Baermann Scale Showdown – A Competitive Way to Gamify Scales

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Carl Baermann’s iconic clarinet scale book. In 2017, I created the Baermann Boot Camp (revised in 2019), which served as the catalyst for dozens of my other Boot Camps and digital clarinet products. I created a semi-fictitious holiday to celebrate our buddy Carl’s birthday. Although not directly scale-related, I even shared the true story of how Carl’s dumplings and strudel inspired Mendelssohn to write a famous piece of clarinet literature!

I think it’s safe to say that I’m a big fan of Baermann and his contributions to the clarinet (particularly his scale exercises).

Now, I’d like to introduce you to my latest Baermann-inspired activity to motivate clarinet students to learn and love their scales.

The Baermann Scale Showdown!

Even with my Boot Camps and other advice I’ve given throughout the years, I understand that working on scales alone in a practice room can feel monotonous and lonely, which is why I decided to gamify this book. Nothing like a little friendly competition among students and studios to heat things up, right?

The Baermann Scale Showdown is a great studio activity for clarinetists of all ages. It’s simple to organize and works great for lessons in person or online.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Carl Baermann’s Complete Method for Clarinet, Op. 63 – Division III. If you don’t already have this book, you can view it here on IMSLP.
  • one scale die. A few different websites stock these scale/key signature/musician’s dice. I got mine at ClarinetFest 2019, but you can order similar ones here.
  • two regular six-sided dice. Feel free to scrounge around your board games to source these.

Here’s how to play the Baermann Scale Showdown (both in person or virtually):

  1. Determine who will go first and the subsequent order. This can be done by age, by last name, by having each player roll the dice, or any other criteria you find effective.
  2. Player 1 rolls the scale die. This will determine the key signature. (Depending on the ability level of the players, you can choose to only do major key signatures, or you can do a alternating rounds of major and minor key signatures.) If you are playing virtually, the person with the dice can roll for everyone.
  3. Player 1 rolls one of the six-sided dice. This number will determine what their first scale pattern will be. (Refer to the scale pattern chart below). They then play this exercise in the key signature given by the scale die.
  4. Player 1 rolls the other six-sided dice. This number is added to the total of the first die to determine the second scale pattern or exercise they will play. For example, if Player 1 rolls a 5 and then a 3, the total equals 8, which means they would play the chords of the seventh.
  5. Player 1 plays the two scale patterns in the designated key signature. (You can choose whether or not to assign specific tempi.) If Player 1 successfully performs both exercises, they pass and remain in the game. You can decide if you’d like players to do one exercises at a time after each roll, or to do them both one after the other.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5 for all players. If a player does not successfully complete their exercises, they are out of the game. Keep repeating these steps until two players remain.

In order to win this game, the player must successfully play the designated key signature and exercises after an unsuccessful attempt by the other remaining player. If they fail to do so, the two continue competing in playoffs until one player is able to successfully play the scales and exercises determined by the dice. (Similar to spelling bees, where the winner must correctly spell one final word after an unsuccessful attempt by the other remaining contestant.)

The instructions above for the Baermann Scale Showdown are just a blueprint and can be modified to better suit your studio.

Here are a few ideas for further customization:

  • In earlier rounds, use just one six-sided die and add the other die (which corresponds to more difficult exercises in the Baermann book) in later rounds or for playoffs. (If you use one die, this means that each player will only have to play one exercise instead of two.)
  • Create minimum tempo requirements. To up the ante, you can have players perform each exercises with a metronome at pre-determined speeds. The tempi can also increase each round for an added component.
  • Add other challenges or safety nets. You can create criteria to let players skip a turn, choose a key signature for the next player, or other ways to make the game more interactive.
  • Create prizes or other ways to make this an enjoyable game (instead of a stressful studio assignment or end-of-term assessment). Maybe the winner gets to choose the next studio class topic or skip the scale portion of their next lesson.

Here are the scale patterns as they correspond to dice numbers:

(dice number is listed first, followed by the exercise number and name in the Baermann scale book)
  1. No. 1 – regular scales
  2. No. 2 – broken chord passages
  3. No. 3 – diminished chords of the seventh
  4. No. 4 – interrupted scales
  5. No. 4.5 – broken chords
  6. No. 5 – diminished chords of the seventh

If you are playing with two numbered dice, their total will determine which exercise you play:

7. No. 5.5 – returning scales
8. No. 6 – chords of the seventh
9. No. 7 – diverse chords
10. No. 8 – scales in thirds
11. No. 9 – sixths

Example: If I rolled a D major on my scale die and a 4 on my first of the numbered die, I would play the D major interrupted scale exercise. If I rolled a 5 on my second of the numbered die, I would add this to the first die (4+5=9) to play the diverse chords in D major/b minor.

Note: Some exercises are only written for major or minor scales. You can choose to complete these exercises in the relative major/minor, or you can create your own rules.

I hope the Baermann Scale Showdown is a fun way to engage your clarinet students in a bit of friendly competition. Let me know if you have any questions or would like to have me compete or moderate in your next clarinet game night!

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