Michel Debost’s Scale Game

I took lessons from Michel Debost for 6 incredible months. I was introduced to his scale game several years before studying with him privately in Oberlin, Ohio. This quickly became my favorite way to practice the Taffanel-Gaubert Daily Exercise No. 4 every day. I would practice the first 30 on a daily basis, then on random days I’d play #31-60. Find what works best for you. This is from the book called 17 Daily Exercises for Flute which is a section taken from the Complete Method for Flute, both published by Alphonse Leduc.

Click on the following links for a PDF of what he is explaining. Enjoy!!

Rotation chart and page 1 and page 2 of notated music examples

This article by Frances Lapp Averitt is a reprint from the March 1988 issue of the Flute Talk magazine.

The Gamme [Scale]-Game of Michel Debost

The scale format devised by Debost consists of playing twice through all keys of the Taffanel-Gau­bert Daily Exercises, No. 4 using 60 articulations and rhythms. Though time-consuming, Debost’s scale exercises have great value. With diligent practice the flutist will achieve not only agility, but improve ar­ticulation, dynamics, and more important, tone. Each day the scale practice is different because of the key-rotation through the chart. I nicknamed this intriguing format The Gamme-Game. Following is a paraphrase of Debost’s scale instructions to his stu­dents.

Scales are the essential part of daily prac­tice and must be played by memory. Begin each day with a different key. Carefully define the transitions between scales by slurring them. Debost says that this transition is very im­portant to the musical feeling. “This is the time to rest, relax, and relieve tension by listening to and loving your tone. Taste every note like you are tasting wine.”

Always play the scales rhythmically. The pri­mary concern should not only be speed, but also cleanness and evenness of execution. Breathe after the first note of a group of eight. To breathe in scales with repeated notes, leave out notes when necessary so that the ongoing rhythm remains unaffected.

The scales of C major, C minor, D flat major, D# minor, D major and D minor are to be repeated one octave higher. Repeat the upper octave key right after the lower octave.
The chart gives 60 articulations and rhythms. Assign one scale at minimum to each example and persist with those that are most difficult to handle. These 60 combinations represent two complete play-throughs of the scales. The 12 ma­jor keys and 12 minor keys with 6 repetitions one octave higher give 30 patterns, multiplied by 2 to make a total of 60 different scales. This is the minimum to be practiced each day; the rou­tine takes about 45 minutes.

Nothing less than perfection is acceptable for scales: strive for evenness in all registers and tempos, attacks without cracking the tone, and control at all dynamic levels.

Key Rotation

  • Day One: K1 [meaning the Key-Chain] on C1 [meaning the Chart]; K2 on C2; K3 on C3, etc.
  • Day Two: (move forward one key): K2 on C1; K3 on C2; K4 on C3, etc
  • Day Three: (more forward another key): K3 on C1; K4 on C2; K5 on C3, etc.
  • Each day thereafter: move forward one more key for C1.

Suggestion: to keep track of your place in the key-chain, clip a paper clip over the key that will begin the next day.

Carefully define the transitions between the scales by always slurring them with a singing tone at a moderate or slow tempo. Assign only one scale to each example. Strive for evenness of tone and dynamic control.

-Michel Debost