Why do I have to practice scales?

The human body must be trained to do just about everything. An athlete or dancer trains long and hard to develop the muscles and flexibility to perform at his or her best. Not only do they spend years developing the perfect fast ball, field goal or pirouette, they must warm up their bodies with stretches and exercises everytime they perform.

Scales and arpeggios are basic training for pianists. Not only do they help you understand key signatures and develop your reading skills, they also help you develop your finger muscles as well. They enable you to become more flexible so you can play fast or slow, soft or loud, legato or staccato. They help you gain control of your body. They also serve as the perfect warm up so your performance will be your very best.

To do anything well, you must spend a little energy in preparation. If you ask a professional football player what he does when he's off the football field, he'll probably tell you he spends a lot of his time training for the next big game. Or ask a ballerina and she'll probably tell you she practices for her next tour or performance.

So, the next time your teacher asks you to practise your scales, remember that he or she is just asking you to be the best you can be.
                                        - Source: Unknown

Advice from former student: James Thomas

James Thomas was an exceptional student, who, to my surprise often took my advice when it came to practising tips. He was one of my few students who achieved a mark of First Class Honours with Distinction, on his Grade 8 piano exam. I'm pretty sure, for one of his exams, that he received a perfect mark for his technique. Here's an article he once wrote for my Newsletter. I think you will find it very helpful:

Like most pianists, I have to admit that scales are not really the highlight of my piano practice. I used to avoid scales, completely forget about them! This habit came to an end when I was preparing for my grade 4 piano exam. I realized how much importance was placed on scales so I, with encouragement from my teacher, straightened myself up. I developed for myself two systems for practicing scales, one for when you're preparing for an exam, and one for regular weekly practice.

Exam practice:
When you are practicing for an exam you have to prepare scales, triads, formula patterns, etc. in about four or five different keys. That is a lot to take care of in a lesson. What I do is I do a rotation of keys. For example: let's say you have the keys of D, C sharp, B flat, and E to prepare for your exam. One day you could do everything of D and C sharp twice, and the next day you could do everything of B flat and E twice.
Regular weekly practice:
When you are doing your regular weekly practice, you are following a less hectic schedule than if you were preparing for an exam. What I do for my weekly practice is I do everything that I am assigned until I can get it flawless twice. My scales usually take up about one third of my one hour practice time.


The following hints on playing scales for an examination were taken from Geoffrey Tankard's book, "Pianoforte Diplomas":

1. Tone must be maintained evenly throughout the scale. No thumb bumping.

2.  The notes must be equal in time value as well as in tone.

3.  Scale must be rhythmical. (i.e. slightly accented on the first note of each group)
4.  Perfect legato between all the fingers.
5.  No arm shaking, pushing, pulling, wobbling, trmbling, jerking or waving.
6.  Don't drop the arm on the playing of thumbs.
7.  Make the scales into a pearly ripple of shining tone.
8.  Keep elbows well out (advice of Paderewski).
9.  Have articulation and definition on every note.
10.  Don't over accent the first in each group but make sure that there is rhythmical definition.
11.  Keep both wrists at the right level.
12.  Finger tips must be perpendicular at all times. (Play on the tips of your fingers)
13.  Play at the tip of the black keys.
14.  Play in the center of each key.
15.  DON'T get faster, get slower, play faster than you can control, nod the head, and don't tap the foot.
16.  Make scales muscial to listen to and joyous.
17.  Don't sit too near the keyboard!!!