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#2092725 - 05/31/13 09:07 AM Why learn scales?
montunoman Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/11/11
Posts: 82
My 9 year old daughter has been doing piano about five years now. She’s done well... I arranged to sign her up for lessons this summer with a well know jazz pianist/teacher. The jazz teacher requested that she comes to first lesson knowing all the major scales. I told her regular piano teacher about the jazz teacher's request and I was surprised that the regular teacher said she did not understand why my daughter would have to know her scales. The regular teacher went on to explain that it's better to learn pieces that contain lots of scale passages - like Bach. Basically she said that practicing scales outside of a musical context was a bit of a waste of time. In short she wouldn't agree to teacher my daughter her scales. OK... I'm a pianist to so I taught her the major scale/ circle of 5th. It took about five min. a day for a few weeks. Now she has them down cold. I just thought it would be silly to pay the jazz teacher (who charges a lot of money) to teach my daughter the major scales. It’s something she'll need to learn at some point. Or so I thought... Her regular teacher thought on scales seems a bit odd. What do you think?

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#2092744 - 05/31/13 09:42 AM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: montunoman]
red-rose Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/20/13
Posts: 177
Loc: Cleveland, OH
IMHO scales are mainly important to learn fingering, and to gain the knowledge to be able to build and analyze chords. (The most basic way to figure out what a Bb major chord is, is to take the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes from the Bb major scale.) I would never require a 9-yo to know all the major scales, but I can see how for jazz it would be essential, especially if they will be working off lead sheets. Outside of jazz/improvising, I'd tend to side with the regular teacher here, although I definitely think that at a certain point it is really important that they understand *how* to make a scale. (whole/half step pattern.)

(Full disclaimer: I never formally learned more than a couple scales, and I managed to survive just fine! smirk )

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#2092754 - 05/31/13 09:54 AM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: montunoman]
Minniemay Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/09
Posts: 1702
Loc: CA
Scales are an important part of a technical regimen and serve several purposes. I use them to develop fluency of tone, to build an understanding of key and to help students understand the unique properties of their own hands (I teach how to play the scale differently depending on the student's hand size and structure).

I totally understand why the jazz teacher insisted on knowing them. They are the basis of all harmonic implications, and he needs to be able work the circle of 5ths and make the alterations to jazz scales.
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B.A., Piano, Piano Pegagogy, Music Ed.
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#2092826 - 05/31/13 11:51 AM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: montunoman]
John v.d.Brook Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7368
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
You asked what we think. My first thought was to suggest you reevaluate your daughter's current teacher. Minniemay offered several important reasons to learn scales, but there are many others. Musicians need to learn to listen to their own playing. Our fingers each have different strengths and so learning to play with a very even touch (as well as timing) is a must. Practicing scales allows the student to focus on just one or two skills at a time, allowing her to hone in on this vital skill.

Music often requires the pianist pass their thumb under the hand. This isn't a natural motion and takes time to develop a smooth technique. Again, learning and practicing scales allows the student to do so without having to concentrate on other aspects of piano playing.

These are just a few additional reasons. Wishing your daughter great success at the piano.

John
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#2092946 - 05/31/13 02:59 PM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: John v.d.Brook]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3200
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: John v.d.Brook
Musicians need to learn to listen to their own playing.


John


Gieseking said this was the most important skill, and the most neglected skill, in piano playing, and that playing scales with careful attention to evenness of tone and evenness of timing was the best way to learn it. And for this reason, scales should always be done HS.
_________________________
gotta go practice

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#2093038 - 05/31/13 06:08 PM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: montunoman]
Joyce_dup1 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/01/02
Posts: 192
Loc: Chicago
All my students do a daily warmup practice with scales. They start with pentascales and learn the pattern. That way, they are not intimidated by sharps and flats. We do without the written music until the scales are presented in their method books. They also plays arpeggios and chord progressions. So it is a simple daily exercise used to improve technique, key tone, knowledge of scale and chord patterns, to develop independent fingering, to learn phrasing, dynamics, and theory, and speed, as they learn to move around the circle of 5ths. I struggled with this for some time as most method books don't introduce these things early on. I was unhappy with my students not knowing and understanding scales. Little by little, I developed a regimen that it working well, and while different students on focusing on differents parts of the exercise, it is working well. When the students encounter hand moves, cross-overs, scale patterns, chord progressions, etc., etc., in their music, they are knowledgeable and equipped to analyze and play. Even when they are simply playing a pentascale and I V7 I chords.


