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SCALES AND RHYTHM (theory resource CD)


Anderton
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We all want to be better musicians. Well, at least most of us do, and scales and rhythm are fundamental elements to anything musical. Scales and Rhythm is a two-CD set with scales played against a rhythmic backdrop.

 

As usual with Pro Reviews, I urge you to check out the Scales and Rhythm web site to get a basic idea of the product, so I don’t waste space here covering things that you can find elsewhere. And note that this is available ONLY from the web site, there's no distribution network.

 

When HC was first approached about doing a Pro Review on this product, I wasn’t convinced. First of all, it’s not a big multimedia training course or anything; it’s two audio CDs, a fold-out chart with picture showing the notes on guitar and bass necks (the flip side shows scales on staff), and a table of contents. Click on the attachment to see part of the package contents.

 

Second, there’s no really interactive element; you play the CDs, and practice along with them. Third, it didn’t seem like a “deep” product, like a DAW or sampler, where you really need a Pro Review format to be able to explore all the little nooks and crannies, and answer questions, which of course you can’t do with other review formats. So, I didn’t think it would take a long time to complete – which isn’t a problem in itself, but I was wondering if a review in the HC Confidential Newsletter wouldn’t be more appropriate.

 

But then I took a closer look at the product, and realized that it fit the “real-time, interactive” review philosophy very well: I could do the exercises for several days while investigating various aspects of the program and answering any questions, then see if my playing and timing actually got any better...an ideal experiment for a Pro Review.

 

And I also came up with a few other ideas along the way about how to use this product, but I’m getting ahead of myself...

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Let’s get the things I don’t like out of the way before getting into what’s cool. First, though, we have to frame this in the perspective of being a $14.99 product (list). Throw in shipping, and it’s still under $20.

 

As a result, don’t expect Jerry Marotta to play the drum parts; they’re obviously programmed on a drum machine. But the drums also need to have metronomic precision if you’re going to practice timing. So if Jerry Marotta had played the drums, someone would have had to taken the time to align all the beats perfectly, and would likely have gone crazy in the process given that there are 198 tracks of material. In any event, a drum machine sure beats a metronome, no matter how you slice it.

 

Second, the synth playing the scale notes is a sort of electric piano with a string pad playing along with the note, so it’s pretty plain vanilla. Download the attachment to hear what I’m talking about. However, note that due to the 102k file size limitation of the BBS software, this is just an excerpt, at a really low MP3 rate (56kbps) – the original sounds far better, and goes up and down the full scale twice.

 

As we’re dealing with scales generated from a synth playing against a drum machine, you might think to yourself “Well I could just make my own practice tool...boot up my sequencer, program some scales, come up with some drum parts, separate it all into tracks, record it, mix it down, and create a CD.” Well, count up the time required to do that, and you’ll find it’s worthwhile only if you’re making well below minimum wage. The convenience of having a CD you can just slip into a player beats rolling your own.

 

Finally, note that the scales covered are A, B, C, D, E, F, G in major and minor variations – no sharp/flat scales. On the other hand, as this is oriented toward guitar, bass, and voice, and guitarists and bassists tend to think in “patterns,” it’s not hard to shift the pattern up or down a half step for practicing something like an F# major scale. And again, keep the price in mind: If you want to get into flatted 7th and suspended scales, there are resources for more advanced players available.

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The point is that this isn’t a music theory course. It’s an inexpensive way to build up dexterity, do ear training, and get the major/minor fundamentals down, all while improving your timing. Now, I can vouch based on personal experience that the theory about the timing part is correct: My timing was not very good until drum machines came along. Sure, I practiced with a metronome, but the “click-click-click” would make me nuts enough that I’d have to turn it off eventually. I didn’t mind playing along with drum machines, and they forced me to play closer attention to my timing.

 

One of the really smart things going on with Scales and Rhythm is that there isn’t just one drum pattern, but varieties in different styles (rock, pop, funk, metal, punk, jazz, and ethnic). As a result, you can mix and match rhythms so you don’t get burned out on one sound. Also, there’s something to be said for playing against different styles...it gives you a chance to play around the beat a little bit, and improve your sense of timing, not just absolute timing.

