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#2050537 - 03/18/13 11:06 PM Most effective use of time practicing scales
hamlet cat Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/01/13
Posts: 103
Loc: Mojave Desert
Forgive me if this has often been discussed, but I could not find anything recent.

I am interested in scales in order to help me play music scores, feel comfortable improvising in common keys, and improve dexterity and accuracy.

Regarding scales, I would like my time spent with them as effective and efficient as possible. I currently have the book, "The Complete Book of Scales, Chords, Arpeggios and Cadences", by Alfred.

For each scale, the book has the following exercises:
- Parallel motion in octaves
- Contrary motion on the same note
- Parallel motion in thirds or tenths. Starting with C in the left, and E in the right, ascending and then descending.
- Parallel in sixths. Starting with E in the left, and C in the right, ascending and then descending.

This is the only book I have on scales, so I don't know what exercises are in other books. I know in regular piano methods there is variation in the instruction, with some methods being better suited than others for a student based on individual needs. Is there the same variation when it comes to scales, from book to book? Are the exercises above generally agreed to be "standard" exercises that a should practice? Any dissenting opinion as to the value of the above versus other ways of practicing scales?

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#2050539 - 03/18/13 11:14 PM Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: hamlet cat]
malkin Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/18/09
Posts: 2611
Loc: *sigh* Salt Lake City
For now, I just try to play evenly with the right notes with the right fingerings, cresscendo up, decrescendo down and that is enough.
_________________________
A good student is one who makes the teacher feel like a good teacher.

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#2050547 - 03/18/13 11:37 PM Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: hamlet cat]
tangleweeds Offline

Silver Supporter until Jan 11 2012


Registered: 12/21/08
Posts: 1269
Loc: Portlandia
I have no answer, as my scales practice tends to be spontaneous, whenever I get into a scaly mood (which happens more of then than you might think). But I wanted to say that this seems like an excellent question, no apologies needed.

A while back there were a bunch of people using Scales Bootcamp to keep them on track.
Here's a link to that thread
Do those of you who tried it feel like this is an option worth pursuing?
Did you learn particular strategies worth sharing?


Edited by tangleweeds (03/18/13 11:38 PM)
Edit Reason: punctuation
_________________________
Oops... extremely distracted by mandolins at the moment... brb

neglected piano blog

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#2050548 - 03/18/13 11:39 PM Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: malkin]
Michael_99 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/28/12
Posts: 935
Loc: Canada Alberta
Poster: packa
Subject: Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: hamlet cat]

(quoted material)
"...
The variations you describe are primarily structural, but there is another dimension for expression in scale practice: legato, staccato, varying articulations, rhythmic variations, varying accents, varying dynamics, etc. Any of these can obviously be combined with any of the patterns you list.

I don't feel that scale practice has much to do with playing from scores or with improvising (although it does promote some basic understanding of the diatonic mechanisms underlying a lot of music). But I do think scale practice can promote dexterity, accuracy, and the ability to feel the connection between an intended sound and your hands on the keys. Of course, you can do many of these same things with Hanon or other sets of technical exercises.
..."
(end of quoted material)

Reply:
packa,
Nicely said. I agree.

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#2050557 - 03/19/13 12:08 AM Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: Michael_99]
packa Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/05/05
Posts: 1397
Loc: Dallas, TX
Originally Posted By: Michael_99

Poster: packa
Subject: Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: hamlet cat]

(quoted material)
"...

..."
(end of quoted material)

Thanks Michael_99. I think I was trying to do too many things at the same time and inadvertently deleted my post right after I made it. Since you've quoted it, I won't bother to put it back online now.
_________________________
Paul Buchanan
Estonia L168 #1718

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#2050569 - 03/19/13 12:49 AM Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: hamlet cat]
hamlet cat Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/01/13
Posts: 103
Loc: Mojave Desert
Thank you. This is already very helpful feedback for me.

