Notespinner

Thoughts on composing, teaching and performing music, by Fergus Black

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Still from The Aristocats

Why practise piano scales? … and arpeggios!

What are benefits of scale practice, and what are the best ways to practise scales? The Aristocats knew: "Every truly cultured music student knows, You must learn your scales and your arpeggios"

Benefits of scale practice

  • Scales and Arpeggios are good warm ups, to get the fingers working. "Rattle up and down a few scales to get moving".
  • They encourage ease in rapid figurework
  • Improve strength of 4th and 5th fingers (which are naturally weaker)
  • Give the student familiarity with different keys, what different keys feel like.*
  • Scale and Arpeggios give a template, a formula, for scale and arpeggio patterns in pieces.* You don't need to invent every fingering in every piece from scratch, because you know the fingering from your scale work.

How to play scales

  • Use the same fingering every time - preferably the one in the book
  • Aim for even-ness
  • Play legato - join the bottoms of the notes together
  • Think of the notes in groups of 4 semiquavers
  • Slow and even is better than fast and uneven, at least for the time being. However, in the long run, slow scales aren't helpful
  • Give the scales shape

Variety in scale practice

Apparently the part of the brain that is engaged when you make music is switched off when you practise scales - they aren't music, they are motor rhythm exercises, therefore, intrinsically boring. Therefore, try and make the scales more musical. Vary your treatment:-

  • play staccato
  • play left hand only
  • play dotted rhythms
  • play triplet rhythms over 3 octaves
  • play contrary motion

Speed in scale practice

  • Slow and even is better than fast and uneven, at least for the time being. However, in the long run, slow scales aren't helpful
  • Practise scales as follows:
  • play two octaves in quavers, and immediately go into three octaves in triplets, and then four octaves in semiquavers.

A note on the Stocken Method I use the Stocken method with some students who are more visual - they like pictures! I find it helps their learning. However, I find that the benefits above that I've marked with an asterisk (*), are better served by a traditional scale book.

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