Quick Tips – Crabwise Scales for Scale Familiarity

I find these crabwise scales really help with scale familiarity because they really make you think about the notes you’re playing before muscle memory starts to kick in! Practising your scales can be a bit of a chore, but here’s a quick tip to play through them all in a slightly more interesting way than you might be used to.

These patterns are also useful to learn because they appear on many exam syllabi and music college/conservatoire technical exams.

Crabwise scales involve playing a scale up and down, but changing the scale by a semitone every time you change direction. So for example, you go up in C, down in Db, up again in D, down in Eb etc.

Crabwise Scale Examples

Here’s an example of a major crabwise on F:

And here is a major crabwise on F#:

After playing through both of these, you will have covered all 12 major scales up and down – and with a bit of practise you can do it really quite quickly! This also makes a great warm up once you add some articulation. Try staccato tonguing on the way up and legato on the way down, then switch it.

These can be started on any note, I just chose F for the examples because it fits well into the range of most lower (and upper if taken up the octave) brass. Bass trombonists can get a valve workout by starting on pedal Bb – and starting that low you could also do 2 octaves before changing direction for a challenge.

Other things to do with this pattern…

You can invent endless permutations of this exercise for yourself – use it with harmonic minors, melodic minors (keeping track of the ascending/descending note changes gets very tricky!), modes or arpeggios. You could also try different scale patterns rather than straight up and down. A favourite of mine is crabwise scales in 3rds:

Invent your own patterns, change up the articulation – but most of all have fun. Hope this tip helps those of us that are less scale inclined, and gives the sad ones like me some new ideas to torture themselves with!


Practice Tips: Effective Practice Using The Pomodoro Technique

Utilizing the Pomodoro Technique for Effective Practice

Many musicians struggle to get the most out of their practice time. With a seemingly endless list of things to cover, it’s all too easy to end up spending a couple of hours glossing over things aimlessly without actually learning anything!

One of my favourite ways to get the most out of my practice sessions is the Pomodoro Technique. Although not specifically aimed towards musicians, it is versatile enough that it can be easily adapted to be an efficient practice tool.

Rest is crucial to efficient and productive practice, as it allows the mind and body to process what it’s just learned. Christian Lindberg devised a crazy looking practice schedule in his 20’s when he was preparing to be a soloist, but when you look closer it actually follows the same principles of alternating practice and short breaks with occasional long breaks:

I  gradually built it up from 4 hours a day divided into 12 sessions of 24 minutes when I was 20, up to 6 hour a day between 22 and 25 also 12 sessions, but 30 minutes per session.

When practicing 12 times 30 minutes you really have to spread it over the whole day. I used to do 7-7.30, 8-8.30, 9-9.30, 10-10.30, break, 13.00-13.30, 14.00-14.30, 15.00-15.30, 16.00-16.30, break, 18.00-18.30, 19.00-19.30, 20.00-20.30, 21.00-21.30… It was very heavy days, and it took hard work and build up to even be strong enough for so much practice so be careful!!! – C.L

What is the Pomodoro Technique?


The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. It is named after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer (you can get one here) he used as a student. Put simply, the method can be divided into six easy steps:

  1. Decide what you want to do. This could be general, such as ‘practice the trombone’ or something more specific like ‘practice my melodic minor scales’.
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes – these work intervals are called pomodoros. Make a promise to yourself that you will work solidly without distractions until the timer goes off. We can all manage just 25 minutes, right?!
  3. Work until the timer goes off 25 minutes later. Immerse yourself fully in your work, and the time will fly. If you think of something else you need to do, don’t get distracted, just write it down and continue with the original task.
  4. When the timer rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper. Well done! You’ve worked for 25 minutes on one task in a focused way. The checkmark is important, as having a visual proof of your progress can be very motivating.
  5. Take a short break. Do something else for 3-5 minutes – you deserve it! I like 5 minute breaks as it gives enough time for the lip to recover and also keeps the total work+break time to a nice round 30 minutes.
  6. When you reach 4 checkmarks, take a longer break. The original technique suggests 15-30 minutes, but since playing a brass instrument can be quite tiring, I prefer 45-60 minutes so that stamina doesn’t negatively affect productivity.

Other suggestions

When using this for practice, I like to use one of the pomodoros out of a set of 4 for something that isn’t playing. This could be composing, arranging, repertoire research, learning music theory, transcription or anything else you need to work on. Personally I find this really helps with not getting so fatigued that your practice quality is compromised.

For playing, you may find that 4 x 25 minutes before a longer break is too much. This is fine – just experiment with finding a work:rest ratio that works best for you. You could try doing 15 or 20 minute pomodoros, or maybe even up your short breaks to 10 minutes (just make sure you don’t become too engrossed in something else in that time!).

Sample Practice Schedule using Pomodoros

25Warm-up/Stretching/Long tones
5Break - make coffee!
25Fundamentals - lip flexibility, tonguing and scales
5Break - have a chat with the housemates
25Studies and Etudes
Non-playing activity - research potential new recital repertoire
5Break - make tomorrows lunch
25Practice pieces and excerpts
45Do something else - maybe read a book or watch TV!

I hope this helps, and happy practicing!

How To Play: Gentleman’s Dub Club – High Grade

My brother introduced me to this excellent UK dub band after he saw them live. Their groove is infectious and they somehow manage to be extremely heavy and chill (or stoned) at the same time! I couldn’t help myself, and had to transcribe both the horn parts and Matt Roberts’ burning trumpet solo. Have a listen here (solo starts at 2:50):

High Grade Trumpet Transcription

Click here to download: Gentleman’s Dub Club – High Grade