When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations

Posted by: Sozo

When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/26/13 09:30 AM

Howdy all, hope everyone is having a good morning!

I am just seeking advice here on practicing scales.

When practicing scales, should I be counting 1,2,3,1,2,3,4,5 or saying the keys in my head, meaning C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C or just going by feel? What do you all do? I am not sure if counting in that manner is cluttering my mind unnecessarily.
I am so new to scales that no matter what I do at this point it isn't coming out even yet, but do you have any opinion on what you think is better or is there a method preferred by teachers?
Thank you for any help!
Posted by: tangleweeds

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/26/13 09:53 AM

I'm not sure what everyone else does, but I do one of two things:

I'm either thinking "whole-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step, whole-step, whole-step, half-step" (or, across the pond, that would be "tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone"). That's for a major scale -- obviously the various minors have different patterns, as do all the modes.

Or else I'm thinking in terms of scale degree: "tonic, supertonic, mediant, subdominant, dominant, submediant, leading tone, tonic"... which, in movable-do, could also be "do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do".
Posted by: Sozo

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/26/13 09:57 AM

Caramba, I have just learned finger numbers, I just learned those terms a few days ago (tonic, etc) but I haven't tried to use them yet, that would currently make it way more difficult for sure smile Thank you for your opinion though! If that is the way that I should be going with it, than I suppose I will smile Does anyone else have an opinion on it? Thank you!
Posted by: zrtf90

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/26/13 10:50 AM

I would definitely not think of finger numbers, note names, my next meal or whether the gas has been left on. Your focus should be on correct action, even tone and even time.

Playing the correct keys with the correct fingers will be well established in the first minute or two at one note per second or slower until it is automatic.

Why are you practising scales?

I hope you're not doing them as finger exercise. They don't work 4 & 5 sufficiently for that.

The action of the muscles controlling the fingers need very careful training. Scales are best left until you've been playing for a year or so and have a number of other repertory pieces in your fingers. Playing with a restricted movement such as in scales has a high percentage of instilling in your technique a bad habit that may later cause injury or reduced facility. It is better to learn more pieces requiring a more widely divergent finger action so that your fingers will learn to settle on an average, versatile and flexible action.

If you have a teacher I would suspect the first few lessons would be spent ensuring you sit correctly at the piano and that your arm was more involved in controlling your fingers. They might point out the difference between playing harpsichord or organ, that both use the fingers, and piano, which involves far more use of the arm. My first lessons, and I'd already been playing a while, were all about making the instrument sing and getting the arms to work properly. My introduction to scales was technical support for learning Mozart's K. 545 some six months after starting lessons. They were a tool rather than an exercise and it was all about managing the wrist and arm instead of turning the hand and thumb.

The Russian school begins by using only the middle finger of each hand alternately to learn this arm motion and use the fingers more through the bone alignment from the shoulder than through finger motion in a still hand.

Without a teacher scales might be better left. Exams require that scales are learnt very early. I am opposed to this idea. Scale playing should be for a more etablished technique especially when a teacher is not involved.

If you want finger exercises you can investigate Hanon (where scale playing comes in well into the second volume and is itself best left to after a year's playing) or Czerny.

If you want to stick to music Bach's Inventions provide excellent finger training when played hands separately (hands together is another matter and best left a few years). Bartok's Mikrokosmos is very progressive. There is more.

Caution: I'm not a piano teacher. Get other opinions.
Posted by: keystring

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/26/13 11:04 AM

Originally Posted By: zrtf90

Playing with a restricted movement such as in scales has a high percentage of instilling in your technique a bad habit that may later cause injury or reduced facility. It is better to learn more pieces requiring a more widely divergent finger action so that your fingers will learn to settle on an average, versatile and flexible action.

I AGREE. I returned to piano after being self-taught as a child, 35 years later. It took a while before I had a teacher to work with. I was cautious in general but I thought at least I could do scales. I even used a book that taught "how" for the motions. The only thing that I practised consistently every day for about 8 months was scales, and music that contained scales. My left hand started to be numb. I stopped.

