‘Now we will test your scales, C major hands together please’, the examiner smiles glancing at the student who is waiting with baited breath……
This is the usual scenario when pupils are faced with scales. Most pianists don’t like scales or scale practice. Some ask if they are really necessary. For me, they are the most important part of exam practice. Not only do they teach piano students everything they need to know about fast playing (or fast passagework) but they also build up finger technique, tone production and provide the opportunity to learn every key. They should be approached as something to enjoy rather than dread.
I love scales. I always have and particularly relish watching my hands running up and down the keyboard, but I realize that I am in the minority. Scales are very useful and if you can play them well you will be on the way to developing a secure technique. Technique is essential for good playing and it really means the ability to get around the notes accurately.
Scales and arpeggios are important for all of the following reasons:
1. Scales develop hand co-ordination. Absolute co-ordination is paramount between both hands as they run up and down the keyboard.
2. Scales help develop the ability to play accurate fingering as in order to play them rapidly, you need to be very precise with your fingers. The fingerings need to be adhered to rigidly so they become a habit which will be repeated every octave as you move up and down the keyboard.
3. Scales help develop finger strength; every finger is utilized when playing scales, forcing the pianist to make every finger work properly.
4. Scales help to improve a pupil’s keyboard geography; to play them up to speed, large amounts of keyboard need to be covered quickly so the pupil will build up a sense of keyboard awareness which is necessary for good playing.
5. Scales help the student learn all 24 keys – which is no mean feat. This is an extremely useful and important feature in itself.
6. Scales help students develop a strong sense of rhythm, articulation and speed, which are all important for playing the piano. They also encourage good tone production.
Here are just a few reasons why scales are probably the most important test in any piano exam. So when you next sit down to do some practice, why not start with scales? This way you will not only get them over and done with, but you will also practice them when you are fresh and receptive. You never know, you may end up enjoying them.
For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.
You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.