Two very good points were made that I need to apply to my practice. I think I have been playing scales too mechanically, and need to be more careful not to let that outweigh the musical aspects of playing them. I have been good with that while playing songs, but less so with scales.

The other point I hear is to not take on too much at first. Perhaps I would be better off becoming more familiar with hands separate scales before combining too much. I tend to make some mistakes when playing in parallel. Maybe that is my clue to slow down and try not to rush progress too much.



Edited by hamlet cat (03/19/13 12:49 AM)

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#2050615 - 03/19/13 03:09 AM Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: packa]
Michael_99 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/28/12
Posts: 935
Loc: Canada Alberta
packa,

Well, I copied the post and went to save it to post and it just left a blank page and hung up, so I logged out and logged in and it was gone and I couldn't figure it out except it was remotely deleted, but I had cut and pasted, as I always do, so there we are!!

Poster: packa
Subject: Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: hamlet cat]

(quoted material)
"...

..."
(end of quoted material)


Thanks Michael_99. I think I was trying to do too many things at the same time and inadvertently deleted my post right after I made it. Since you've quoted it, I won't bother to put it back online now.

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#2050662 - 03/19/13 06:58 AM Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: hamlet cat]
rnaple Offline

Silver Supporter until April 24 2014


Registered: 12/23/10
Posts: 2107
Loc: Rocky Mountains
This is something I am very much getting into. I know what I'm doing is training my nervous system, and different connective tissues in my body. The muscles themselves, are easier to train. I'm incorporating the use of cycles. Also a basis of scoring; correct form, how much distress, how much pain. From the very highest levels of physiological knowledge for training. It will get results the fastest.
If you all are interested. I could explain more.
This is all from athletic training I have learned. I have not put together a set program yet for piano exercises. I'm working on it now. I have all the exercise books for piano, including Alfred's mentioned already.
I would like to say that the focus of this type of training is not numbers. How much you can do, or for how long, or how fast, etc. The focus is discipline. That's how you get results.
I'm not sure you all are interested. So won't get into it more.
_________________________
Ron
Your brain is a sponge. Keep it wet. Mary Gae George
The focus of your personal practice is discipline. Not numbers. Scott Sonnon

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#2050824 - 03/19/13 01:05 PM Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: hamlet cat]
zrtf90 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/29/12
Posts: 2409
Loc: Ireland (ex England)
Originally Posted By: hamlet cat
I am interested in scales in order to help me play music scores, feel comfortable improvising in common keys, and improve dexterity and accuracy.
That's not what scales are for. Play pieces in your chosen keys and improvise around the melody and/or accompaniment.

Originally Posted By: hamlet cat
Regarding scales, I would like my time spent with them as effective and efficient as possible.
Spend no more than five or ten minutes each day on scales, arpeggios and broken chords.

Spend at least a month on each key and nail it (perfectly even in time and tone) before moving on to another. Work anti-clockwise round the circle of fifths (from B major - recommended) or clockwise from C major - most common). Start minor scales on the second cycle (roughly twelve months further on).

Master each scale hands separately in crotchets (one or two octaves), quavers (two octaves), triplets (three octaves) and semiq's (four octaves), legato, non-legato and staccato. Don't worry too much about hands together until you need to improve co-ordination at the top and bottom of each scale. HS is crucial, HT is luxury and masks flaws in the weaker hand.

Start with two or three dynamic levels and add one or two levels with each annual cycle.

Add contrary motion when you start on E major or E flat major. Add thirds, sixths and tenths on your third or fourth cycle.