The first fix to my technique when I started with my teacher was in chords. I learned how to move the arm and hands, how to feather with the wrist, and how to have some "give" in the fingers after impact. I played pieces mostly with chords, because here I can use the technique that was going properly.

I've been meant to start working on scales. It is slowed down and delayed, because first I have to undo the habits that are ingrained from that time of working on scales. The minute I tried to start a scale, everything I trained myself to do was in there. It is going to take ten times as long than it would have if I had not tried to do scales on my own.

Richard's advice is spot on.
Posted by: Sozo

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/26/13 12:23 PM

@zrtf90 - Hello again Richard, thank you for your advice.

I am practicing scales partly because it was recommended by someone and also as you said, for finger exercise. (My own idea)

Quote:
The action of the muscles controlling the fingers need very careful training. Scales are best left until you've been playing for a year or so and have a number of other repertory pieces in your fingers.... It is better to learn more pieces requiring a more widely divergent finger action so that your fingers will learn to settle on an average, versatile and flexible action.


I see where you are coming from here, the assumption being that I can read music and play either along with sheet music or at least by ear to a song.
I have no clue how to read music, nor can I even remotely begin to follow along to any song, no matter how simple at this point. So that puts Bach's inventions out of reach at this point. I remember in junior high music class during learning to read music going "say whaaat..." (Played trombone) I didn't get it then and I have not even tried to get it yet now though of course I wish to.
Where I am at is this;
I have been dabbling for about 10 years now. More comprehensively, I bought a keyboard 10 years ago and had it for a year or two, just messing around and trying to make stuff up. The time came that I needed money, sold that keyboard and then I bought another about a year or so ago and have been doing the same with no schedule, just as I felt like playing around. On average a couple or few times a week for a half hour to 2 hours depending. In between keyboards of my own, I would mess around on one in stores or wherever there happened to be one where I was.
Right now I just have a 5 octave (61 keys I think) yamaha that cost a hundred bucks at Future Shop hooked through my laptop with a Midisport UNO and Propellerheads Reason.
Tired of the slooooooow progress my skill has been growing at, I joined this board for help a couple of weeks ago when I finally made something that actually sounded akin to music. If you wish to hear it;
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3-vdyiJRg6M

So, no teacher nor proper instruction until currently, and as for that clip there, it really came together for me just then, I don't usually sound even that decent.

Forgive me if that was long winded but since you are so kindly inclined to help me with your advice, you should have all the details! If you have any suggestions as to where I should be focussing right now, I would welcome them gladly!

Since beginning to write this I have now looked at Hanon-online.com and thank you, it looks great, though the first instruction is "Hanon Exercises 1 to 20
'Preparatory piano exercises for the Acquirement of Agility, Independence, Strength and Perfect Evenness in the Fingers. For studying the 20 Hanon exercises, begin with the metronome set at 60'..."

In the past, I turn into a useless twit as soon as I try to follow a metronome, which is a little strange to my mind because I have played a Djembe for years, and I am half decent with it. I can follow a beat no problem with it. I will try Hanon though, that is the kind of thing that I have been looking for! I just hope "playing along to a metronome" is part of the instruction smile

Thank you Richard!!! Anything that you might have to add would be greatly appreciated!
Brent.

*EDIT - Caramba, Hanon's lesson #1 is like doing mach 8 compared to my speed of finger actuation which is about 1mph hehe, I have to do the FACE and Every good boy deserves fudge thing for every note lol. As for the ones above and below the part where I can do that, I have no idea what notes that they would be.

@ Keystring - Thank you for your time and corroboration on Richard's advice!
Posted by: Kymber

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/26/13 12:44 PM

I go by the pattern and the feel. Not because I think it is better but that is just what worked for me.

I guess I also already know what sharps or flats (if any) I am going to play ahead of time.
And I already know the key signature ahead of time. So, that might help you. You can memorize the key signature/scale (away from the piano). Then when you sit down to play it find your starting note-find what sharps or flats you will need to play, then go for it. Then I would maybe be more deliberate or pay more attention to the fingering-just for now until it get more comfortable for you. Once you have it down (which probably won't take too long). Then you can say the notes names in your head if you want to drill that in-or you might find that you don't have to.

