It is common for piano students to question the "point" of practicing scales and arpeggios. The practice sessions begin with what seems to be a frustrating waste of time, a reluctant run through mechanical, repetitive and frankly dull exercises which appear to be designed to stop them getting to the exciting part of practice - the repertoire. However, it's important to note, scales can offer the pianist so much more. The intelligent and focused training of scales can have an impressive impact on performance, technique and overall musicianship.
A perfect warm-up
Preparation is essential when getting the most from a practice session. Scales should be used to gently loosen and stretch the hands and fingers before playing, where arpeggios are invaluable when warming up your wrists. Scales will not only fix the necessary sharps or flats of the key signature in your mind, but it will also provide a quick reminder of the particular hand positions and possible fingerings of the piece. For example, the seemingly large interval between C-flat and D-natural in E-flat minor will be highlighted, practiced and resolved before you even attempt to play in that key. Much musical material derives from scales and arpeggios. Melodies are drawn mainly from the notes of the scale, while composers frequently use chords and broken chord patterns in their harmonies.
By practicing our scales and arpeggios, we are providing yourself with advance warning of the challenges that you are likely to find in your chosen pieces. An Improved Technique The repetitive and predictable nature of scales make them the ideal basis for practising and improving technique. With the worry of hitting a wrong note significantly reduced, the pianist is free to experiment. For example, try playing a scale with a staccato accent instead of legato, or with a bouncy compound dotted rhythm instead of straight quavers. Experiment with all our dynamics ranges, pianissimo to fortissimo, or performing a long crescendo or rapid diminuendo. Or choose some performance directions to try them out. Scales are also invaluable study to promote a steady, even rhythm. The use of a metronome will always help. Have you developed a steady inner rhythm that will highlight any unevenness? Using a metronome at different speeds will help you to overcome this problem. However, although a pianist should be able to play with a steady rhythm, they also need to be able to deviate from strict time musically. So try altering speeds within a scale, speeding up or slowing down as you go. Move from an exaggerated lento to prestissimo within a single range. All of these ideas will improve and develop your own agility, helping you to achieve the most out of any practice session and will overall improve your control and command of the piano. Why
Scales are Important?
Another significant benefit of scales is the thorough tuition they provide in key signatures. Theory books can supply this information, listing flats and sharps for you to memorize. However, it isn’t until you begin to use this theory effectively by actually playing in the keys that you acquire a broad and reliable understanding. And once this level of knowledge is achieved, you will notice vast improvements in a fundamental area of musicianship - sight reading. Pupils will often find that somewhere in the confusion of "dots on a page," chords, dynamics, and the desperation to keep going no matter what, the black keys can quickly be forgotten. This is why consistent scale practice will help solve the problem.
By drilling the theory and practical application of critical signatures into both mind and muscles, playing in each important name will become second nature, leaving you free to concentrate on everything else. How to practice scales So how to get the most from practicing scales? What approach should be taken to maximize the benefits to both your theoretical understanding and your practice technique? It is well documented that Chopin chose to begin scale tuition with B major. Although this key seems challenging, with a horrifying number of sharps to remember (F#, C#, G#, D#, and A#) The notes fall naturally under the fingers promoting a good hand shape, and the use of the thumb as a pivot is made easy by its position lower and closer to the pianist than the fingers. It is when you become familiar with the scales that you must try working them chromatically while alternating between major and minor (following B major with Bb minor for example).
This forces the hand to change position and adjust fingering patterns, continually challenging and testing the knowledge of the pianist. And occasionally, play scales backward, descending then ascending, or try starting a scale on a random note, proving to yourself to see if your fingers will naturally find the right place.
The variations of this technique are endless, where both are guaranteed to increase your skill and liven up your practice sessions. To recap, try not to resent playing your scales. Rather than seeing it as a "waste of time," scales will improve every aspect of your piano technique. This will provide you with an excellent grounding in music theory and can be great fun too. And all in ten minutes a day. Time well spent.
A short article about learning the piano at The Glasgow School of Music (GSofM)
Welcome to the Glasgow School of Music
Why are Scales so important?
A well-wishing message for all pupils taking these exams and a few tips on how to get on top of those pesky nerves!
A classically trained pianist, Paul has a wealth of teaching knowledge and experience, which spans over a decade. He began teaching while he was a student at University. Paul has taught in many formats and environments, including festivals, in schools, and in universities.
Esther is a classically trained pianist, cellist and harpist and took up playing the guitar when she was a teenager.
Brianna Berman is a classically trained violinist with a love of teaching and traditional music. She has performed both as a soloist and ensemble player in the USA and UK and is currently a member of Nevis Ensemble.
Andrew has experience in both piano and singing tutoring, and also works with the Glasgow School of Music (GSofM) as one of their vocal and piano tutors. He has also completed Kodaly modules at a high standard and enjoys using Kodaly musicianship in his teaching and own practice.
Sarah Wagner’s interest in bringing theatricality to classical music has led her to perform in a diverse array of locations ranging from the Palace of Auburn Hills with Detroit-based rapper Eminem to underneath motorway bridges in Glasgow to the throne room of Buckingham Palace.