I was planning to write a piece on the uses and abuses of the metronome in my new mini series “The Middle Path”, but a major publication deadline this week has temporarily diverted me from my purpose. Instead, I thought I could write a short addendum to last week’s offering on practising in rhythms as applied to scales, so here it is.

Let’s not pretend that practising scales is an unalloyed joy for the aspiring pianist, so anything we can do to spice up this area of our work is to be welcomed. I am most eager to hear your ideas and suggestions – do please share them!

For variety, we could take a phrase from a piece and use the rhythmical structure to hang a scale onto. We might practise a scale using the opening rhythm from Dave Brubeck’s Take Five:

ptp_vol_2(6)_scale_1

Or the theme from Bernstein’s America:

ptp_vol_2(6)_scale_2

This could even turn into a game for teacher and student, the one having to guess a well-known piece from its rhythm turned into a scale played by the other (role reversal is encouraged here). Taking this one step further, teacher could ask student to play a scale in the rhythm of a section of a piece they are currently studying – perhaps a section where the rhythm is weak and needs reinforcement?

As a youngster, I found the following rhythms extremely useful for gaining control in scales, and in extended passages from pieces. In examples where the beat is divided into 4’s, you play the first 4 notes as crotchets, then the next 4 notes either twice as fast:

scale_rhythm_3

… or four times as fast, thus:

scale_rhythm_1

If the beat is divided into 3’s, here is the formula:

scale_rhythm_2

Nowadays when I practise scales (which is probably not as regularly as is advisable), I find value in doing so with all consecutive fingers from thumb to fifth, and back again (thus every scale is fingered 1-2-3-4-5,-1-2-3-4-5, and so on, regardless of whether the thumb falls on a black note or not). This forces me to use the whole length of the key as I slide in and out, accommodating the long and short fingers on blacks and whites. I also get quite a thumb work-out if I play with a thumb-under approach, or alternatively I manage the hand shifts (from 5 to 1) using forearm rotation, with no thumb-under whatever. I advocate practising one way then the other. I am convinced in the actual playing of such a scale, a middle path also exists between these two seemingly opposite approaches.

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