I think sometimes when we are paying attention to what we are saying in our heads it can make it harder to play. But I find that after a while things become more automatic.

Best of luck.
Posted by: Sozo

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/26/13 01:02 PM

Hello Kymber, that sounds like excellent advice! Thank you.
Could you please clarify just a tad for me?
I am not sure exactly what you mean by "memorize the key signature/scale"

Do you mean the pattern of the order that the keys are played in? Or rather, forget that, if you could clarify what you mean by that I would appreciate it! smile
Thank you.
Posted by: zrtf90

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/26/13 01:33 PM

No, forget Hanon. It is purely mechanical. There's a time and place for mechanical. Get music that appeals to your emotions, where the sound and meaning is more important than the technical requirements. Technique stands a better chance of developing properly from the musical requirement rather than developing the technique and then starting on music.

Don't learn to play piano then look for good music to practise on. Find the music that makes you NEED to learn to play the piano.

Piano playing is an activity requiring very fine motor skills and many different kinds of brain activity. It is similar to Latin and the Martial Arts in that it increases our abilty in all other subjects and exercises many different parts of the brain. It isn't picked up quickly.

If you want to vamp along to a pop song every so often then a few minutes here and there will do little harm and that may be all you need.

If you're thinking of getting into classical piano it typically involves a regular daily stint at the keyboard of 30 minutes to a couple of hours. Like golf, it becomes a passion and an obsession. And because of the long hours it is absolutely crucial to ensure the correct ergonomic and relaxed actions are ingrained from the beginning. How many golfers make use of the club pro at the start of their careers - compared to the short lived players who don't?

If you get a teacher for only as long as it takes to ensure a correct posture, a good arm technique and a source of elementary pieces on which to develop these actions without the added complication of complexity in either the music or the finger agility then that's probably enough to get going. And will be money well spent.

As to how to practise, there are several threads here developing along that very line and it seems very few teachers cover this aspect in detail. I would encourage visiting this forum on a regular basis and purport that you will make more progress than pianists that don't avail of this resource, whether or not they have a teacher.

There are no books that I can recommend or videos that I can point you to that will do the very thing a teacher is needed for - giving feedback to make sure you've understood the fundamentals correctly.

I have recently been teaching my son to play piano. I am absolutely astonished at the level of misunderstanding that can be made. Sitting down and showing him how to play the keys (press, squeeze, stroke, persuade, but never hit) did nothing until I got him to drop his hands onto his lap a few times under dead weight then transfer this action to the keys and damping with the wrist. Piano playing is really not about fingers - it's such an easy mistake to make.

You may be lucky and adopt the techniques naturally, many do, I did for much of it, on the other hand the damage that can ensue if you don't get it right is huge. Not just musically but physically.

If you scour this forum or participate frequently you will find countless mentions of people suffering aches, pains and tendinitis from tension while playing piano. While it may not be crippling it will hinder you progress. Do what you can to avoid it.

I want to get started on the metronome but I have to leave work and go home!
Posted by: Kymber

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/26/13 02:31 PM

Originally Posted By: Sozo
Hello Kymber, that sounds like excellent advice! Thank you.
Could you please clarify just a tad for me?
I am not sure exactly what you mean by "memorize the key signature/scale"

Do you mean the pattern of the order that the keys are played in? Or rather, forget that, if you could clarify what you mean by that I would appreciate it! smile
Thank you.


Hi Sozo,
Yes.
I mean memorize the notes of the scale in order and whatever sharp and flats they have.

So C major is C D E F G A B C
G major is G A B C D E F# G

It might help to see them in the order of fifths - if you haven't already. (as in the circle of fifths, but doesn't necessarily have to be in a circle). It also might help to practice them in that order (of 5ths). It's not necessarily but can be helpful in understanding the order of things.

