Progressive Scales: A Bass Player’s Guide to Learning Scales and Improving Reading Ability

I’ve written in the past about the importance of scale work to solidify instrumental technique (see the Lowdown archives for those columns and more). If we are new to learning a particular scale it is probably wise to start by playing from root to root (e.g. C-C in C major) until we are comfortable. This may prove helpful at first, but it is not sufficient to achieve mastery.

A cursory examination of the music we perform will reveal that scales rarely occur starting and ending on the root. For this reason, I have found “progressive” scale work to be exceptionally helpful in developing facility “we can use.” I have also found it to be helpful to improve sight-reading ability.

To be clear, when I use them term “progressive” I am speaking of a way to practice a particular scale, and not a type of scale (e.g. Lydian, octatonic, etc.) We can practice any scale, even non-traditional ones, progressively.

Progressive scale practice refers to playing scales starting and ending on each note of the scale. The example below shows how one might practice C major, one octave, progressively. Of course we can do this in multiple octaves, with various bowings, rhythms, etc. You can also extract them into progressive patterns as well, but let’s leave that for another time.

Here’s how we might practice a progressive C major, one octave, scale:

Progressive scale for bass: C major, one octave

A few weeks of this sort of scale practice will do your facility good.

Dr. Donovan Stokes is on the faculty of Shenandoah University-Conservatory. Visit him online at and check out the Bass Coalition at

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