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#1240692 - 07/31/09 12:07 AM I hate scales!
Akira Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/27/07
Posts: 1645
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
I'm wondering if some of you teachers can help me over this hurdle?

I am just not seeing any benefit to practicing scales. Because I hate them, I find myself not practicing them everyday, trying to cram one weeks worth or practice into the morning of my lesson. Of course, as expected, its a disaster during the lesson. I think if I understood the "why," it would help with the motivation and practice. My teacher's explanation of the benefits have left unconvinced and I feel like I'm wasting my time. I know everybody (or at least, most people) practices them, but I just dislike doing them. Yes, I know like I sound like seven year old boy, complaining about eating his vegetables.

Any insights you may have to offer is appreciated.

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#1240704 - 07/31/09 12:39 AM Re: I hate scales! [Re: Akira]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5397
Loc: Orange County, CA
If you don't practice scales, then your scale passages will sound horrible. Many sonatas have scale passages. Chopin, too, has fast scale passages. So if you don't practice your scales, your fingering will be messed up, and you'll hit wrong notes, and your pieces will sound absolutely terrible.

Convinced???
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#1240710 - 07/31/09 12:56 AM Re: I hate scales! [Re: AZNpiano]
Nikalette Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/22/08
Posts: 1079
Loc: California
It's a lot more fun to practice blues scales and pentatonic scales over chords, than 2 handed scales.

Also, once I got a digital piano, scales got to be a whole lot more fun, because you can use different voices, and put in an accompaniment or drum beat...

You have to make it fun. Even if your piano teacher isn't interested in hearing blues scales, why don't you try putting some different chords in the left hand, and changing up the rhythm of the right hand...like classical improvisation.

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#1240713 - 07/31/09 01:11 AM Re: I hate scales! [Re: Akira]
Gary D. Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4726
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: Akira
I'm wondering if some of you teachers can help me over this hurdle?

I am just not seeing any benefit to practicing scales. Because I hate them, I find myself not practicing them everyday, trying to cram one weeks worth or practice into the morning of my lesson. Of course, as expected, its a disaster during the lesson. I think if I understood the "why," it would help with the motivation and practice. My teacher's explanation of the benefits have left unconvinced and I feel like I'm wasting my time. I know everybody (or at least, most people) practices them, but I just dislike doing them. Yes, I know like I sound like seven year old boy, complaining about eating his vegetables.

Any insights you may have to offer is appreciated.

Well, cramming pays off, unfortunately, in other areas. Students are rewarded for cramming for tests, for instance.

But it does not work for playing a musical instrument. You are probably actually damaging yourself by cramming scale practice. This guarantees that you will learn scales wrong. Why would you do that?

Scales are in everything. You have to master them, in some way, to play well. As I teacher I stress scales more in pieces than as separate practice, and many teachers will immediately disagree with that, but if you do not master the basic principles behind scales, a great deal of music, perhaps most of it, will be forever out of bounds for you.

What level are you on? What pieces are you playing now?
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#1240811 - 07/31/09 08:38 AM Re: I hate scales! [Re: Gary D.]
Kreisler Offline


Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13757
Loc: Iowa City, IA
Scales are a way to practice coordination, tone, articulation, and gain a familiarity with keyboard topography and the feel of different keys, which will be of great use in sight-reading and learning new repertoire.
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#1240822 - 07/31/09 09:06 AM Re: I hate scales! [Re: Kreisler]
beccaY Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/06/09
Posts: 23
Here is a link to a great scale game. It may seem childish but my older kids love it! You never know what scale you will have to play until you roll the dice. Check it out and see what you think.
http://www.practicespot.com/article.phtml?id=26&t=36

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#1240823 - 07/31/09 09:08 AM Re: I hate scales! [Re: Kreisler]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3146
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: Kreisler
Scales are a way to practice coordination, tone, articulation, and gain a familiarity with keyboard topography and the feel of different keys, which will be of great use in sight-reading and learning new repertoire.