Posted by: Kymber

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/26/13 02:34 PM

This has a very simple chart:
http://gc-music.com/Advan.htm

I'm trying to find a good web site with the circle of fifths - I will add the link when I find one.
Posted by: Calgary Mike

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/26/13 02:47 PM

There is an endless amount of variation you can place in technical exercises. Hands separate, hands together, 2 octaves, 4 octaves, crescendo, decrescendo, staccato, legato, non-legato, loud, soft, parallel, contrary, 3rds, 6ths, triads, arpeggios... I could go on...

My point is you should be working at your skill level. I play scales at 60 bpm and count 1& 2& 3& 4&. As has been said before, your aim should be correct fingering, even tone & even tempo at a comfortable speed. My objective is control and not just speed.

Learn the easy scales first & fill in the others as you progress. The pattern is the same for them all only the fingering changes through the various keys. Minor keys use a different pattern but a pattern all the same.

T T ST T T T ST T. Flatten 3rd & 6th for a minor (harmonic). Flatten 3rd going up and 3rd, 6th & 7th coming down for minor (melodic). And it goes on...
Posted by: Kymber

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/26/13 02:47 PM

Not sure if this is the best one but worth taking a look at.
http://www.circleoffifths.com/
Posted by: Sozo

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/26/13 04:28 PM

@Richard -
Quote:
Don't learn to play piano then look for good music to practise on. Find the music that makes you NEED to learn to play the piano.


I hear that, it is that exact inspiration that has fuelled me of late.

If I understand the unwritten part of your quote then, learn to read music to something that moves me and learn in that manner, correct?

For example there is a woman on here, Viktoria Greksova, her handle is 1wiki1 and she composes incredibly beautiful Sonatas and other works and I am willing to dedicate whatever time and effort to be able to play something like them. See her youtube page here: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCnfHfJiT3Zi5T6FPMH_2BFw

As well as a woman named Muso90 who composes stunning, amazing original works as well as covers of songs but with a flare and reinterpretation that puts the original songs in a completely different, unworthy category. See her 9/11 Memorial composition, her Butterflies and Hurricanes cover, L'Aqua original composition, and pretty much everything else of hers that I would also dedicate any resources to being able to achieve. See her here: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUAXNkoxAiPnPnIXzlDhmLg


Not to mention Emily Bear, I am sure that I don't need to post a link to her, I think her work thus far would be classified as strictly classical but wow, watching her hands walk up and down the keys inspires me to no end and though I would never be able to approximate her skill (or the other two that I mentioned for that matter) still everyone has to dream and they are all incredibly inspiring to me.

Viktoria and Muso90's styles and compositions may be slightly more attainable and knowing that, and if you have the time to listen to some of their stuff perhaps you could direct me to some works with sheet music of similar feel and I will start what I fear will be the arduous task of learning how to read it. The two mentioned don't have sheet music posted for their compositions.

As for a teacher, that really isn't in the cards at the moment, finances being the issue. I will do my best solo for now, hence why I appreciate your advice and time so much. Thank you Richard. I look very much forward to any advice you can give about trying to play with a metronome!!!

As for the ergonomics and posture, thats a biggie for me, in theory I know, back straight, hands relaxed, in practice almost the second I try to concentrate on playing something, that all goes right out the window lol. But I am trying when I remember. Not to mention right now I am playing cross legged on a bed with the keyboard in front of me. I have no other option right now, so thats what I've got, but I understand the theory for future use at least and I will remember your words.
Talk soon! smile

@Kymber - Thank you Kymber! I have not got a grasp on the fifths yet, not fully at least, I have deciphered with help the circle diagram I think but it really doesn't make a lot of sense to me, I can read it and tell you which key is supposed to come after which key in the major and minor scales by looking at it, (obviously, you just look at the next letter whether ascending or descending) but I don't see how it is used as a teaching tool other than for one or two fingering your way through playing a perfect fifth, there is theory there that I really need someone to go through with in detail and patience with me smile *hint,hint* hehe just (sorta) kidding about the hint, I thank you!

@Calgary Mike - Thank you, you've given me some more terminology to google hehe smile
Posted by: Mark...

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/26/13 04:58 PM

I would use your scales to help in counting out rhythm. 1+2+3+4+ or what ever rhythm you want to practice.

