A thorough knowledge of scales and arpeggios is essential for all musicians, and yet practising them is often associated with boredom and drudgery. How do we motivate ourselves or our students to practise them, and do we need to keep practising them once we’ve learned them and been through the exam system? Once mastered, we might continue to practise our scales as part of the daily warm-up (many concert pianists do this, but many don’t) or use them use them as vehicles for learning other skills.
Why are scales and arpeggios important?
In addition to being the only technical components in many examinations, fluency with scales and arpeggios is important for several reasons:
Basic musical literacy (developing familiarity with all keys)
Keyboard geography, and a tactile as well as aural and theoretical understanding of all keys
As the basis for developing other pianistic skills
How to make scale practice engaging
Mindless practising is not only boring but also very inefficient, but fortunately there are many imaginative ways to bring scale practice to life. By adding variety and creativity to your practising, you will get much better results as you enjoy the process. The following are some ideas:
Practise with a variety of different rhythms, using accents and groupings (click here for more information on a recent workshop on using rhythms and accents)
Organise scales and arpeggios into groups so that practice doesn’t feel overwhelming. By mixing it up you can avoid practising the same scales in the same order each day, and you’ll be able to cycle through them all over the course of several days. A random generator is a helpful way of testing yourself out (see resources below for a tool), and using the Circle of Fifths can also help you come up with different sequences.
Playing with a range of different dynamics, including crescendo-dimuendo effects helps to make scales and arpeggios more meaningful and engaging.
Explore different touches and articulations. It’s particularly effective when you ask one hand to do something different from the other!
Playing one hand twice as fast as the other is a very good test of coordination and concentration. Try a scale using a two-against-three cross rhythm if you want a challenge!
Try using the Russian scale form which contains elements of similar and contrary motion and is an excellent way to add value to scale practice (click here to view a video demonstration).
Tools and resources
Given the importance of scales and arpeggios, I have developed numerous resources and tools to help making practising them more interesting and productive, in addition to giving advice on solving the technical challenges they present. The following is a listing which you might find useful:
There are many further resources on scales, arpeggios and related topics in the Online Academy’s scales & arpeggios section. Click here to view an index of available resources.
Bringing Scales & Arpeggios to Life
On Saturday 15th May @ 14:00 – 15:30 BST (GMT +1) Graham Fitch presented an online workshop exploring creative ways to bring practising scales and arpeggios to life. In this interactive workshop, Graham showed how to solve the technical problems and how to use them as vehicles for learning other skills.
Included in the ticket price is access to the workshop recording, presentations and worksheets. Access to the following Online Academy resources are also included:
Click here for more information or to purchase access to the recording and resources!
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