If you approach it from this viewpoint, scales make sense. The OP appears to want things to make sense and be relevant, so perhaps this helps. From a practical standpoint, just use scales as a warmup. If they are the first thing you play, you never skip them. I would suggest a kitchen timer. I wouldn't set it for very long - maybe five minutes. You might want to use a metronome. That adds one more skill to what Mr. Kreisler mentioned - playing with a metronome. And it has the advantage of being easily able to measure and track progress. If you can play sixteenths at 60 BPM one year, and at 120 next year, you know you are making progress at that isolated skill.

The extent to which practicing isolated skills transfers to performing them in context is a philosophical problem that is not solved and hotly debated. On almost any other instrument, practicing scales leads directly and immediately to facility. But on these other instruments, most of the music is scalewise and monophonic, and in any given key the same fingering will be used. Piano is very different and the transfer is not direct at all.

Bottom line though, every teacher makes you do scales so whether they make sense or not, might as well learn them. They do show up on auditions and those points are free for the taking.
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#1240859 - 07/31/09 10:29 AM Re: I hate scales! [Re: TimR]
Andromaque Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/29/08
Posts: 3886
Loc: New York
When it became obvious to my teacher that I am not really practicing scales or doing so very reluctantly, I suddenly started getting etude assignments that are ripe with tricky rythms, keys and.. scales.. mixing up sixteenth, 32nds and eighths fairly haphazardly (to me). The trouble is I am supposed to make these etudes sound pretty musical, which is no small feat. Makes me miss plain old scales..But as Tim said, just about all piano teachers will want them done, one way or another..So just do it..

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#1240916 - 07/31/09 12:06 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: Andromaque]
Minniemay Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/09
Posts: 1702
Loc: CA
I hear you. I don't like practicing scales, either. But, as I tell my students, it's not always about motivation. It's almost always about self-discipline.
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#1240920 - 07/31/09 12:18 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: Minniemay]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3146
Loc: Virginia, USA
And sometimes it's just about being a slave to tradition.
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#1240922 - 07/31/09 12:22 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: Minniemay]
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2843
Loc: UK.
I'm willing to bet that what you hate about scales is mindless repetition right?

So........

The key is to have some kind of focus whenever you practise scales. What exactly are you working on or what skills/knowledge are you trying to improve and develop?

Is it theoretical understanding and knowledge of keys? You could practise in the order of circle of fifths and/or majors and relative minors.

For co-ordination there are numerous things you can do. Slow practice with the metronome, contrary as well as similar motion, scales in 3rds/6ths, experimentation with various rhythms, accents and articulations.

For fluency you might do some separate hand work and try to increase your tempo. Listen carefully for even tone and flow.

Try variation in dynamics to make your scales sound more musical.

Perhaps link your scale practice with pieces you are learning in the same keys.

I don't know if any of this helps. I seem to have no luck getting the benefits of scales through to my own sudents. They just do them because I say so and start rolling their eyes when I go into why they need to do them. At the end of the day they do work and all my students who are good at their scales play better in general.
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#1240936 - 07/31/09 12:40 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: Chris H.]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3146
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: Chris H.
I'm willing to bet that what you hate about scales is mindless repetition right?



No. All of us will do mindless repetition if we see a point to it.

The explanations for what that point is, in reference to scales, are somewhat lacking. Why is this? Can't anyone really answer it, beyond "trust me, it works?"

Clearly the student needs to absorb the concept of tonicity and key center, and scales help. As does solfege. Once WWHWWWH and key signatures are covered, and that's about once through Sound of Music! how much more do scales help?

Two of the biggest beginner hurdles are keyboard geometry and fingering. Scales do help with keyboard geometry at least at first. Scales don't help a beginner with fingering at all, they serve to confuse an already confusing subject further.

We've had the Hanon battles here many times, right? The one side praises them for developing technique in isolation that can later be applied to music, the other side decries them as a waste of time because technique is better learned in context. Both sides clearly produce students who play very well.