Especially if counting is difficult for you.
Posted by: zrtf90

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/26/13 06:13 PM

Originally Posted By: Sozo
If I understand the unwritten part of your quote then, learn to read music to something that moves me and learn in that manner, correct?
I'm guessing that trying to express an appealing melody is more likely to encourage your arm to move appropriately than hammering out mechanical five finger exercises. So, yes, correct.

The people you mention are playing solo piano music (as opposed to say, Elton John, Billy Joel or Norah Jones) so a classical training route will take you where you're want to go.

Originally Posted By: Sozo
As for a teacher, that really isn't in the cards at the moment, finances being the issue.
Understood. You might try and find an experienced pianist who can watch you play or make a video and ask for observations.

Originally Posted By: Sozo
As for the ergonomics and posture, thats a biggie for me, in theory I know..
That's half the battle.

Originally Posted By: Sozo
...the second I try to concentrate on playing something, that all goes right out the window
This is why it's best to start with really easy music.

And it's the same with a metronome.

When I was teaching my boys guitar they had this inability (or refusal to try) to play and count.

Here's the the thing. Music is time and tune. The difference between music and the other arts, the thing that most makes music be music is time, rhythm.

Don't learn to count as you play. Learn to count and keep rhythm then learn to play as you count. The counting is everything.

Learn to clap or tap the rhythm before you start playing. Many learn the notes quickly but struggle with timing and rhythm. Get the rhythm. If and when you use a metronome be aware that keeping time with it uses brain activity and must slow down the speed you could play at without it. Don't use it for prolonged periods use it for a few bars or a one time run through then continue practise without it. Use it to set a beat or a tempo then shut it off.

If you use it for prolonged periods consider a drum machine instead. But learning to keep time with an external source is crucial to playing with others and playing well on your own.

I've heard good reports of the Hal Leonard series and the Faber series of method books but I haven't seen them first hand. I taught my lads to read when I taught them recorder and guitar so they started piano with more advanced material. Alfred's is popular but not as suitable for a classical direction.

You need to seek advice from others for suitable starting material.
Posted by: Sozo

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/26/13 07:00 PM

Quote:
I'm guessing that trying to express an appealing melody is more likely to encourage your arm to move appropriately than hammering out mechanical five finger exercises. So, yes, correct.


Genius! smile Yes, that is a fact, when doing strictly exercises I couldn't keep them up for long periods, but playing something meldious I get in the zone somewhat and my body does start to express, I do know what you mean by the arm being more important than the fingers, when it comes together for me, its a fluid body feeling and my mind starts to focus less and intuit more. Well put!
Thank you for that, at least for the time being it lets me off the hook from how did you put it, hammering out mechanical exercises. Until I get more practiced as you mentioned before. Than I will continue with scales again.

As a side note, after you first mentioned Hanon, I found an enormous thread on Piano Street that I have been perusing at http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=13583.0

I see it is a raging argument on the benefits vs. detriment, however at least for myself you summed it up succintly in that first paragraph, as I've quoted above. I suppose if you enjoy more the technical processes of learning Piano than you would enjoy Hanon type stuff, but you got me down when you stated as you did. smile

Quote:
The people you mention are playing solo piano music (as opposed to say, Elton John, Billy Joel or Norah Jones) so a classical training route will take you where you're want to go.


At the risk of sounding redundant.. Thank you again! I had wondered many times how to iterate the type of music and learning that I would need to learn in order to play along the lines of the people I mentioned.

As for playing with the metronome, when you say count, I am thinking you are saying count to whatever time signature the piece I am trying to learn is in? Like 1-2-3-1-2-3- or 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4, in time with the click?

Thanks Richard, you may not be an actual Piano teacher, but you sure know your stuff. Appreciated!


Brent
Posted by: landorrano

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/27/13 03:27 AM

Originally Posted By: Sozo
Caramba
Hola, Sozo.


Originally Posted By: Sozo

I have no clue how to read music, nor can I even remotely begin to follow along to any song, no matter how simple at this point.


Have you ever thought about learning to read music? I think that my response to your thread would be: count if you want, say the names of the keys if you want, say whole-step whole-step half-step if you want, say nothing if you prefer ...

