Grade 4 violin scales are tricky. After all, grade 4 is a major milestone in your musical development. Suddenly, the pieces on offer show fewer signs of arrangement. They begin to look closer to the original score. This is because you are expected to be able to meet the technical and aesthetic challenges the composer had in mind. It is essential that you get your scales and technical exercises right if you want to achieve a satisfying result on a grade 4 examination.
To that end, I will be updating this post periodically until we have covered all the requirements for grade 4 violin scales and arpeggios. I’ll be working in parallel with the grade 4 piano post because, well, why limit ourselves? You will need to purchase the relevant book from the examination authority you are preparing for. These videos will provide you with in-depth explanations of each scale, along with practice tips and relevant theoretical concepts.
Grade 4 Violin: E Scales
For Grade 4 Violin exams, we need to be able to take E major to 2 octaves. Up until now, you have probably learned to play the first octave of E, beginning with the first finger on D and ending with the open E string, or with the fourth finger on A. Now, we are ready to take a big jump forward and integrate fourth position.
E Major Scale and Arpeggio
I’ve decided to start off the set with E Major for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s quite simple and it’s a scale that you really want to demonstrate in the exam. Secondly, it puts us in the fourth position, which is an important skill that we need to acquire. Fourth position isn’t that hard at all. To access the position, you just need to find your tonal harmonic half way up the string. If you place your fourth finger here, you are already in fourth position. Now place your first finger on the A string and make sure that it matches the E open string. You’re ready to go!
E Minor: Harmonic and Melodic
Most people choose the harmonic minor scale for their grade 4 violin exam. I think there are several reasons for this. The first reason is that people enjoy the “oriental” sound that comes from the augmented interval towards the end. The other reason is that it’s a bit easier than the alternative melodic minor, because the ascent and the descent are the same.
For the melodic minor scale, we need to learn an alternating pattern. The ascent and descent differ from each other. This isn’t as hard as it sounds, but it does take some knowledge of intervals. These changes only concern the part of the scale that occupies the E string. While we play C sharp and D sharp on the way up, we must flatten these on the way down, to play D natural and C natural. You’ll notice that on the way down, only the F sharp survives, while everything else is natural. This should remind you of the key signature for E minor, which has one sharp: F sharp.
Grade 4 Violin: B Flat Scales
At grade 4 level, we need to be able to execute B flat major and minor. We are free to choose between the harmonic and melodic minors, but there is no good reason to avoid learning both. We locate B flat by placing our second finger on G, touching our first. The next B flat is the first finger on A, pushed back. Finally, we have a B flat on our E string, which we play with our fourth finger, touching the third. There is actually an even higher B flat, which you can find by moving up the E string until you hit it. However, you don’t have to climb this high for grade 4.
B Flat Major Scale and Arpeggio
Let’s begin with B Flat Major. This is a comfortable, straightforward scale that we can play in either first or second position. It’s worth learning both patterns, so that you can start training your brain to recognise notes in the second position. This is a skill you will never regret developing early on.
B Flat Harmonic Minor
This one is a little tricky. Harmonic minor scales have a distinctive augmented interval between the sixth and seventh degrees. What his means for this particular scale is that we must play A natural, even though the key signature has an A flat. The layout of the scale looks like this:
B Flat Melodic Minor
The melodic minor involves a change on the way down. This change affects G and A. On the way up, we play them natural, on the way down we flatten them both. It’s essential that we know which finger plays each of these, so that we know which ones to flatten.
Grade 4 Violin: C Scales
For pianists, C major is the easiest key, because it’s all the white keys. On the violin, weirdly enough, it’s not so simple. This is because we start this scale with a third finger, on G. Taking any C scale to two octaves will also require us to shift into a higher position, because the top C falls outside the range of first position. The highest note we can play in first position is the B on the E string (E4).
C Major Scale and Arpeggio
For this scale, start on G3 and continue up to the next C, which is the second finger on A2. This should be touching the first finger, because it’s a C natural. At this point, shift up into third position to play the next D with your first finger. From here, climb up to the top C on the E string. In this short video I will demonstrate the scale, with relevant shifts, as well as the arpeggio:
C Harmonic Minor
For the Harmonic Minor scale, the B is natural. Coming after the A flat, this gives us that distinctive interval. Beware that this means our first finger on the E strings is not in a true third position; we effectively push back a semitone towards second position.
The Melodic Minor scale has both A and B as naturals on the way up, with both becoming flat on the way down. Exactly as in the harmonic minor, this requires us to play A flat with our first finger on E.
At grade 4 level, most examination authorities introduce a chromatic scale. This is a scale that covers all twelve tones within an octave. To clarify exactly what this means visually, look at the parallel entry in my series on Grade 4 Piano scales. In the video below I will show you how to play a chromatic scale in one octave, starting on D.