 

For example, with the “punk” examples, I tried consciously to play just a bit ahead of the beat to “push” things more. Sure, I also tried playing right on the beat, but it was an interesting experiment to try to “bend” the timing a little bit.

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Now I had to figure out some objective way to determine if playing along with the CD for the next several days actually improved my playing and timing. Hey, this is a Pro Review, so I couldn’t just say “Well I think my timing’s better.”

 

So, I figured I’d rip a few tracks from the CD with different scales, bring them into a DAW, and record my playing against those scales later tonight or tomorrow as the “control” scales. As luck (or misfortune) would have it, I haven’t had much chance to play guitar the past two months so I’m a bit rusty, giving Scales and Rhythm an excellent chance to prove itself.

 

But how could I be sure the timing on the CD was accurate? Well, I imported some tracks into Sonar, and while I couldn’t measure whether or not they were sample-accurate, suffice it to say that based on a very close visual inspection compared to Sonar’s timing markers, the timing is absolutely spot on. Click on the attachment below to see the tightness of the timing. The illustration shows Sonar set to 100 BPM (the tempo of the example scale), and compares the accuracy of the waveform hitting on the first beat vs. the accuracy at the last beat. This is indeed 100 BPM – exactly. I also checked the intermediate measures, and the notes line up exactly. There’s no timing jitter at all; this really is metronomic.

 

So my plan is to come back in a week or so after practicing with Scales and Rhythm every day, record into the sequencer, and see how closely my notes match up with the recorded notes.

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Let’s get a bit more into the lay of the land. There are four “levels” of practice for guitar:

 

* 50 BPM

* 100 BPM

* 200 BPM

* 300 BPM

 

Three levels for bass:

 

* 50 BPM

* 100 BPM

* 200 BPM

 

Two levels for voice:

 

* 60 BPM

* 120 BPM

 

For voice, scale ranges are for Baritone, Tenor, Alto, and Soprano.

 

Having the different tempos available is indeed helpful. I dutifully started on the 50 BPM level and was a little surprised at how often I’d flub a note with some scales. Ooops. Once I was back up to speed a bit more, I moved over to 100 BPM and there were a lot fewer clams.

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Okay, I was definitely doing better, but was it just because I was practicing, or was it because the CD had some special mojo? Actually, both. If the CD didn’t exist and I was just practicing scales, I would have gotten better, I’m sure. But the CD was what got me practicing. And I didn’t mind practicing so much because I could just put the CD player on repeat, play along until I got bored, then go find a different scale with a different rhythm.

 

Sometimes when you’re busy, you need an excuse to do something. Doing the Scales and Rhythm Pro review has provided that excuse. I’ve already seen a little progress during the course of working with it today, let’s see what happens over the next few days. And yes, I’ll be reporting back with more observations.

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Well I've been practicing a bit with the CD, and I haven't measured if the timing has gotten tighter, but I'm hitting the notes more accurately.

 

One other thing is that my primary instrument is guitar, my second instrument is keys, so I've always been a little weaker with that. So I've been playing along with keyboards as well. The only limitation is that Scales and Rhythm doesn't tell you about proper fingerings, so I'm kind of faking that :) But again, it's being helpful in terms of keeping scales fresh in my mind. It's almost like vocal warmup excercises (I haven't tried working with the vocal scales yet, that will be in a day or two).

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I discovered a very cool trick over the weekend for those who like to be challenged: Put your CD player on random, and try to keep up as it spits out different examples, in different keys, and at different tempos! At first I thought it would be better if a voice announced the key at the beginning of each riff (e.g., "A major") but now I'm not so sure...doing things this way means I have to be able to identify the key, so it's doing some serious ear training.

 

I don't get it right anywhere near 100% of the time, but having the examples thrown at you is a great way to learn to "think on your feet." I've emailed the guy who designed the program about this, and apparently, no one else has tried this :) but he thinks it's a cool idea.

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I received an email from the designer of Scales and Rhythms, and he pointed out that he has no distribution network -- the product is available only through the web site at http://www.scalesandrhythm.com. So, as there's no way you can try this out at your local GC or whatever, feel free to fire away with any questions you might have if you want a better idea of what the product includes, doesn't include, etc. Or is this all making sense?