... but learn to read music.
Posted by: Palmpirate

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/27/13 10:09 AM

Hello sozo,
How do i play scales? weeeell... if i must admit it, not very often or very well. They make me tighten up. it goes back to childhood disciplined instruction and just as disciplined practice under eagle eyes of over-eagre parent. Returning to piano after many years, that old tension is still with me! so I play bits of Mozart or Bach, or Beethoven instead. Much more fun and no memories lurking in the background.
As for counting or chanting etc. that seems like a lot of work,I just sing along in my head. Now I use scale books to check things, like key-signatures, relative keys, chord progressions, arpeggios patterns and such. IT'S A REFERENCE TOOL. I find in many pieces I have to use different fingerings anyway and its more about playing patterns than just scales. I'm sure others have different experiences as you will read in the thread, and in the end you must do what works for you. Best advice is to get some kind of help, and if a teacher is not in your budget, is there a musician friend who can give you a few pointers? A different pairs of eyes and ears is invaluable from someone you respect and trust.
Posted by: Sozo

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/27/13 10:38 AM

Thank you for your time and advice gents, I am going to take Richards advice for now and leave scales alone until I have progressed a little more, but you can believe that I will be re-reading this when I do start them smile Thank you!
Posted by: 255

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/27/13 11:19 AM

I say in my mind the note names so that I get to learn which notes you play in that tonality (C♯ could also be D♭, etc), and to learn the association with the key and the name in that tonality.
But you can do countless things in your mind; I don't think it does matter to count or say or think something, the most important thing is doing what Cargary Mike talked about here:
Originally Posted By: Calgary Mike
There is an endless amount of variation you can place in technical exercises. Hands separate, hands together, 2 octaves, 4 octaves, crescendo, decrescendo, staccato, legato, non-legato, loud, soft, parallel, contrary, 3rds, 6ths, triads, arpeggios... I could go on...

This should improve your control, your fluency, etc.
Posted by: TrapperJohn

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/28/13 08:08 AM

Don't play scales - play Bach.

It's virtually the same thing - but then you can brag about playing Bach. Nobody brags about playing scales.

And listen to Richard - there is much wisdom in what he says...
Posted by: adultpianist

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/28/13 06:17 PM

Why not play scales? You have to do them for exams and when top pianist play top pieces, that is when scales fall into place as I think it makes the playing easier and I think it makes your fingers more flexible
Posted by: Bluoh

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/28/13 08:02 PM

Originally Posted By: TrapperJohn
Don't play scales - play Bach.

It's virtually the same thing - but then you can brag about playing Bach. Nobody brags about playing scales.

And listen to Richard - there is much wisdom in what he says...


You need to know how to play scales.

It won't be some magic technique booster, but it is something you should do well. It's just like walking; everyone should know how to walk.

In any type of music, you'll see some sort of scale. Like, when you play any sport, you will have to do some sort of walking. Even when you're swimming, you'll walk to the pool.

If you like doing scales, add in some arpeggios, motion patterns, etc. with your scales.

If you don't like scales, there are other things that help you get stronger. I'm not sure what level you're at, but A Dozen a Day finger exercises are great for beginners.

Hanon is the intense/focussed version of A Dozen a Day. Czerny is more musical, pieces that work technique. Both of these are early intermediate and up.

You can also find etudes (pieces that work on technique) that are at your level.

===

To answer the original question: before I start playing, I say the sharps/flats to myself. Then I play. I feel the rhythm; I don't really say anything in my head, but I've been playing these for years.

I get my students to learn the notes properly first, then work on counting and making the scales even.

So, if we're doing B major (which, by the way, is the easiest scale of all-- it fits the shape of your hand) then we'll make sure the notes work fine, the fingering fits, etc. Then we'll work on counting, 1 - 4, to get it even.

Does that help?
Posted by: rocket88

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/28/13 09:57 PM

Originally Posted By: Bluoh


You need to know how to play scales.

It won't be some magic technique booster, but it is something you should do well. It's just like walking; everyone should know how to walk.