Edited by Joyce_dup1 (05/31/13 06:10 PM)

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#2093048 - 05/31/13 06:29 PM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: montunoman]
John v.d.Brook Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7368
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
Congratulations, Joyce, and with your more adept students, you might try skipping the pentascales and go directly to one octave scales. You might be pleasantly surprised at how quickly many students can grasp this concept.
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#2093100 - 05/31/13 09:26 PM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: John v.d.Brook]
Barb860 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/11/09
Posts: 1646
Loc: northern California
It might be interesting for teachers who do not teach scales, and think they are a waste of time, to post their reasoning and experience here. I do not understand this approach at all.
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Piano Teacher

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#2093108 - 05/31/13 09:59 PM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: Barb860]
Ahmediy Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/27/13
Posts: 43
Maybe the jazz pianist/teacher is going to teach with alot of theory so if your daughter knows scales already it will save alot of time.
My teacher said learning music without knowing scales compares learning language without knowing the alphabet. It makes more sense to learn scales!

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#2093569 - 06/01/13 07:23 PM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: John v.d.Brook]
Joyce_dup1 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/01/02
Posts: 192
Loc: Chicago
Yes, a lot of teachers go straight to the one octave scales. I did once have all my students play a scale pattern with finger #2 only, stating whole, half, etc. Each week they moved to a different scale. I went back to pentascales for the early students because it is presented in the method books so often. I more focused on the pattern WWHW than the method books suggest. Perhaps it's time to go back to the one-octave scale for all students. You are right, they often can handle it. I am amazed myself at how my youngest students (4 yrs old) can readily respond to "cross-hand arpeggios", chord progression I-V7-I without blinking an eye. I like having the students knowledgeable about terminology and basic skills. Thanks for comments.

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#2093584 - 06/01/13 07:59 PM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: montunoman]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5486
Loc: Orange County, CA
I think scales are important; however, they need to be tied to the literature and be given in appropriate doses.

I have taken a transfer student who knows all the major scales (quite evenly and fluently) and most of the minor scales. But he can't play Level 3 music without stumbling! There was a giant disconnect between scales and repertoire.

The purpose of teaching scales is to teach the common or traditional fingering, with smooth legato being a secondary goal. I don't hit scales until students are about the level of Clementi Sonatinas. I just teach whatever is in the method books.
_________________________
Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member

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#2093766 - 06/02/13 05:24 AM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: montunoman]
btb Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 4261
Loc: Pretoria South Africa
"I just teach whatever is in the method books."

How ghoulishly boring!

The whole reason for teaching scales is to make sure on finger dexterity and NOT RUN OUT OF FINGERS in completing a passage.

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#2093856 - 06/02/13 10:48 AM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: btb]
John v.d.Brook Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/18/06
Posts: 7368
Loc: Olympia, Washington, USA
btb, AZNpiano is a very high quality and successful teacher (I've heard a number of his students perform and they are uniformly well prepared), and I respect his opinion while disagreeing with it. He obviously achieves the same goals by other means.

And this brings me to a sidebar. While teaching in Germany, I learned that for the most part, European teachers use a technique first, then literature, approach to teaching, whereas we in the USA generally take the opposite approach (instant gratification, and all that). Both approaches achieve success, so what we have is a chicken and egg type argument. If you've found a means to successfully teach students, stick with it, and search for ways to improve it as time passes.
_________________________
"Those who dare to teach must never cease to learn." -- Richard Henry Dann
Full-time Private Piano Teacher offering Piano Lessons in Olympia, WA. www.mypianoteacher.com
Certified by the American College of Musicians; member NGPT, MTNA, WSMTA, OMTA

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#2093864 - 06/02/13 11:10 AM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: red-rose]
Charles Cohen Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/26/12
Posts: 1314
Loc: Richmond, BC, Canada
Originally Posted By: red-rose
. . . I would never require a 9-yo to know all the major scales, but I can see how for jazz it would be essential, especially if they will be working off lead sheets . . .


+1.

You could argue that, when improvising (which includes playing lead sheets), scales and chords (and arpeggios) _are_ jazz!

There's no music to read -- what other patterns is the player going to use to fill-in the harmonic structure? The scales had better be "under the fingers" -- playable without much thinking.

. Charles

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#2093933 - 06/02/13 02:12 PM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: montunoman]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4802
Loc: South Florida
There are several issues here:

1) How long is the lesson, and how many other things need to be taught?

