It seems to me that a thorough knowledge of scales and arpeggios is an absolute necessity for all serious students of the piano. Western music is built on the major/minor tonal system, and to attempt to study the piano without scales (or basic theory) would be as nonsensical as learning language without the alphabet or without bothering with grammar. You would get so far, then reach a dead end.
Scale work is an ongoing process from the relative beginning stages of piano study through to conservatory level and beyond. The professional pianist will have mastered all major and minor scales in single as well as double notes, plus an array of different types of arpeggios, in all inversions. The result will be an intimate kinesthetic knowledge of the keyboard (how a particular scale feels under the hand) and of all tonalities and key relationships, acquired and honed over the course of time. Whether we continue to practise scales in later life depends on the individual – the great virtuoso Shura Cherkassky apparently played scales and arpeggios in every key every day! Many of the world’s greatest pianists and teachers wouldn’t think of beginning their daily practice without a thorough regimen of scales and arpeggios (possibly along with other exercises and studies), and they expect their students to do the same.
Practising the Piano Part 3
It can be difficult to summon up the necessary enthusiasm to practise scales unless they are presented in ways that are fun, rewarding and challenging. I think there needs to be additional resources available to encourage the student to practise scales in a disciplined and orderly fashion, and a system of logging the work from day to day. Self-testing is also an important area of practice, as is variety. I have attempted to meet all these needs in Part 3 of my eBook series Practising the Piano by supplying downloadable scale charts and a brand new scale generator for each ABRSM grade. The generator will randomly come up with a scale requirement for the grade exam you are working towards, and might give additional commands regarding touch, speed and position. Afterwards, you have the opportunity to rate how you think you did, and you’ll get a score at the end. Apart from keeping you on your toes with these additional challenges, the generator will show up areas of weakness that you can then address in your practice.
I am sure we are all familiar with the tradition of practising scales in different rhythms. I have taken this a step further by suggesting ways of doing this that will keep you on your toes (or perhaps I should say fingers). Here is a screenshot from the publication – play the slower notes firmly (forte e tenuto) and the faster notes lighter (piano e leggiero):
Scales and arpeggios present several technical problems that need to be overcome, and in the course of the publication I demonstrate the importance of an independent and mobile thumb, a loose and flexible wrist, correct alignment of the elbow, forearm rotation and good posture. I have begun with the scale chapters, dividing them into basic, elementary, intermediate and advanced levels; the arpeggio chapters follow the same format. What makes Practising the Piano unique are the videos. Thanks to this technology I am able to back up my verbal descriptions with proper demonstrations so you can actually see and hear what’s involved in solving the technical demands.
Another part of the publication that I think will be of great benefit to those at the elementary level is the scales index. This section provides an index of all major, harmonic and melodic minor scales with key signatures, fingerings and variations for practice. There is a keyboard diagram of each scale so you can see the note patterns at a glance. It is really important that the correct fingerings are learned thoroughly, so I have laid out the fingerings for each scale in two rows, the right hand above the left, for two octaves ascending then descending. The 4th finger notes are highlighted in red, and coinciding fingers in both hands are bracketed to make it easy to follow the fingerings as you practise the scale.
In Practising the Piano Part 3 I have endeavoured to provide exercises and practice suggestions to keep you motivated. I am very glad to have had this opportunity to publish them all in one place, and I trust they will be of benefit to the teacher and the student.
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