In any type of music, you'll see some sort of scale. Like, when you play any sport, you will have to do some sort of walking. Even when you're swimming, you'll walk to the pool.

If you like doing scales, add in some arpeggios, motion patterns, etc. with your scales.

If you don't like scales, there are other things that help you get stronger. I'm not sure what level you're at, but A Dozen a Day finger exercises are great for beginners.

Hanon is the intense/focussed version of A Dozen a Day. Czerny is more musical, pieces that work technique. Both of these are early intermediate and up.

You can also find etudes (pieces that work on technique) that are at your level.


Excellent post.

I will add that scales also build into one's ability the "thumb under" movement, which is prevalent in all genres of music as a device to move the hand through a passage. And thus is a very important component of smooth and workable fingering.

When I get a transfer student who has not learned scales, they often do not naturally do the thumb under in passages where it should be used, and thus their fingering schemes can be unnecessarily awkward. People drilled in scales are more apt to automatically do the thumb under move where needed.
Posted by: TrapperJohn

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/29/13 06:51 AM

Originally Posted By: Bluoh


You need to know how to play scales.



No you don't...



Originally Posted By: Bluoh


It won't be some magic technique booster, but it is something you should do well.



If it won't then why bother at all (let alone doing it well)?

If you practice scales a lot you'll become very good - at playing scales. If this is your ultimate objective then fine...go for it. But, if your goal is to play music then practice playing music...

Hence Bach - there are enough scale-like passages in Bach to satisfy even the most ardent scale practitioner - and you too can someday say you've mastered the works of a genius!
Posted by: Sozo

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/29/13 07:34 AM

Wow, you guys/gals are great. Thank you so much for the excellent advice!!

While I am not focussing per se on scales now, I am doing a few mixed in here and there just because I know that eventually once better I will be doing them a lot more. Currently I am doing them just for the memory aspect. By that I mean so that I remember where the fingers are supposed are supposed to go without having to manually place each finger with forethought upon each key correctly. Simply put, so that my hands know where to go in a scale automatically.

One of my biggest problems is that with my current, uneducated skill level, I have a repetoire (term used very loosely) that is redundant. I have a bunch of measures (again term used very loosely) that I am trying to make into a song, or composition but I have no idea how to bridge them properly if that is the correct term. Meaning so that they sound like a continuation of the previous measure. They are like separate measures with no cohesiveness or fluidity. Initially I thought that learning scales would help me find a way to bring them together as it makes your fingers walk up or down to a different key, but that doesn't seem to be the case for me. I find myself when practicing scales just glazing over and going 'finger, finger, finger, thumb, finger, finger finger finger, etc. with no inspiration nor soulful enjoyment nor musical or melodious ideas of where it could take me. It becomes as Richard said, purely mechanical.

Thank you all, all of your advice is invaluable to me.
Posted by: Bluoh

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/29/13 10:29 PM

Originally Posted By: TrapperJohn

Originally Posted By: Bluoh


It won't be some magic technique booster, but it is something you should do well.



If it won't then why bother at all (let alone doing it well)?

If you practice scales a lot you'll become very good - at playing scales. If this is your ultimate objective then fine...go for it. But, if your goal is to play music then practice playing music...

Hence Bach - there are enough scale-like passages in Bach to satisfy even the most ardent scale practitioner - and you too can someday say you've mastered the works of a genius!


No, if you are good at scales then you will be able to play Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and any other composer who decides to make a piece with notes that go up or down side by side.

In other words, pieces that use a part of a scale, or notes that go up and down.

If you practice Bach, you will only know how to play Bach, but not very well, because Bach isn't great for starting off technique with.

No one brags about playing scales but anyone worth their salt will not brag about playing Bach either.

Like, no one brags about being able to walk but professional beach volleyball players don't brag about how well they can run in the sand and how fast they can go without spraying sand up their butts either.

Come to think of it, you don't have to brag if you're worth your salt.

Like, "I can play Bach and you can't?" Come on. Bach isn't even my favourite composer.
Posted by: Bluoh

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/29/13 10:31 PM

Originally Posted By: Sozo
Wow, you guys/gals are great. Thank you so much for the excellent advice!!

