My students at the U. of Georgia recently had a pass/fail cumulative scale test. Many desired to know how many notes they were allowed to miss before failing; some were afraid they would blank out and not remember the patterns, asking how many restarts they were allowed. When their nerves got the best of them during the practice tests, nobody thought to ask for permission to turn off the metronome, diagnose the exact problem, reconnect to the key signature, spell the scale in note names, play the scale at least five times in a row slowly with different rhythms at the point of the mistake, and then work their way back to the assigned tempo with the metronome. Perplexing considering we use these steps consistently in weekly lessons, always with productive results that boost their control and confidence.
Scale proficiency exams test how well you know and own your process. They test your commitment to mastering this process. Just like a spelling test, 100% accuracy remains the goal. The test assesses where the gaps are in your learning, your processing, your logic, your focus, your preparation. How do you react to a mistake? How do you recover from going blank? How do you problem solve in the moment? What’s your safety net – do you have a recovery plan? Do you know the theory formula of that particular scale? Have you stopped calling that “D#” an “Eb”? Have you practiced enough so that these patterns are second nature to you?
The grade received on a scale test is the mirror of your process. And if you consider a ‘scale test’ as a metaphor for any process you are trying to master, you have scale tests every day of your life. We all do.
So, the real question is are you satisfied with what you see? If not, what steps are you going to take to change the image? The choice is in your hands. Commit. Struggle. Access.
I cannot think of a more fitting piece of music: Arvo Pärt “Spiegel im Spiegel” (translation: mirrors in the mirror)