The anti-Hanon crowd tends to be pro-scales, despite the fact that every argument against Hanon applies equally well to scales. But sometimes I get the feeling their heart isn't really into the scale defense. Hee, hee.
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#1240954 - 07/31/09 01:14 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: TimR]
J Cortese Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/20/09
Posts: 357
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
1) Warmup.

2) Everything Kreisler said. The different keys on a piano are like different landscapes. If you know your way around a landscape, you barely even need to watch where you're going. Turn off the light in a familiar room and you can get around without thinking about it. Turn off the light in an unfamiliar room, and you're denting shins. You don't want to grope for the next key, you want to know where it is without thinking so your brain can be freed up to think about things like interpretation and beauty.

It's like learning a language. You don't want to grope for a verb ending while you're trying to propose to someone. You want that knowledge to be so graven into your head that it becomes invisible, so you can think about the message.


Edited by J Cortese (07/31/09 01:15 PM)
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#1240956 - 07/31/09 01:14 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: TimR]
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2843
Loc: UK.
Tim, I think you missed my point entirely.

Mindless repetition is what most students do when practising their scales. But that's not good. You should have focus and you should understand the point in scales in order to get the best from them.

I don't think it's fair to say that the explanations are lacking. Plenty have been given in this thread so far.
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#1240964 - 07/31/09 01:28 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: Chris H.]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3146
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: Chris H.
Tim, I think you missed my point entirely.

Mindless repetition is what most students do when practising their scales. But that's not good. You should have focus and you should understand the point in scales in order to get the best from them.

I don't think it's fair to say that the explanations are lacking. Plenty have been given in this thread so far.


I didn't really miss your point, I expanded it without explaining well.

You listed a number of benefits you could obtain if you practiced scales in a different manner, and that would have the side effect of making them less mindless and boring. (and I agree with both points)

All those benefits have to be added to scales - they don't exist as an inherent part of scale practice. So to me they aren't a good argument for doing much scale practice.

Practicing scales helps you get good at scales, there is no doubt. How much that helps you play other music is the question, I think. Most Western repertoire is based on the major scale. Almost none of what beginners will play will contain more than a scale fragment, and that fragment will almost never be fingered with standard scale fingering. So the benefit, once you have do-re-mi in your brain, has to be as a practice method for isolating individual techniques such as hands together coordination, articulation, volume control, touch control, rhythmic accuracy, etc. Certainly all those can be done very well through scale practice. And Hanon. And repertoire.

As you pointed out well, those isolated benefits won't happen automatically simply by playing scales. (It's not even a given that isolated benefits will transfer to performance in context. But that's a separate argument.) Yet beginners are told constantly to play their scales because it's good for them.

Where do you think the diminishing returns principle applies to scales? One hour per day, one minute per day? I'm on record at guessing five minutes. Could be wrong though.
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#1240969 - 07/31/09 01:31 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: J Cortese]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3146
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: J Cortese


2) Everything Kreisler said. The different keys on a piano are like different landscapes. If you know your way around a landscape, you barely even need to watch where you're going. Turn off the light in a familiar room and you can get around without thinking about it. Turn off the light in an unfamiliar room, and you're denting shins. You don't want to grope for the next key, you want to know where it is without thinking so your brain can be freed up to think about things like interpretation and beauty.


Yes. That's one of the benefits of scales that is most convincing to me. That's what I refer to as keyboard geometry.

Do you think playing scales will automatically grant this?
Do you think playing scales is the best method? And how many minutes a day would you devote to this?
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gotta go practice

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#1240979 - 07/31/09 01:45 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: TimR]
Akira Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/27/07
Posts: 1645
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
Wow, quite a discussion. I had a feeling everybody could relate to scales.

I'll take some time to answer a few questions posted to me in this thread to provide a better background and framework for the context of my question.

I've been studying for about a year and a half, currently finishing up the Level 5 Hal Leonard method book (last of the series). I've done Hanon for about a year (ex. 1-20), along with FingerPower exercises (currently on Level 5). For each level of the method books I've done, I also played supplemental material commensurate with that level (about 2 or 3 books per level). Some Pop. Some Jazz. Some Classical.

