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#65727 - 08/29/15 02:52 PM Why practice scales?
Amberly Offline
New Member

Registered: 09/26/13
Posts: 6
Loc: South Carolina
I started teaching piano about two years ago at the request of some neighbors/friends. I discovered that I absolutely love it!! I've had quite a few beginning students and have started them with either MFPA or Primer or Accelerated. I've also had a couple of transfers. A few of my students are at the point that I feel that they should be practicing scales. Why? Just because that's what I did. But I know scales can be tedious so I'd like a better answer to give them. I know they are important, but can't exactly say why. For those of you who require scales, here are some questions:

1. Why practice scales (from a theoretical and artistic point of view)?
2. At what level should I introduce pentascales (I have several students using the new Faber book), and at what point should I move to full scales?
3. Do I have them work on the same scale over and over until it is polished and then move on to the next, or have them keep doing the one which corresponds to their current work? (IE just keep doing C & G until they are doing pieces in other keys?)
4. Would you do scales in addition to preparatory work such as Dozen a Day or in lieu of it?

#65732 - 08/31/15 09:52 AM Re: Why practice scales? [Re: Amberly]
EllaCat Offline
Resident Member

Registered: 04/03/08
Posts: 365
Loc: Atlantic Canada
1. Scales prepare a student for the aural & theoretical landscape of playing in a particular key. Understanding scales forms the basis of understanding why music sounds the way it does, chord theory, transposition, etc. Also, when a student is able to link their scales and the key of a new piece, they're often more likely to successfully remember to play the key sig accurately.

2. I start pentascales mid-way through the first year, usually around when the student starts playing on staff. I teach them by rote, starting with C & G and gradually moving to ones with more accidentals. Once they've tried them all, then I cycle through, reviewing a different one each week. I move on to full scales once the pentascales are "too easy."

3. Once a student is playing "real" scales, I use the RCM syllabus to build their technique repertoire - even when they're not playing RCM music. I find it serves as an easy way both to track what they've learned, and present new material roughly in order of difficulty. Once they've mastered the full set for a particular grade, I move on to the next grade. We do talk about what key a piece is in (once they're far enough along for that) and what scale it goes with. We may play that scale once during the lesson, but it may or may not be the weekly assignment.

4. I don't use Dozen a Day (or similar) at the moment.

Hope that helps!

#65750 - 09/02/15 09:56 PM Re: Why practice scales? [Re: EllaCat]
J.Baker Offline
Contributing Member

Registered: 02/03/15
Posts: 21
Loc: New York City, NY
Hello Amberly,

The reason to learn scales is an 'easy sell'

Scales form the basis of all western music of the past several centuries - all chords are built upon the scale patterns (major, minor, aug. dim. various seventh chords). Without learning scales and chords it is simply impossible to gain any understanding how music is constructed.

Teachers who do not teach these matters are doing their students a grave injustice. I have had students come to me playing Chopin etudes at top speed but barely knew what key they were in and could not definite one single chord anywhere. I find that at that point students are resistant to learning any theory at all and just want to race through music. That could have been prevented with thoughtful and thorough teaching from the beginning.

The timing of introducing any aspect of music, including pentascales, is always case-specific to the student, but the sooner the better.

All scales must be played accurately, of course, but in the earlier years I am less interested in virtuoso speed and evenness than I am in the student's thorough familiarity with scales as the basis of music. I introduce a scale and its relative minor at the same time since they share the same key signature - and composers so frequently flip from one key center to its relative key that way, so that progression is of practical value.

If the student is very young I do very little explaining (the opposite with adults) because children are hate explanations of anything - they just want to know what they are supposed to do. So I emphasize action over wordy explanations. In the right hand, for instance, all white note scales (except B) are fingered 123/1234 - students grasp that right away, inclusive of black notes, as something very real and will do it. Black note scales have different fingers, but they are no more difficult to learn and play.

I do not find students objecting to scales provided I do not overload them. If it is taken as a kind of athletic game they find it interesting. I leave it at that for the time being. If they progress into early advanced stage then a more virtuosic approach can be taken to the scales (evenness, velocity, subtle flexibility of the hand joints).

#65753 - 09/03/15 03:29 PM Re: Why practice scales? [Re: J.Baker]
shannonspiano Offline
Mainstay Member

Registered: 07/01/04
Posts: 694
Loc: WI
I start Pentascales really depending on the student usually by book 1, and we learn them to help practice "hard tasks" outside of remembering notes and fingerings. Like Staccato vs Legato or loud vs soft. We move on to scales when each penta scale is easy. My students start full scales with the BMajor scale. I know many who don't but mine find it helpful that the topography of the piano and when to have the hands adjust work well together. A big plus it really does prepare students to play Sonatinas or improvise.

#65755 - 09/04/15 08:39 AM Re: Why practice scales? [Re: shannonspiano]
Bridget Offline
Regular Member

Registered: 06/17/14
Posts: 63
Loc: Ohio
I believe everyone else has given an accurate answer to "why" we should study scales (and I wholeheartedly agree). I would like to add that teaching scales from the Scales Bootcamp book has made teaching them so much more rewarding for the student, and easier for me! Scales can be tedious at times but they are the building blocks to the students' theory knowledge, and I struggle to teach theory to someone who doesn't have a basic understanding of scales. I have used this book with students as young as 7 and had great success, and also with returning adult students who love using it instead of their old books that they used to play from.
I recommend ordering s copy for yourself/your studio regardless of if you choose to teach from it. When a student is ready to start scale work, I will loan my copy out or give them a photo copy of the first two or so (learning C and G) to see if they are ready for the material and if they respond well to that specific style of learning. Once I know the book will work well for them, I have them purchase their own copy, either online or I will order it and have them reimburse me. To my knowledge there are no teacher discounts yet on this, but it has been fantastic for me to the point where I don't even care! Good luck!


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