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Yeah, I like the "shuffle/random" idea.

Once you can hang with that, you'd be well on your way.

 

I've always told anybody who inquired that if they wanted to get good on guitar, than the best thing they could do is pop in their favorite CD's and start jamming.

 

This is the same concept, just different. I'm self-taught and even though I've been playing for years and consider myself a guitar-god (:) ... whoops...did I say that outloud?), I could benefit from this CD.

 

1. Ear training would be great. I can blow across just about anything, but I don't have any clue what any of it has to do with any theory. :D

 

2. The rigid aspect is a plus. I can also vouch that using a drum machine/keyboard to practice with is not only a great way to write songs, but wil help you achieve precision and greater control over your timing. This is usually the second thing I tell people wanting to jam...get a cheap keyboard or drum machine.

 

As Craig mentioned, learning to work around the beat is a most valuable asset as a player. Ask any jazz guy.

 

3. How can you lose for $20? The guy should market these to guitar/piano teachers and music stores. This is almost so obvious, it should be something you just get because you want to have the right set of tools.

A strap, some picks, and this CD is all you need to start your ascent to super-stardom. There are two types of people in the world, those who own this CD, and those who play like {censored}. :)

(No, I don't write copywright, but maybe I should. :))

 

Sorry Craig, you seemed kinda lonely in here.

 

Having the different tempos available is indeed helpful. I dutifully started on the 50 BPM level and was a little surprised at how often I’d flub a note with some scales. Ooops. Once I was back up to speed a bit more, I moved over to 100 BPM and there were a lot fewer clams.

 

Are you sure it wasn't the shift up in tempo that didn't clear up the clams? It's always easier to play faster, at least for me. :D

 

Freakin' guitar. Skip a day and lose three. That's what somebody once said and it's pretty much true.

 

Is there any specfic language regarding the use of this material in original creations, commercial or otherwise? :D

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Hey, thanks for the comments! It's late here so I'll answer your questions tomorrow, but I'm hoping someone involved in Scales and Rhythm could check in and answer whether there's any kind of money back guarantee. Sure, it's only $20, but if someone's going to send money off to a web site, they probably would like to know they have a recourse if they don't get what they expected.

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Hello, my name is Aaron, president of ScalesAndRhythm.com and creator of "Every Musician's Guide To Scales And Rhythm".

 

I just wanted to add that I'm available to answer any questions you may have.

 

In response to Craig's question about money back guarantees: We offer a 30-day money back guarantee - no questions asked.

 

I would also like to take this opportunity to remind you to please allow 2-3 weeks for delivery - due to the large influx of orders recently.

 

Respectfully,

 

Aaron Dlugasch

CEO/CFO

ScalesAndRhythm.com

Every Musicians Guide To Scales And Rhythm

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Thanks for the info, Aaron. That seems like a pretty generous warranty.

 

Anyway, just wanted to check in with my progress. My guitar chops do seem to be getting "de-rusted." But my keyboard chops are getting a lot better, probably because that's always been my secondary instrument and I never put as much time into practicing it as I did with guitar.

 

One thing I've found is that it's worth doing the "put the CD on random" trick for about 10 minutes before getting into actual recording -- it's a quick way to get up to speed without just doing the usual finger exercises.

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I should also add that having the drums in there is a definite added/useful component. I realize it's a simple concept, but it's different to practice scales in a vacuum compared to having drums going on in the background.

 

As I mentioned earlier, you could always just practice to a sequencer and drum machine, though. It seems one of the "hooks" of Scales and Rhythm is that the price is set low enough that for most people, it will be easier to just buy it rather than go through the hassle.

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Hey Craig, thanks for the review. What an interesting product. I own a drum machine, but my current living situation doesn't allow the space for me to have a "music area", let alone music room. This sounds like an ideal practice tool to me.

 

My one question is re: track length. Is each track just an up/down of the scale once, or does it repeat a few times?

 

Thanks!

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I'm on the road and don't have the CD with me, but as I recall, each scale repeats twice (maybe Aaron can check in and confirm). Of course, just about every CD player lets you repeat a track, so that would be a good option to have a scale repeat as many times as you like.