2) What are the priorities of the teacher?

3) How advanced is the student?

4) What are the needs of the student?

5) How much time does the student practice?

I would be very wary of judging another teacher without a lot of information, and here is not the place to do it.

I have parents who try to push me to do all sorts of things at a time that I do not think is right. I think we can all agree that knowing scales is important.

The big question is: WHEN is the best time to learn/teach them?
_________________________
Piano Teacher

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#2093961 - 06/02/13 03:25 PM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: montunoman]
pianolover85 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/07/13
Posts: 94
This is probably my most short post ever: one word: to be able to improvise!
_________________________
Peace and love and play smile

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#2094169 - 06/02/13 10:56 PM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: btb]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5486
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By: btb
"I just teach whatever is in the method books."

How ghoulishly boring!

The whole reason for teaching scales is to make sure on finger dexterity and NOT RUN OUT OF FINGERS in completing a passage.

Obviously you are not familiar with post-1984 method book series. Kids complete quite a few 2-octave scales by the time they're through.
_________________________
Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member

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#2094177 - 06/02/13 11:06 PM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: montunoman]
MaggieGirl Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/18/11
Posts: 483
Gary D - my daughter's teacher teaches them as they come up in music. Sometimes she assigns a new one just because (usually though it turns out she has a plan and they come up quickly).

She doesn't play all the scales every day. She just practices the ones listed in her log book. It might mean some are over and done with quickly and others get more practice.

I think it odd that the teacher doesn't give a more detailed reason. When approached that they were needed for jazz, was she more in the camp of "she needs to focus on HER lessons more before starting something new." It's hard to understand why she was not willing to compromise.


Edited by MaggieGirl (06/02/13 11:08 PM)

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#2094201 - 06/02/13 11:36 PM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: John v.d.Brook]
AZNpiano Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/07/07
Posts: 5486
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By: John v.d.Brook
btb, AZNpiano is a very high quality and successful teacher (I've heard a number of his students perform and they are uniformly well prepared), and I respect his opinion while disagreeing with it. He obviously achieves the same goals by other means.

Thanks, John!

Perhaps my earlier post led some to believe that I don't teach scales at all. I do teach scales. But I'm erring on the minimalist end. I teach scales as they come up in method books, and then if the kids do CM I teach the required technique for each level. For really little kids (under 8) I am being extra judicious when it comes to teaching scales.

This is the same logic that I apply to teaching pedaling. I skip pedaling altogether for little kids unless they have everything else together, and are talented musically. Otherwise I see no rush to teach pedaling until the kids can reach the pedals naturally.
_________________________
Private Piano Teacher and MTAC Member

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#2094442 - 06/03/13 10:17 AM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: montunoman]
Jonathan Baker Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/09/09
Posts: 342
Loc: New York City!
Of all the exercises I have worked throughout the years - Clementi, Czerny, Tausig, Brahms, etc. - none has delivered more useful 'bang for the buck' than simple, old fashioned scales. Rachmaninoff practiced them daily almost to the day he died. Their technical value is obvious: the consecutive finger motion is the most common configuration in music written for the piano, and the value of listening carefully to the evenness of scales will refine both hand and ear sensitivity, if practiced with that in intent.

And scales are the basis of harmony, so one cannot be too familiar with key signatures and every type of chord and harmonic progression. No musician can function very well without a comfortable familiarity with the building blocks of music.

I cannot name one major pianist in history who did not master scales, arpeggios, etc. at an early age, nor can I name one major piano teacher in history who dismissed scales as irrelevant. Any so-called teacher who dismisses the importance of scales should themselves be dismissed, and promptly.

It is true that after achieving world fame, both Leopold Godowsky and Wladimir Horowitz did not practice scales daily as they had in their youth, but instead, invented exercises tailored to their personal needs. One hardly needs to argue with that, given the level at which these two super-technicians worked, but they had long since mastered their scales, arpeggios, octaves, double notes, etc., while they were young students.

No exercise should be engaged if it does not deliver a tangible result - time is too precious. Scales deliver very tangible results by upgrading technique and enhancing musicianship. For a pianist to not learn scales early on would be like a mathematician who learns addition but not multiplication - the idea is incomprehensible.
_________________________
Jonathan Baker
http://www.BakerPianoLessons.com/index.htm

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#2094451 - 06/03/13 10:31 AM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: Jonathan Baker]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3200
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: Jonathan Baker
Of all the exercises I have worked throughout the years - Clementi, Czerny, Tausig, Brahms, etc. - none has delivered more useful 'bang for the buck' than simple, old fashioned scales. Their technical value is obvious: the consecutive finger motion is the most common configuration in music written for the piano, and the value of listening carefully to the evenness of scales will refine both hand and ear sensitivity, if practiced with that in intent.


