CelloZone Exercises: Orchestral Scale Runs on Chord-tones

Today we’re going to look at one of the most common bits of vocabulary in Classical Music. You’ll encounter this scale figure in music from the Baroque era through the Romantic era, but especially in Classical era cello concerto solo parts & orchestra section passages. It’s a bit of a “stock pattern”, but composers certainly get creative with it and tweak it to fit their piece. It’s a scale run which usually starts on Do (the Root) or Sol (the 5th) with an initial 8th note on the strong beat and then runs up the rest of the scale in 16th notes. This technique allows you to land on the next strong beat’s 8th note on the same scale tone which you started. It’s very a functional, utilitarian piece of vocab. It’s used so much because of it’s simplicity and energy leading to the strong beat.

Below is a walk through of the sheet music, which you can download at the top of this page.

Exercise [1] Stock Orchestral Scale Run Pattern
This is a 2 Octave run of the scale pattern across 1st position in the key of C Major. I’ve included bowings and fingerings, just to avoid any confusion.

Exercise [2] Chord Tone Drop-Downs [1 3 5 1]
Now we are going to take all of the Chord tones of the Major I chord (in this case C Major) and do “drop-downs”. I’m calling this a drop-down because when we get to the top our our octave run, instead of sitting on an 8th note, we will play a 16th note and “drop-down” to the next chord-tone. The first time, we’ll start on the Root (C), run up the scale and drop down from the Root (C) to the Major 3rd (E). Then we’ll run up an octave of scale starting from the Major 3rd (E) and once we get to its octave, we’ll drop-down to the Perfect 5th (G). Continue by running up the scale for one octave and then dropping down to the Root (C) – but this is the root an octave higher than where we initially started the whole exercise. You see that this pattern can continue cycling for as many octaves as you like (or can physically play)! It’s a great pattern to run in both Major and Minor. You’ll find this scale structure or similar drop-down patterns in Haydn, Boccherini, and Schumann cello concertos (to name a few!).

I think it’s really fun and exciting, once you get the hang of it!

Exercise [3] Drop Down, Haydn Style Cto No.1
Now let’s modify the previous scale run by adding a 16th note drop-down on Beat 1 at the beginning of the whole exercise. In this case, we’ll take our model from Haydn’s Cello Concerto No.1 in C Major (1760’s). We’ll start on the Major 3rd (E) of the I chord and then continue our run up in the same way as Exercise [2]. This time I’ve designed the exercise so we can continue down the scale, once we’ve finished running up two octaves across 1st position in C Major. Notice that there are two endings, this is not necessarily indicative of a repeat, but simply a way to give you two different ways to close out the exercise. The first ending simply lands on the final low Root (C), the second ending gives you an arpeggio up the I Chord, before ending on Octaves.

[3b] 2nd Octave of CMJ Chord Tones
Please note that because we have run 2 Octaves of the scale, we’ve gained a 2nd octave of our C Major arpeggio. Let’s take a minute to play through and explore those chord tones on all 4 strings, in 1st position.

Exercise [4] Combining Styles
Now let’s run up the CMJ scale using the pattern from Exercise [3] and then use the initial “orchestral scale pattern” from Ex. [1] on the way down! This is a cool thing that you’ll see pop up in certain pieces, where composers use one scale pattern/structure on the way up and come down with a different pattern/structure.

Exercise [5] Combined styles with Bach Suite III quote
Now, we’ll continue with our ascending drop-down pattern from Haydn’s C Major Cello Concerto from Ex. [3] & [4]. However, this time on the way down we’ll modify the ending by inserting an arpeggio pattern where the last octave of the orchestral scale run is. Now that last measure is actually quoting the opening measure of JS Bach’s Prelude from Suite No. III in C Major (1720’s)! How cool is that – even in Bach’s music we find this “orchestral” scale pattern!

Exercise [6] Variation Quote From Haydn’s Cto No.1
Here is a variation on this scale run pattern from Haydn’s C Major cello concerto. In this case we start with a drop-down and run up the scale in 16th notes, but once you get to the octave – stay there and repeat this note for four 8th notes. Play this same chord tone again on the downbeat of the next measure and do a drop-down to the next chord tone. Repeat this pattern in sequence, moving up the scale.

Exercise [7] Variation [1 5 1] Runs, Schumann Cto A minor
Here, to finish this exercise sheet out, we’ll try a variation which comes from Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor (1850). Notice how all of our examples have managed to share the same Key signature of C Major, pretty cool! In this case Schumann takes the same drop down approach, but instead of dropping down to all of the chord tones, he chooses only the Root (C) and the Perfect 5th (G). In this case, we’re still going to run the pattern as a C Major scale. When you omit the 3rd while doing drop downs and only run on [1 5 1] , you will get up to the top of your scale faster. This creates a very exciting variation with bigger leaps. I believe Haydn also uses it in his Cello Concerto No.2 in D Major (1783)!

Wow, that was a lot of variations on this “Stock Orchestral Scale Pattern”! As you can see, many heavy hitting composers have used it to great advantage. It’s because it works and is flexible enough for many modifications. But why does it work exactly?

What happens if you were to simply run a scale in multiple octaves without starting each octave on an 8th note or 16th note drop-down?

Well, because there are only 7 tones in the Major and Minor Keys, we’d get to the Octave (8th step) of our scale on the last 16th note of the pattern, instead of the next strong-beat: | DoReMiFa SoLaTiDo’ |

Let’s see what happens if you run the scale in straight 16ths for a couple of Octaves:
| DoReMiFa SoLaTiDo’ ReMiFaSo LaTiDo”Re | MiFaSoLa TiDo”’ReMi FaSoLaTi Do””ReMiFa | So……

…. As you can see, because there 7 chord-tones but 8 16thnote slots (every 2 beats). We are getting to the Octave of the Root one 16th note early. This problem will keep occurring every octave. For every octave we ascend, the root will come early by an additional 16th note. This is called Phasing. After 1 octave our root is 1 16th note off, after 2 octaves it is 2 16th notes off, and so on. Notice how in the phased example above, our 4th octave Do comes in an entire beat off from the next measure’s downbeat…. So this common orchestral scale run Do_ReMi FaSoLaTi | Do_ exists for a very good reason. It is one solution to this problem. It might be in fact the simplest and most elegant solution to the problem, which is why it occurs so very often in Classical Music.

Alright cellists! That wraps it up for today’s lesson. Stay Healthy and Happy Practicing! ~ Brian

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