The music exam season is virtually upon us and so the inevitable question of scale practice arises. Whether you are taking Grade 1 or Grade 8, you will need to practice your scales regularly. There is always a strong temptation to just play them through quickly moving on to more interesting parts of your exam. Try not to do this. Scales can be both fun and rewarding as well as a real challenge. Think of them as little adventures up and down your keyboard and relish the fact that your fingers and hands can play at speed with excellent co-ordination.
It can be a good idea to establish a practice schedule when tackling scales. It’s not so important when taking the lower grades, but, when you reach Grade 5 and above, there are many scales/keys to learn so aim to work at them methodically.
1. One way to make sure each scale is worked at regularly is to have a little practice chart looking at 3 or 4 keys per day in rotation. Then you can practice all the different technical exercises in those keys; similar motion scales, thirds/sixths apart, contrary motions and all forms of arpeggios. This is very effective and ensures complete preparation.
2. Once you have established this chart, take your time with each key fully absorbing and memorizing each key signature. It can be too easy to blindly practise E major without really knowing it contains four sharps and is related to C sharp minor. All these things are important and can help build your confidence, so that when the examiner asks you to play a scale in the exam, you don’t get flustered.
3. Fingering is so important when playing scales and without real adherence to it you will be unable to play at speed. So really learn the suggested scale fingerings as you start playing each scale and then stick to them. Separate hand practice can help here.
4. Always start practising slowly so that both hands are well co-ordinated and try to produce a full tone or sound as this will help build up finger strength. Gradually increase the speed over a few weeks.
5. Scales should be played rhythmically and with purpose. Some students find it a good idea to practice them with a metronome. If you don’t fancy this, then you need to find a way of establishing a regular pulse.
Start enjoying your scales – they CAN be fun!
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
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