Your last clause seems rather important to me.
Quote:
if practiced with that intent


Are scales valuable if not practiced in some specific manner, with some specific intent? Probably not, which is probably why so many put decreased importance on them.

Gieseking agreed with you about using scales to increase ear sensitivity. And for that reason he insisted on them being done HS. Whiteside seemed also to agree, but thought beginners needed to wait until ready.

Scales for consecutive finger motion would be most valuable if they were a platform for correct motion, including angles of wrist and forearm, rotation, distance, etc. How many teachers actually address that when assigning scales? From the discussions here, probably very few. The assumption is that scales are valuable in themselves regardless of how played, so attention to technique is unnecessary. That's an assumption worth reexamining, maybe.

Quote:
Rachmaninoff practiced them daily almost to the day he died.


For the purpose of increasing his listening skills? or his fingering skills? Surely not. If you told me he practiced them daily during his first two years it would be relevant; during his last two years, not so much.
_________________________
gotta go practice

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#2094472 - 06/03/13 11:02 AM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: TimR]
Jonathan Baker Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/09/09
Posts: 342
Loc: New York City!
Quote:
Rachmaninoff practiced them daily almost to the day he died.


Quote:
For the purpose of increasing his listening skills? or his fingering skills? Surely not. If you told me he practiced them daily during his first two years it would be relevant; during his last two years, not so much.


Every athlete must exercise in his chosen manner to stay in condition, and apparently Rachmaninoff did not consider himself above that necessity. And what musician does not try, with each new day, to increase and refine his acquired assets?
_________________________
Jonathan Baker
http://www.BakerPianoLessons.com/index.htm

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#2094482 - 06/03/13 11:33 AM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: Jonathan Baker]
TimR Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/17/04
Posts: 3200
Loc: Virginia, USA
From Mr. Rachmaninov himself:

Quote:
Personally, I very much believe in scales and arpeggios. What is their advantage? If you know how to play them well, you can continue training, with a genuine technical foundation. Technology devote two o'clock every day for as long as the hands and muscles are not sufficiently trained for the tasks of high performance masterpieces of music - it's not too much. In Russia the best teachers to the goal as early as possible to complete this training period, regardless of when that child health. Indeed, in the six years studying for the most part in doing this. In sixth grade, he had to test for the next grade. This exam is mainly performed by scales and arpeggios. If the student is unable to cope with that, then he is detained in the same class. That's the way a lot of attention was paid to Russian technology, and we have had a reputation for educators virtuoso



There you have it. Two hours a day for the first six years.

I suspect his scale playing in later years was meditative in nature.
_________________________
gotta go practice

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#2094528 - 06/03/13 12:39 PM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: montunoman]
The Monkeys Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/13/12
Posts: 427
Loc: Vancouver BC
I like the way Gary put it:

Not if, but when and how.

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#2094671 - 06/03/13 03:57 PM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: AZNpiano]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4802
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: AZNpiano

Perhaps my earlier post led some to believe that I don't teach scales at all. I do teach scales. But I'm erring on the minimalist end. I teach scales as they come up in method books, and then if the kids do CM I teach the required technique for each level. For really little kids (under 8) I am being extra judicious when it comes to teaching scales.

This is the same logic that I apply to teaching pedaling. I skip pedaling altogether for little kids unless they have everything else together, and are talented musically. Otherwise I see no rush to teach pedaling until the kids can reach the pedals naturally.

I differ with you a bit on the issue of "reaching the pedals naturally", or perhaps I just introduce pedal earlier. I will adjust seating lower, only temporarily, to develop the concept - if I see no damaging tension happening. Small children are very resilient. I then return them to a higher seating for non-pedal issues.

Otherwise I am very close to what you are doing. I have written my own materials, but they are reasonably in sync with most of the better methods. In general I think it is bad to hammer concepts before they can be applied.
_________________________
Piano Teacher

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#2094681 - 06/03/13 04:04 PM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: Jonathan Baker]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4802
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: Jonathan Baker
Of all the exercises I have worked throughout the years - Clementi, Czerny, Tausig, Brahms, etc. - none has delivered more useful 'bang for the buck' than simple, old fashioned scales. Rachmaninoff practiced them daily almost to the day he died. Their technical value is obvious: the consecutive finger motion is the most common configuration in music written for the piano, and the value of listening carefully to the evenness of scales will refine both hand and ear sensitivity, if practiced with that in intent.