I want to be a "decent" (whatever that means) non professional player, but have no aspirations of performing. I have yet to memorize anything, but rather focus on further developing my sight reading skills (which I still am not very good at). I play for my own enjoyment.

Q: If you don't practice scales, then your scale passages will sound horrible. Many sonatas have scale passages. Chopin, too, has fast scale passages. So if you don't practice your scales, your fingering will be messed up, and you'll hit wrong notes, and your pieces will sound absolutely terrible. Convinced???
A: I think my "mental block" is that there is a disconnect between scales and the music I am currently playing. I have no desire to play classical music and favor pop music instead. Looking through my current material, I'll see mini-scales (five note) sprinkled sparingly throughout the book. I realize this is just a first baby step, but it seems like I could hit five notes up and down by practicing the music, rather than scales. I'm wondering how many teachers do not teach scales and can produce students who play equally as well as those who do.

Q: You are probably actually damaging yourself by cramming scale practice. This guarantees that you will learn scales wrong. Why would you do that?
A: Yes, I came to the quick realization that cramming does not work. My teacher is pretty good about "not" letting me move on until he is satisfied I've "passed" the lesson (i.e. the particular (scale) key we're working on that week). In trying to convince myself (with this thread) that I must do it everyday and be justified (in my own mind) that I'm not taking a leap of faith (just because teachers say "you must do it").

Q: Scales are a way to practice coordination, tone, articulation, and gain a familiarity with keyboard topography and the feel of different keys, which will be of great use in sight-reading and learning new repertoire.
A: This seems plausible and essentially what my teacher has said. Can these skills (above) be developed without the use of scales or do scales just make the process easier? "Scales are a way.." Are they the only way?

Q: Bottom line though, every teacher makes you do scales so whether they make sense or not, might as well learn them. And sometimes it's just about being a slave to tradition.
A: That's the leap of faith I'm hesitant to take. I need to understand the "why." Its a big investment of my time.

Q: I'm willing to bet that what you hate about scales is mindless repetition right?
A: Actually, I don't mind the repetition (mindless or otherwise). Many refer to Hanon as mindless. However, I could see the logic of the exercises. They were all different in their own way and I could feel myself gaining better control of my fingers. Even though it was not my favorite thing to do, I did it because I could see the "why." Scales seem much more like the same exercise (in a different key) over and over again.

Q: What exactly are you working on or what skills/knowledge are you trying to improve and develop?
A: I'd like to improve my technique, sight reading abilities, better my keyboard geography skills, minimize the time required to learn a piece. As I mentioned before, I have no desire to tackle complicated classical music that will take months or years to master. I imagine, when I become proficient, the hardest thing I'll play is more advanced Pop music. Of course, the goal I have today may change over time.

Q: No. All of us will do mindless repetition if we see a point to it.
A: That's exactly my point.

Thanks for your feedback. Its provided me for some food for thought. Other opinions are appreciated and encouraged.



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#1240984 - 07/31/09 01:47 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: TimR]
J Cortese Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/20/09
Posts: 357
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
Originally Posted By: TimR
Do you think playing scales will automatically grant this? Do you think playing scales is the best method? And how many minutes a day would you devote to this?


Beats me. It'll help, I'm sure. Helped me. There's probably other things to be done, but this one thing will definitely bring improvement.

I'm becoming more and more surprised at how automatically my brain seems to recall the "shape" of various keys even after having been away from it for so long. I've been having fun downloading sheet music lately and am stunned at how automatically my hands seem to want to make an AM "shape" or anticipate the landscape of that scale when I see those three little sharps staring back at me, as an example. And my lessons always started with arpeggios and scales as warmup.
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#1240986 - 07/31/09 01:53 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: Akira]
J Cortese Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/20/09
Posts: 357
Loc: Los Angeles, CA
Originally Posted By: Akira
"Scales are a way.." Are they the only way?


For want of a better way of putting it ... who cares? grin They'll get you to where you're going. There may be some other minimally more effective way to do it, but so what? As long as you end up where you intend to go, there's no reason for angsting over not finding THE perfect way to get there.

