about these infinite and varied relationships at finer and deeper levels, but also well spread over the spectrum of potential function.

I take these ideas directly into my violin/viola teaching, clinicing in schools, and work with professional musicians to circumnavigate injury and difficulty. I like working with instrumentalists WITH their instruments to explore these infinite relationships, because, as musicians, we rely on our aural capabilities more than almost any other sensation for feedback on our success, making our listening a critical component in our learning.

A colleague for whom I regularly clinic challenged me to create a list of 101 Differentiations of a Scale. This was a brainstorm of variations I’ve used with students and in clinics to highlight various relationships that I feel are important in our overall function of playing, segmented down to the function of a scale. Some are silly, some are challenging, some might not work for you and your particular set up or instrument, but I hope they might stimulate you to expand into infinite variations of your own!

  1. Play it from the top down and then back up.
  2. Play it in separate tetrachords.
  3. Sing the tonic before each note.
  4. Sing the tonic before each tetrachord.
  5. Play each individual tetrachord in each octave with correct fingerings.
  6. Do this with each of the 4 tetrachords, 2 going up, two going down…these are different in minor
  7. Play the scale going up one string.
  8. On another string.
  9. On another string.
  10. On the OTHER string.
  11. Play the octaves out of order.
  12. Play the whole scale with fingers 1 and 2.
  13. With 2 and 3.
  14. With 3 and 4.
  15. With 1 and 3.
  16. With 2 and 4.
  17. With 1 and 4.
  18. With 1, 2, 3.
  19. With 1, 2, 3, 4, and always in this order consecutively.
  20. With 2, 3, 4.
  21. With 1, 3, 4.
  22. With 1, 2, 4. (If you can dream it, you might need it!
  23. Play with one finger on one string.
  24. Another finger.
  25. Another finger.
  26. Another finger.
  27. Slide one finger up and down, returning to the tonic between notes.
  28. Play it standing on one foot.
  29. Stand on the other foot.
  30. Move side to side (RL, LR) with the bow.
  31. Move side to side against the bow.
  32. Rotate clockwise and counterclockwise over your feet with the bow.
  33. Rotate against the bow.
  34. If you stepped on the RIGHT foot to rotate clockwise, step left, rotate clockwise, and right for counterclockwise…with the bow.
  35. Do the above against the bow (I call this distinction inward versus outward rotation).
  36. Open and close your jaw while you play.
  37. Slide your upper jaw side to side with your chin remaining in place on the chinrest with the bow.
  38. Slide your jaw side to side in the direction opposite to the bow’s movement.
  39. Count your teeth with your tongue while you play.
  40. Stick your tongue out and in like a lizard while you play.
  41. Bring the corners of your mouth apart and together while you play.
  42. Scan your eyes side to side above the horizon while you play.
  43. Scan your eyes along the floor while you play.
  44. Move your eyes side to side with the bow.
  45. Eyes against the bow.
  46. Cover or close one eye while you play.
  47. Cover or close the other eye.
  48. Move in circles over your feet as you play.
  49. Cross one leg over the other and move in circles.
  50. Cross the other leg in front.
  51. Play with your feet wide.
  52. Play with your feet touching.
  53. Play with your feet in a straight line, one in front of the other.
  54. Stand on your heels while you play.
  55. Stand on your toes.
  56. Rock between your heels and your toes.
  57. Make circles with your scroll while you play, as if you are pushing the hand around an imaginary clock.
  58. Make circles with your nose while you play.
  59. Make circles with the top of your head.
  60. Exhale during your down bows.
  61. Inhale during your down bows.
  62. Only change your breath in the middle of the bow.
  63. Hold your breath in while you play.
  64. Hold your breath out while you play.
  65. Play the scale with all whole bow down bows and circle your bow around your scroll in between each.
  66. Play with whole bow up bows and circle around the scroll in between.
  67. Pizzicato the last note you played after every up bow.
  68. Play the whole scale with your bow held in your fist with your thumb on top of the stick, together with your fingers.
  69. Draw the bow with only the index, ring finger, and thumb.
  70. Draw the bow with only the pinky, middle finger, and thumb.
  71. Move from sitting to standing on all shifts.
  72. Move from standing to sitting on all shifts.
  73. Walk forwards.
  74. Walk backwards.
  75. Walk sideways.
  76. Walk in circles. Which way did you circle?
  77. Go the other way.
  78. Swing the right leg forward and backward with the bow while standing on the left.
  79. Swing the left leg.
  80. Zigzag between contact points…54345, 43234, 12321, etc.
  81. Play sitting on one sit bone.
  82. Sit on the other sit bone.
  83. Kneel on one foot and one knee.
  84. Other foot, other knee.
  85. Switch feet while you are playing, randomly or with string crossings, shifts, etc.
  86. Bend and unbend your knees.
  87. Bend and unbend your knees and hip joints…bring your butt back as your upper body goes forward!
  88. Make a SSSSSSSSsssssss sound until you are empty of air.
  89. Play it ponticello.
  90. Play whole bows using the wood of the bow…slippery.
  91. Intentionally slide into each note from above…random, an octave, a planned note.
  92. Intentionally slide into each note from below.
  93. Move from standing to squatting while playing.
  94. Stand on a balance board.
  95. Stand on a foam roller.
  96. Sit on a foam roller and roll your pelvis forward and back.
  97. Play with a beanbag on your head.
  98. Lie on your back on a foam roller vertically and play.
  99. Play while hula-hooping! Did you go both directions?

If you practice your scales with even one little variation each day, you will keep evolving and you will never get bored. Have fun, and let me know if you have some other crazy ones you discover on your own!

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