And scales are the basis of harmony, so one cannot be too familiar with key signatures and every type of chord and harmonic progression. No musician can function very well without a comfortable familiarity with the building blocks of music.

I cannot name one major pianist in history who did not master scales, arpeggios, etc. at an early age, nor can I name one major piano teacher in history who dismissed scales as irrelevant. Any so-called teacher who dismisses the importance of scales should themselves be dismissed, and promptly.

It is true that after achieving world fame, both Leopold Godowsky and Wladimir Horowitz did not practice scales daily as they had in their youth, but instead, invented exercises tailored to their personal needs. One hardly needs to argue with that, given the level at which these two super-technicians worked, but they had long since mastered their scales, arpeggios, octaves, double notes, etc., while they were young students.

No exercise should be engaged if it does not deliver a tangible result - time is too precious. Scales deliver very tangible results by upgrading technique and enhancing musicianship. For a pianist to not learn scales early on would be like a mathematician who learns addition but not multiplication - the idea is incomprehensible.

Just be careful that you do not wrongfully assume that teacher A or B or C is dismissing scales as unimportant because that teacher does not always have time to cover them to the extent that teacher D or E believes is best in a perfect world.
_________________________
Piano Teacher

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#2094691 - 06/03/13 04:16 PM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: TimR]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4802
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: TimR

Your last clause seems rather important to me.
Quote:
if practiced with that intent


Are scales valuable if not practiced in some specific manner, with some specific intent? Probably not, which is probably why so many put decreased importance on them.

Correct. As a T-bone player you are aware that practicing scales, over and over, if the slide technique is not right and the positions are not right and the notes are not in tune, is purely destructive.
_________________________
Piano Teacher

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#2094702 - 06/03/13 04:24 PM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: MaggieGirl]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4802
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: MaggieGirl
Gary D - my daughter's teacher teaches them as they come up in music. Sometimes she assigns a new one just because (usually though it turns out she has a plan and they come up quickly).

She doesn't play all the scales every day. She just practices the ones listed in her log book. It might mean some are over and done with quickly and others get more practice.

I think it odd that the teacher doesn't give a more detailed reason. When approached that they were needed for jazz, was she more in the camp of "she needs to focus on HER lessons more before starting something new." It's hard to understand why she was not willing to compromise.

How long are the lessons? How many hours practice does she do each day?
_________________________
Piano Teacher

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#2094707 - 06/03/13 04:28 PM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: Gary D.]
Jonathan Baker Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/09/09
Posts: 342
Loc: New York City!
Originally Posted By: Gary D.

Just be careful that you do not wrongfully assume that teacher A or B or C is dismissing scales as unimportant because that teacher does not always have time to cover them to the extent that teacher D or E believes is best in a perfect world.


Taking my cue from the original message, a teacher dismissing scales as "a waste of time" outside of music rather misses the point since scales are the fabric of music itself. Naturally, any good teacher will deduce what material to introduce to a given student at the appropriate time of their development.
_________________________
Jonathan Baker
http://www.BakerPianoLessons.com/index.htm

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#2094741 - 06/03/13 05:42 PM Re: Why learn scales? [Re: Jonathan Baker]
Gary D. Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/30/08
Posts: 4802
Loc: South Florida
Originally Posted By: Jonathan Baker
Originally Posted By: Gary D.

Just be careful that you do not wrongfully assume that teacher A or B or C is dismissing scales as unimportant because that teacher does not always have time to cover them to the extent that teacher D or E believes is best in a perfect world.


Taking my cue from the original message, a teacher dismissing scales as "a waste of time" outside of music rather misses the point since scales are the fabric of music itself. Naturally, any good teacher will deduce what material to introduce to a given student at the appropriate time of their development.

I'm not sure the teacher has been correctly quoted. Perhaps yes, perhaps no.

I have made such strong statements when irritated. It usually happens when Mom or Dad, after asking me to teach, begins to second-guess me and make "suggestions" that are really more like interference.

I might say "waste of time at this moment", but that would mean something very different.

I still say it is a matter of when and how. And when we talk about Rachmaninov, we need to remember that an hour a day practice on scales, by itself a great idea, might be more than a child practices in two or three days.
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Piano Teacher

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