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I'm really surprised that a Pro Review on something like Scales and Rhythm hasn't generated the same number of posts as the latest audio interface! :D

 

But kudos to Craig for choosing this topic. A lot of starting out musicians ask me what they can do to get better, and to have an inexpensive product that helps them out makes a lot of sense. For some people I wouldn't be surprised if something like this can have a bigger impact on the quality of a recording than buying the latest greatest audio interface.

 

Reading the Pro Review so far, I was a little freaked out by the fact that every time a question popped up in my head, Craig seemed to answer it in his next post. :eek:

 

-plb

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Reading about this product, I have two concerns.

 

Beef #1

 

My first concern has to do with a point that Craig and Stranger are making in two different ways in the following quotes:

 

Originally posted by Anderton

The only limitation is that Scales and Rhythm doesn't tell you about proper fingerings, so I'm kind of faking that
:)

Originally posted by the stranger

The guy should market these to guitar/piano teachers and music stores. This is almost so obvious, it should be something you just get because you want to have the right set of tools.

It's not enough to practice scales, you have to practice them correctly. A good teacher as an adjunct to buying a product like this should almost be a requirement. The thing is, if you're practicing this kind of basic excercise the right way, it can dramatically improve your overall playing. But if you're practicing it the wrong way, you can not only not improve, but also you can hurt yourself.

 

I know many musicians - guitarists, keyboardists, etc. - with hand, arm, shoulder and tendon injuries. If you are playing your instrument wrong and are doing something like this over and over, you can amplify a small physical mistake into an injury.

 

You can also fortify bad habbits. For example, if Craig is practicing scales with the wrong fingerings, he may be reinforcing bad habbits and impeding his ability to play fast supple scales down the road.

 

The injury thing though - particularly with young players - having an experienced teacher show you the right way is just such a critical part of the formula. And a lot of the physical mechanics are counterintuitive. It can take years to learn how not to tense up.

 

Beef #2

 

My second beef has to do with the BPM. I could see the system encouraging players to practice at the faster tempos - to graduate from slow to fast ASAP. My experience is that practicing this kind of excercise at a slower tempo is more valuable than practicing it at a fast tempo. The best use of this kind of thing, I think, is to practice slowly and make sure that you are perfecting how you are playing. Then, fast playing is easy and natural. Ironically, it's players who think they need to practice everything at a fast tempo who have the hardest time playing fast.

 

So IMHO I think there should be more gradations between 50 BPM and 100 BPM and some way to encourage slow practice. It's almost like telling the customer: we want you to take something painful and boring, like practicing scales, and make it even more painful and boring, by encouraging you to practice them slowly! But this is really the way to become a monster player, even though it is also counterintuitive.

 

With the caveats "use under proper supervision" and "practice slowly" it seems like a great tool at $20. I think Stranger's recommendation is a good one: market to teachers.

 

-peaceloveandbrittanylips

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>

 

Those are valid concerns. As to the first comment, I know scale fingerings for guitar, I just don't practice them enough :) But my keyboard foundation is not as firm.

 

As I noted earlier this is not a "method" course, it's a brush up. I don't think it's designed to take you from ground zero to being a great player, but maybe Aaron could comment on that. It really seems like it's designed to make it easy to warm up and practice for a low price.

 

The practice slowly thing...well, 50 BPM is plenty slow for me but I do find the faster speeds helpful not so much for practicing the scales, but for practicing the timing with respect to the drum machine. It's important to remember there are two components to this.

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It also seems to me that if the company wants to branch out, the next product could be a DVD that shows fingerings, a booklet with fingerings and scale charts, and a CD-ROM with MIDI sequences in all keys and lots of modes (set up for GM, of course). Something like this would of course be a lot more expensive, but I think it would make a logical "next step."

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I realized I never checked in with the results of whether or not my playing improved after working with this for a week.

 

Bottom line: Yes, it did. Unfortunately, I can't be a control group and see if my playing improved if I just played for a week without doing scales, just playing or whatever. But my sense is that the CD forced me to be more disciplined about practicing scales to particular rhythms than would have happened without the CD.

 

If you have a drum machine sitting around and know your scales, you'd likely derive just as much benefit as you would from using the CD. But if like me you need a little poke to get off your butt and do some drills, the CD can help provide that.

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