I'm sure the piano won't turn into a pumpkin if you take three months to see improvement versus two months and twenty-one days. Don't get analysis-paralysis. Just move forward in a direction that you know will result in improvement and don't worry about it.

If you were trying to improve within a certain time-frame or pass an admission test or an audition or something, then you start worrying about optimization. For now, don't sweat it so much. As long as scales will get you where you want to be, then strap in and hit the gas. grin
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#1241026 - 07/31/09 02:49 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: J Cortese]
Little_Blue_Engine Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/30/09
Posts: 1233
Loc: Ohio, US
I've been trying to teach myself and added scales in April because that's just something that I assumed needed to be done even though it would be "boring". I wasn't sure what the benefit was going to be for sure but figured there must be one if everyone is made to do it and I felt like I wasn't progressing very well. I was playing a few lines each of a few songs I liked but I didn't really feel like I was getting anywhere.

I started my way around the circle of fifths, one scale per month and memorizing the I, IV and V chords for each because that's what one of the books or websites I was on suggested and I didn't know any better way to start so I just started doing it. Aside from the improved coordination I'm beginning to recognize key signatures and remember what the sharps are in a piece without having to circle all of them to remind me. I'm remembering my major chords without having to think about how to build one every time I need a chord.

I actually don't mind them much. The fact that there's nobody telling me to do it probably makes a big difference in me enjoying it a bit instead of hating it. Of course a year from now when I'm practicing more than the 5 I've worked on so far, it might start getting old...
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#1241034 - 07/31/09 02:58 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: J Cortese]
EDWARDIAN Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/16/09
Posts: 89
Loc: New York, USA
Thank you once again J Cortese for your very cool eloquence. Couldn't have said it better myself than your first post on this topic.

Added to that, I feel in my teaching I must include scales because they are great exercises that lay out the actual meat-and-potatoes of music. You learn all the major and minor keys. They get in your head and your fingers.
And their relation to one another is interesting. They are another way to familiarize yourself with your instrument and music, and I feel are quite essential.

Unfortunately they can be boring in presentation. I'm in the process of writing a series of books on scales - mainly for kids to make them more fun, and more approachable.

Try running through your scales in different ways - all the white key scales, then the flats scales another time. Try practicing them chromatically - C, Db, D, E, etc. Go Major/Minor. Shuffle up the practice routine, and use them as a warm-up. Have fun. You may even learn to love them as much as I do.

Joan
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Private piano teacher, 20+ years
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#1241035 - 07/31/09 02:59 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: J Cortese]
Chris H. Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/05
Posts: 2843
Loc: UK.
You won't automatically get any benefit from playing scales. It depends on how you play them. Let's say you play your scales over and over with a sloppy technique and no thought as to how they sound. Your playing is hardly likely to improve. If on the other hand you are focused on developing something then the repetitions will do you good. They are exercises. It's like doing push-ups, you wouldn't just do one would you? Of course you need to do the same thing over and over, just make sure you are doing it correctly.

I would agree that they are less useful for a complete beginner. That's why I teach tetrachords, a pattern that many teachers don't bother with. They work because they can be found in even the most basic pieces and provide a good starting point for developing scales later on.

How much should you practise them? Well, how long can you keep focused? It will differ from one person to the next. If you feel like you are just repeating for the sake of it then you should stop.

Anyway, I am bowing out of this thread. Arguing about the benefits of scales feels too much like work and I have broken up for the summer. So if you want to practise scales then go for it, if not don't.
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#1241071 - 07/31/09 03:46 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: TimR]
Kreisler Offline


Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13757
Loc: Iowa City, IA
Originally Posted By: TimR
No. All of us will do mindless repetition if we see a point to it.


I think repetition becomes mindless when we lose sight of the point.

I've always had a problem with the phrase "practicing scales." I've never practiced scales. But I have practiced hand shape, tonal control, careful listening, navigating keyboard topography, rhythmic intensity, and tempo control while playing scales.

