3 Tips For Practicing Scales

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Welcome to LivingPianos.com, I’m Robert Estrin. Today I’m going to share with you three tips for practicing scales. I’ve made quite a few videos about scales. But, Truth be known, I spend a minimal amount of time practicing scales to achieve the desired results, which is to have clean finger work, and to have mastered all the fingering of all major and minor scales and arpeggios. However, no matter how far you go with scales you can always go further. It’s endless what you can do with scales! Today I’m going to give you three tips to improve your scales. Maybe you’ve gotten in a rut. You’ve practiced your scales and you don’t know where to go next. Maybe you’re not totally happy with your finger work and you’re wondering, is there any other way to practice scales that will help to clean up your technique? Here are three techniques you can try. First of all, most of us practice scales just going up and down the piano in four octaves, an octave apart, as referenced in Hanon’s 60 Selected Exercises for the Virtuoso Pianist. That is a prerequisite for developing a good technique on the piano, particularly for playing classical styles or anything that’s technically oriented. It’s kind of like having a bag of tricks in your back pocket that’s always there when you need it, because you have scales in music pretty much all the time, in one way or another. So, what about practicing with different articulations or phrasings?

Instead of playing all legato, you could play with detached fingers in a staccato manner.

The reason this practice technique is so incredibly important is that the evenness from note to note isn’t just about the down strike of the key, but the release of each key as well. If you were to slow down a sloppy scale performance, you might hear that notes are striking together, but some notes are holding longer than others. You’ll hear haphazard lengths of notes, most likely where the thumb or finger crossings happen. By playing in a staccato manner you can hear things more clearly. You can play with staccato fingers, or the notes can have a little bit more length than that, and still be detached. Not really staccato fingers, but not smooth and connected the way you might think of playing scales usually.

Play one hand legato and one hand staccato.

In a recent video, I talked about how playing the hands two octaves apart when practicing scales can help you to hear things better. Well, here’s another tip for you. Play one hand legato and one hand staccato. This technique really allows you to hear what’s happening. Try playing the right hand legato and the left hand staccato. This can be reversed, playing the left hand legato and right hand staccato. This is just the tip of the iceberg! You can try this technique with two-note slurs or four-note slurs as well. And you could start on the second note of the scale and do the same thing. The whole idea is that it helps you to identify where the hands play together. It solidifies your scales in a way that just playing them the same way over and over again will never achieve for you. It could be a tremendous time-saver. So, what are some other ideas? That’s just one of three tips I’m giving you today. This can keep you busy for the next six months!

Do what solves problems.

The trick is not necessarily to do every articulation on every scale. If you find you have an unevenness in an F major scale descending scale, focus on that and start working on various techniques that solve that problem on that scale. Then you’ll find that this technique will translate from one scale to other scales.

Put your scales into a musical context.

We’re all used to playing scales loud, soft, medium. What about playing scales very, very loud? Or perhaps very delicately. You can play one hand loud and one hand soft, but it doesn’t just have to be that. You could make a crescendo up, a crescendo down, or you could start at the bottom loud and make a decrescendo all the way up and all the way down. The key is not to look at scales as an abstraction completely, but to put it into a musical context. After all, when you play music you’re not playing everything straight. So, you can explore this with your scales and make them more interesting and more musical. Always strive for a beautiful sound at the piano. This is really important in your music, anyway. You can also do all these techniques or many of these techniques with your arpeggios.

Play your scales at different speeds.

I am a firm believer in playing scales to a metronome. It’s very important that you practice your scales slowly and get progressively faster, increasing the speed of the metronome one or two notches at a time. This is what assures really clean, even scales. This is an incredibly useful technique. There’s no substitute for that sort of practice!

These are some musical things you can do with scales at home to enhance your technique on the piano. I hope this is helpful for you! Let me know how these tips work out for you and feel free to contact me with suggestions for future videos! I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store.


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