Scales, intervals, arpeggios, and why you want to practice them

Scales and intervals... ugh... can't i just practice songs? You may be asking yourself, and ultimately yes you can. But consider this: what happens when you learn a new piece of music?

You may have noticed that if you only practice songs, when you learn something new, the parts that are similar to what you learned before will be easy, while the parts that are distinct will be much more difficult.

If you could learn all of the possible transitions on the instrument, learning new music would be much easier, right? This is what scales and intervals allow.

Ultimately every melody is just a series of scale and interval fragments strung together. Forcing that knowledge into your subconscious helps with all aspects of playing music:

  • Reading sheet music
  • Playing by ear
  • And improvising

What are scales, intervals and arpeggios?


To start simple, a scale exercise is just playing the notes of a given scale sequentially. For example, here is the C scale for an alto C ocarina:


Interval exercises allow you to practice moving between the notes of a scale by a larger step. For example, a 'third' means to count forwards by two notes in the scale. The thirds within the C scale sound like this:


Finally, arpeggio exercises are when you play the notes of a chord, sequentially. The notes of a C arpeggio for example are C,E and G, which sounds like this:

How to practice scales, intervals and arpeggios

You may have realised that there are a large number of these patterns possible, even within the range of a single chambered ocarina:

  • 12 major scales
  • 6 intervals in each scale.
  • 7 arpeggios in each scale.

It helps to prioritise them, and there are a few ways of doing so:

  • Learn the scales and intervals that you use frequently. For example, if you often play music in F, then practising the scales, intervals and arpeggios for F would be beneficial.
  • Learn them in circle of fifths order. The circle of fifths organises keys by the number of accidentals. If you learn them in that order each new scale differs by only one accidental, and it is quite easy. This is the order music curriculums typically teach them.

If you were to learn the scales and intervals on a C ocarina following the circle of fifths, you'd have this order:

C, G, F, D, Bb, A, Eb, E, Ab, B, Gb, F#, C#

A great place to start is to learn the scale, and then learn some of the intervals and arpeggios within that scale. It can help to prioritise small intervals as they are much more commonly used by real music.

For example you could learn the thirds in the scale, then the C Major arpeggio.

This will take too long...

If you feel that learning the scales, and intervals will take too long, try measuring how long it actually takes you to practice one of these, it will be much less time than you may expect. And remember that it will reduce with experience.

Pacing your learning of these is one place where having a teacher can be very helpful.

Practising scales

The main point regarding practising scales is break down the scale into small parts at first, as discussed in Learning the fingerings.

As ocarinas are chromatic, they can play in a lot of different scales, but not all of them can be played octave to octave on a single chambered ocarina. Handle this by playing up to the highest note in the scale, down to the lowest note, and then return to the tonic in the middle of the range. Like this:

As you work on these, Don't forget to practice the breath pressures, and not just fingerings.

Scale generator

Practising intervals in a scale

As noted in the previous section, a third is formed by stepping forwards by two notes. Fourths are formed by stepping by 3 notes, and each following interval increases by one.

Each scale has a set of 6 intervals that are good to learn:

  • Thirds
  • Fourths
  • Fifths
  • Sixths
  • Sevenths
  • Octaves
Interval generator

Practising arpeggios

  • C Major
  • D Minor
  • E Minor
  • F Major
  • G Major
  • A Minor
  • B Diminished

And this is how they sound:

Keeping it interesting

You can make etudes out of scales and intervals. An etude is a composed exercise that is designed to teach some concept, but which is written in a way to also be more musically interesting than just a plain scale run for example.

To keep your interest up, mix the practice of scales with practising other music.

Also focus on the details in how you are playing. Notice how cleanly you play each note, as well as if you are playing it early or late rhythmically.

And finally, you'll notice how it makes other things easier to learn after a bit of time spent practising scales and intervals regularly,