Don't use scales as an exercise in velocity, there are more suitable exercises for that. They are for accuracy, clarity and evenness. They will get faster from regular daily practise (of scales or pieces) - there's no need to push it or sacrifice their prime purpose. Accuracy, clarity and evenness come from concentrating with unrelenting and undivided attention. Ten minutes is a long time for that level of concentration and less concentration makes them largely a waste of time.
_________________________
Richard

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#2050918 - 03/19/13 03:16 PM Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: hamlet cat]
Polyphonist Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/03/13
Posts: 7648
Loc: New York City
Make sure you're not just mechanically learning the notes of each scale by rote, and not actually knowing the key of the scale you're playing in. If you're learning E flat major, sight read pieces in E flat major. Do different things with the scale. Start on F instead of E flat and play F dorian scales (E flat major on the 2nd scale degree). Do that with each scale degree of the chosen scale. Play arpeggios in all inversions. Experiment with different 7th and 9th chords in that key. Familiarity and versatility in the key is key (no pun intended).

Hope that made sense, my thinking is a little hazy right now. wink
_________________________
Regards,

Polyphonist

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#2050934 - 03/19/13 03:35 PM Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: hamlet cat]
LarryShone Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/10
Posts: 793
Loc: Darlington, UK
I've just come across a rather neat looking free app for various scales!
Piano scales and Jam free
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If the piano is the King of instruments then I am its loyal servant.

Yamaha PSR225-I NEED A PIANO wink

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#2051104 - 03/19/13 11:29 PM Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: hamlet cat]
Jeff Clef Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/05/08
Posts: 4425
Loc: San Jose, CA
"...there is another dimension for expression in scale practice: legato, staccato, varying articulations, rhythmic variations, varying accents, varying dynamics, etc..."

I like this attitude and approach. I also find it useful to play the scales in triple meter sometimes, instead of only duple meter, which is how they're usually given, and to play them all the way up and down the keyboard.

"hamlet cat
"...I am interested in scales in order to help me play music scores, feel comfortable improvising in common keys, and improve dexterity and accuracy..."

"...That's not what scales are for. Play pieces in your chosen keys and improvise around the melody and/or accompaniment..."

I think it is what scales are for, at least they play their part. But I agree that playing the scale of a piece until you're comfortable with it, is a help in tackling a new score. It helps the fingers to know where they are without your thinking about it so much.

"Originally Posted By: hamlet cat
"...Regarding scales, I would like my time spent with them as effective and efficient as possible..."


"...Spend no more than five or ten minutes each day on scales, arpeggios and broken chords.Spend at least a month on each key and nail it (perfectly even in time and tone) before moving on to another. Work anti-clockwise round the circle of fifths..."

If this method works for the poster, fine. I have another method: one day a week [Monday] I devote most of the practice session to technical exercises and scales. I pretty well like the way the scales are given in the Hanon Book, according to ascending number of accidentals in the key signature, and with the dominant minors given with the major key that shares the same signature. He leaves out the enharmonic keys, but you can write them out yourself; they do turn up sometimes.

Then again, playing them in their letter order, major and minor, is nice for variety and breaks up the tedium of always doing them the same way in the same order.

HS is better when learning a new scale. But once the fingers are familiar with where they're supposed to go, HT is actually easier because the hands help each other to know where they're supposed to be. To learn, HS. Then vary RH/LH, RH/LH, then HT (if you can). If it's breaking your brain, do what you can and then come back to it in a few days. Surprisingly, you'll find that the fingers have learned something (maybe in your sleep, for all I can tell).

"Practice is the great magician, which makes impossible things not only possible, but easy."
Carl Czerny [more or less quoted accurately]

In the book you are using, the first page is full of quotes from various masters of the keyboard, explaining their idea of the value of scales. I think it's the best thing in the whole book. Their thoughts are worth taking in and contemplating (maybe while you're running over the scales and arps).

Your enthusiasm for the scales is admirable... and the payoff is excellent. When you build a strong foundation in the bedrock of music, you are making a wonderful home for your soul.
_________________________
Clef


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#2051157 - 03/20/13 03:01 AM Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: hamlet cat]
Lost Woods Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/11/13
Posts: 104
Loc: The Netherlands
I like to play my scales polyrhythmic.
Not that I'm so good @ polyrhythms but it's a nice brain challenge. Especially when playing two totally different scales against eachother. But maybe this is more a hand independence excersise...


