Nicolas Slonimsky-Thesaurus Of Scales And Melodic Patterns

Nicolas Slonimsky-Thesaurus Of Scales And Melodic Patterns

One of the most influential books on music theory to come out of the 20th Century is the Thesaurus Of Scales And Melodic Patterns, written by the Russian born music theorist and conductor Nicolas Slonimsky.


The complete story of his career and work can be found here at Wikipedia…..

To quote from this Wiki entry….”In 1947 he published the Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, which would later become one of his most influential works as a sourcebook for composers and performers. It influenced many jazz musicians and composers, including Allan Holdsworth, John Coltrane, Frank Zappa and Paul Grabowsky, and remained in print 60 years later, but was largely ignored for years after its publication.”

John Coltrane probably was the person that brought the most attention to the Thesaurus; Coltrane acknowledged practicing out of the book and borrowed many ideas and melodic patterns from it.

Rock-Fusion guitarist Allan Holdsworth was also known to have adapted many of the concepts found in the Thesaurus to his unique and brilliant guitar playing.  Many contemporary jazz musicians have looked inside the Thesaurus and lifted ideas for practice, improvisation and compositional inspiration.

You will see from the Table Of Contents of the Thesaurus that it is a very advanced, complicated and sophisticated musical compendium, chock full of interesting and thought provoking melodic material.

It must have taken a lot of thought and effort for Slonimsky to codify this material.  It certainly takes a lot of thought and effort to wade through this material……and in an effort to adapt some of it as basic practice material for my students, I have made some Practice Exercises that I have found useful in my teaching for expanding my students technical facility, and to show them how these resources can be used in improvisation.  Remember, these are a small sampling of some of the material found in the Slonimsky Thesaurus.  At some point when I have the time, I will do some more of these as they make great sight reading and practice routines.

This is a 16 Page Master PDF that contains all the material that I’ve adapted; there are 6 different Chromatic Exercises and 2 different Whole Tone Exercises.  They have been expanded and adapted to work well in several starting places on the saxophone.  Although they are shown as alto saxophone charts they can be easily used with any of the the saxophones, so feel free to use them on soprano, tenor or baritone as well.

Slonimsky Excercises:Master PDF:Sax


Slonimsky was a brilliant man that lived a long life.  The First 100 Years looks to be an interesting book about his life.  I hope to read it in the near future…..

I hope you enjoy practicing this material, and if you have the time and inclination, find yourself a copy of the Thesaurus and give it a serious perusal.  There will be plenty to be gleaned from its pages, and in the process you will be honoring a musical tradition and a brilliant musical scholar that left us a remarkable life story and a tremendous legacy of musical scholarship.


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