When you practice scales in order to make your scales better, then it's pretty much pointless, because good scales aren't really all that interesting.

But when you use scales to practice all those other things, then it's extremely valuable and very efficient, because the things you can learn while working on scales can make everything you do at the piano better.
_________________________
"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)

www.pianoped.com
www.youtube.com/user/UIPianoPed

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#1241087 - 07/31/09 04:08 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: TimR]
Gary D. Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4726
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: TimR

Bottom line though, every teacher makes you do scales so whether they make sense or not, might as well learn them. They do show up on auditions and those points are free for the taking.

I don't *make* anyone play scales. When I suggest that they be practiced, learned, I doubt that anyone who does this would say that doing it doesn't make sense. smile
Originally Posted By: TimR
And sometimes it's just about being a slave to tradition.

Which to me is the WRONG reason for doing anything!
Originally Posted By: TimR

All of us will do mindless repetition if we see a point to it.

If there is a point to it, it's not mindless.


Edited by Gary D. (07/31/09 04:16 PM)
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#1241121 - 07/31/09 04:59 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: Kreisler]
ProdigalPianist Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/08/07
Posts: 1049
Loc: Phoenix Metro, AZ
My teacher, who had to pass "technique juries" as an undergrad, so has the "chops", used to be one of those teachers who said, "Oh I think you can learn technique from repertoire, so don't worry too much about it."

I kept saying "I didn't really learn scales and arps before and I feel like it's a gap in my skills I'd like to fill." So finally we started seriously working on the harmonic minor scales. As a few lessons went by she said, "Wow I can really see the improvement in your playing". (edited to add: she did not mean, "Wow you are really playing scales better" she meant, "Wow your playing of everything has improved.")

Then we moved onto broken octaves and arps and she said, "Wow. I'm inspired to go practice technical exercises myself. The improvement is really noticeable. I really believe adult students can do as well as kids if they work at it."

*I* personally don't notice the difference in my playing because I guess it happens so gradually day-to-day. But I don't think there's much question that if you want to get your technical chops as good as possible, technique practice will get you there in the shortest amount of time with the biggest improvements.


Edited by ProdigalPianist (07/31/09 05:00 PM)
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Adult Amateur Pianist

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#1241221 - 07/31/09 08:05 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: Akira]
Karisofia Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/13/08
Posts: 201
Loc: Wisconsin
I have to echo the spirit of ProdigalPianist's post. I do not have the background of that teacher, but I did do a number of technical studies. Frustrated with not being able to get my students to learn their technique, I sometimes let it slip. Then I realized that they were struggling with elements I found completely natural because of those studies.

I have recently taken up more serious scale and chord work for myself in the hope of getting a diploma (through RCM). After a while, I noticed my hard pieces weren't so hard any more. This has continued as I continue my work on scales. I am delighted by the way pieces fall under my fingers.

Originally Posted By: Akira
In trying to convince myself (with this thread) that I must do it everyday and be justified (in my own mind) that I'm not taking a leap of faith (just because teachers say "you must do it").


It is not a "leap of faith" to trust your teacher. I agree that it is not good to do something just because it has always been done that way. It is equally bad, however, to ask someone to teach you and to not trust their judgment at least a little bit. It is hard to explain to a young child why certain school lessons are important. The parent or teacher who has used the skill many times knows that the child really needs it. Your teacher should give some explanation, but you should give it an honest try, too.

Originally Posted By: Akira
Scales seem much more like the same exercise (in a different key) over and over again....

I'd like to improve my technique, sight reading abilities, better my keyboard geography skills, minimize the time required to learn a piece.


You got it! Scales are not about pushing your fingers down in different patterns like Hanon but rather about learning the keyboard patterns used in Western music. The point is to (a) learn the notes that belong in the key and (b) learn to navigate the key efficiently. Sometimes I watch my students try to read a piece and wonder at the difficult time they have remembering which notes are sharp or flat. When the scale is mastered, this becomes second nature. The scale is an element of keyboard geography. You are reducing the key to its simplest and most straight-forward form while learning it. Then when you approach the piece, you can focus on other elements.