Edited by Lost Woods (03/20/13 03:01 AM)

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#2052171 - 03/21/13 10:47 PM Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: hamlet cat]
hamlet cat Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/01/13
Posts: 103
Loc: Mojave Desert
Currently, I'm following the Alfred Adult method, and therefore I'm concentrating on the keys that are used in the songs to date. That means I'm currently practicing the scales C, F, G, Amin, and Dmin.

From a mechanical perspective, I can run the scales multiple octaves with either hand, but some times make mistakes on when to go thumb under. If I attempt both hands at the same time, the mistakes multiply. I think that I should have spent more time with them earlier. I'm definitely playing them every day now, about 15 minutes. I'm thinking maybe I should give up playing any of the hands together exercises for a few weeks. I will also start incorporating arpeggios, as mentioned above.

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#2052349 - 03/22/13 09:04 AM Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: hamlet cat]
zrtf90 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/29/12
Posts: 2409
Loc: Ireland (ex England)
Scales are not where you want to introduce wrong notes. You need to go much slower. They're not a speed test. Go at the speed of an adagio until you make no mistakes, no wrong notes, none too early, too late, too soft or too loud. When you're up to an andante and still not making mistakes go back to adagio while you put hands together.

For someone still on Alfred's, 15 minutes is a long time for that level of concentration (knowing the right note and playing it deliberately with the right touch) and you'll probably introduce wrong notes from tiredness.

Many teachers recommend a few months to a year's experience before getting on to scales.
_________________________
Richard

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#2052353 - 03/22/13 09:08 AM Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: hamlet cat]
JimF Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/08/09
Posts: 1741
Loc: south florida
Hamlets,

If you are making mistakes in your scales, you need to slow down.

How slow? As slow as you need to play mistake-free with completely relaxed hands. Applies to HS or HT.
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#2052492 - 03/22/13 01:55 PM Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: hamlet cat]
hamlet cat Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/01/13
Posts: 103
Loc: Mojave Desert
I will be slowing down as suggested. Thanks, zrtf90, I'll take your suggestion and work hands separate until I have cleaned things up, then go to hands together and slowing it right now again.

Overall, I'm spending 1 - 1.5 hours a day playing, Alfred's, timing exercises. Does 15 minutes still sound like too much given the amount of time I'm playing?

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#2052596 - 03/22/13 04:33 PM Re: Most effective use of time practicing scales [Re: hamlet cat]
zrtf90 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/29/12
Posts: 2409
Loc: Ireland (ex England)
Originally Posted By: hamletcat
Overall, I'm spending 1 - 1.5 hours a day playing, Alfred's, timing exercises. Does 15 minutes still sound like too much given the amount of time I'm playing?
15 minutes on scales and arpeggios is a long time for anyone with less than two years experience and is time that could be better apportioned to learning more repertoire.

Our technical ability grows more and faster from the pieces we play. Scales are for perfecting and exercising that technique. Without a year or two developing that technique (and our critical hearing skills) in the first place what are they exercising?

Ten to fifteen minutes is a long time to spend on a piece. I suggest you try spending an hour on six pieces at ten minutes each and compare your progress in a month.

If it doesn't work out for you, revert. And smile. You've either learned a valuable practice tip or you've learned something about how you learn. There are more than two ways. Experiment and record your progress. The more you experiment and compare results the more you learn about what works for you and we are all different.

If I know I'm restricted to ten minutes I focus more clearly on a shorter section and get it done far sooner than spending an hour on one piece and remembering very little of it the next day or playing it no better than if I had only spent ten minutes on it and sometimes less than that.

I typically work towards objectives rather numbers of minutes and frequently use less than ten minutes on a piece though I don't count reviewing the previous sections to make sure I'm still au fait with them. My day is usually done in less than an hour (five or six pieces) and I spend the rest of my time improving memorised repertoire (and these days preparing to record for recitals).
_________________________
Richard

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