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Strings Music Festival: Scales and more scales

This week at Strings

• 11 a.m. Tuesday — Trout Fishing in America (youth)

• 6 p.m. Wednesday — Ariel Quartet (classical)

• 12:15 p.m. Thursday — Chamberlin Birch (Music on the Green)

• 8 p.m. Friday — Trout Steak Revival (bluegrass)

• 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday — Strings Kitchen and Garden Tour

• 8 p.m. Saturday — My Sinatra (Different Tempo)

If you’ve ever learned an instrument or lived in a house where someone was learning an instrument, you’ve experienced the torture of scales. Up and down, down and up, changing keys … will it never end?

Actually, no.

This week at Strings

• 11 a.m. Tuesday — Trout Fishing in America (youth)



• 6 p.m. Wednesday — Ariel Quartet (classical)

• 12:15 p.m. Thursday — Chamberlin Birch (Music on the Green)



• 8 p.m. Friday — Trout Steak Revival (bluegrass)

• 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday — Strings Kitchen and Garden Tour

• 8 p.m. Saturday — My Sinatra (Different Tempo)

Once a new musician goes beyond practicing scales to playing actual music that doesn’t make their housemates want to scream, the scale exercises often stick around as a warm-up routine. Sorry, housemates.

From my experience, classical musicians tend to like traditional scale exercises for warm-ups. Michael Sachs, Strings’ new music director, has a very particular set of exercises he uses to warm up with his trumpet before every rehearsal and every performance. It takes him about 30 minutes to run through the entire thing, with each exercise having a series of scale runs and trills to warm up his embouchure (the facial muscles and shaping techniques that form the mouth perfectly to the instrument’s mouthpiece.)

Last week, pianist Olga Kern started each rehearsal with a series of arpeggios played lightning fast up and down the length of the Steinway’s 88-key keyboard.

Jazz musicians seem to prefer warm-ups that are more improvisational, individually noodling around with a melody or shifting a simple tune into different keys. Rock, country and bluegrass musicians tend to use the sound check as group warm-up time, playing a couple of actual performance pieces to check out the room resonance, as well as engaging their fingers and voices in preparation.

When it comes to vocal warm-ups, I’ve heard everything backstage from full-on voice training exercises (America, Under the Streetlamp) to mini-scales sung lightly in between sips of coffee, setting up props and talking shop with the tech crew (The Pop Ups’ youth concert.)

Sometimes, it’s the instrument itself that needs to be warmed up. Before entering the stage, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s trumpet player blew repeatedly into his instrument to warm up the metal. He said it had been sitting under the air conditionioning duct, and he was worried about the way it would change as it warmed up onstage. Whatever he did worked; it sounded great.

If you have a new musician in your house and you’re despairing at the inevitable eternity of practice scales, be thankful you don’t work backstage with me at Strings. Imagine, for a moment, an entire orchestra warming up at once, each with their own set of scales and exercises to go through before they are ready to play. I am always so grateful for the show to begin.

Ali Mignone is stage manager for Strings Music Festival. When she’s not telling roadies and musicians what to do, you can find her hiking, biking or skiing around the Yampa Valley.


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