Along the same line, you should learn the primary chords and basic chord progressions in all keys. This has the same advantage of reducing your learning time of a piece. You already know the chords. You just have to put them in the right order.

Can I explain every detail of this process? No. But I know it works. It has worked for me. It works for my students. ("Hey! This is just like ______ in my technique!")

I really hope you decide to give scales a real chance to do the same for you.
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#1250104 - 08/15/09 11:48 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: Akira]
TonyY Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/15/09
Posts: 28
Loc: Toronto, ON, Canada
Practicing your technique is vital! Many pieces contain scale passages, sonatas, nocturnes, fantasias, and most of them require great dexterity and speed. If you don't practice your technique regularly, it is quite likely that you will stumble on scale passages/arpeggio passages in pieces. In RCM grades, there is a technical portion, which is directly related to songs in the repertoire. So its really important to practice your scales/chords/arpeggios.
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#1250153 - 08/16/09 04:35 AM Re: I hate scales! [Re: Akira]
Arabesque Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/16/05
Posts: 548
Loc: Japan
I'm not going to lecture. How can you hate them? I love them. They are my preferred warm-up. After playing them I feel so fulfilled. I am always scaling between pieces. I didn't always love them. There was a time when they bored the pants off me. But then I learnt to focus carefully on playing them, on my wrists, on the fingering and work with a metronome. I practiced every day and then built up skills. My teacher taught me to really concentrate on the tone and rythym. After one year, the confidence from playing all the scales accurately in both hands and at a decent speed really helped my general playing and technique in so many ways. Of course some students are put off because teachers make scathing remarks on the basis of a misplayed scale and the student is musically frustrated. This is a wrong way of looking at it. It is not always a case of being on test. Practice them alone regularly in your own good time along with your repertoire. Make sure you keep a steady beat and don't go off it. As soon as you've done the scales work on appreggios based on the scales but strictly measured and with alternating dynamics.
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#1250250 - 08/16/09 11:09 AM Re: I hate scales! [Re: Arabesque]
Susan K. Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/03/09
Posts: 192
Loc: Central California
I love this thread. I'm going to bookmark it. I hated scales as a kid because the Circle of Fifths just did NOT make any sense to me. I was worried when I started on scales again and when I balked, my current teacher told me to just do them and they'll start to fall into place. I still struggle with them, but I like the result in my playing. My goal is to be able to play through them all majors + relative minors (harmonic & medlodic) + arpeggios + final cadences. I'm just finishing Eb major. When I finish, I suspect that I will make a huge leap in advancement -- like Prodigal, I think the scales were a huge gap (I just learned 2 octaves of the major sharps) that always left me feeling muddled.

Note on playing pop music: There are often abrupt key signature shifts (Barry Manilow comes to mind) and if the scales have become intuitively ingrained -- it makes sight reading fun stuff a LOT easier.

Susan


Edited by Susan K. (08/16/09 11:10 AM)

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#1250368 - 08/16/09 04:05 PM Re: I hate scales! [Re: Susan K.]
Gyro Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/24/05
Posts: 4533
There are players who just love scales,
and whose practice session is
essentially scales and nothing else.
(Scales are easy compared to
repertoire.)

Most people, however, don't like scales.
It would be unwise for such folks
to force themselves to practice
scales extensively, because that
could turn piano into unpleasant
drudgery. And when some activity becomes
associated with unpleasantness,
that's going to eventually lead to
the person quitting the activity.

However, I have good news for
people who hate scales. I see
scales as mainly a physical drill
in finger-crossing, which is a
basic skill needed in playing.
And since the finger-crossing motion
is similar in all scales, the
argument can be made that a person could
get by with just one scale. And
since C maj. is the most difficult scale
of all (the most difficult thing
to play on a piano is a fast,
irregular passage on all white keys,
since there are no black keys to give
tactile and visual reference points
for your fingers), you might
play just it. (If you need to
practice some other scale
for some reason, you can play it
with C maj. fingering, and that will
get you through it adequately.)

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