While I am not focussing per se on scales now, I am doing a few mixed in here and there just because I know that eventually once better I will be doing them a lot more. Currently I am doing them just for the memory aspect. By that I mean so that I remember where the fingers are supposed are supposed to go without having to manually place each finger with forethought upon each key correctly. Simply put, so that my hands know where to go in a scale automatically.

One of my biggest problems is that with my current, uneducated skill level, I have a repetoire (term used very loosely) that is redundant. I have a bunch of measures (again term used very loosely) that I am trying to make into a song, or composition but I have no idea how to bridge them properly if that is the correct term. Meaning so that they sound like a continuation of the previous measure. They are like separate measures with no cohesiveness or fluidity. Initially I thought that learning scales would help me find a way to bring them together as it makes your fingers walk up or down to a different key, but that doesn't seem to be the case for me. I find myself when practicing scales just glazing over and going 'finger, finger, finger, thumb, finger, finger finger finger, etc. with no inspiration nor soulful enjoyment nor musical or melodious ideas of where it could take me. It becomes as Richard said, purely mechanical.

Thank you all, all of your advice is invaluable to me.


Hey Sozo, why don't you try playing other people's pieces first, and getting the feel for the sound of the notes? Composing comes with time; play around with the order of the notes. smile
Posted by: Sozo

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/29/13 10:41 PM

Hi Bluoh.

Ah if only! smile It then comes back to me not yet knowing how to read music, I can't play someone elses music yet, nor can I play a song that I've heard by ear, leaving only composition. I just started to try to learn to read music yesterday via youtube.
Posted by: tangleweeds

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/29/13 11:07 PM

There are helpful tutorials and quizzes on note reading at
http://www.musictheory.net
http://www.teoria.com/
There are quiz/games where you name the note, as well as ones where you find it on an on-screen keyboard.
Posted by: Sozo

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/29/13 11:23 PM

Thank you Tangleweeds! I am on Teoria right now.. the info I am getting off of it is great! Better than the tutorials that I watched yesterday thats for sure and I don't have to keep pausing. smile Much appreciated!
Posted by: TrapperJohn

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 07/31/13 07:33 AM

Originally Posted By: Bluoh

...if you are good at scales then you will be able to play Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, and any other composer who decides to make a piece with notes that go up or down side by side.


Not so - mechanically playing scales well doesn't necessarily mean that you can thus play the complex music of the great composers well also - this requires interpretive ability, which is a totally different and advanced skill...

However, if you can handle the music of those guys then knocking off a few scales with alacrity should be no sweat at all...

Scales - like posture rules - are inventions of teachers without imaginations...


Originally Posted By: Bluoh

Come to think of it, you don't have to brag if you're worth your salt.


It's not bragging if you can do it...
Posted by: Bluoh

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 08/01/13 12:58 PM

Originally Posted By: TrapperJohn

Not so - mechanically playing scales well doesn't necessarily mean that you can thus play the complex music of the great composers well also - this requires interpretive ability, which is a totally different and advanced skill...

However, if you can handle the music of those guys then knocking off a few scales with alacrity should be no sweat at all...

Scales - like posture rules - are inventions of teachers without imaginations...


If you can't master the mechanics of something, how can you expand on it?

If you can't move your legs, how can you learn to run in the sand without spraying sand up your butt?

If you can't play scales, how can you play Bach?

There are reasons we do things; there are reasons that examination boards around the world still test scales after hundreds of years.

People are not stupid. Maybe you don't care about being smart with piano and saving time, but that's not true for everyone.

Interpretive ability is not advanced. Anyone can interpret. A two year old can tell you how to sing Mary Had a Little Lamb.

Having musicality is advanced.

You are implying that Bach doesn't require musicality nor interpretive ability. That is wrong and shows that you do not have much experience with music, so I will not call you out harshly. Maybe other people will do that.

You hate scales and you think they're stupid, but they're not.

I don't practice scales anymore because I've done them for years; I can do whatever I like and still keep up because I know myself and the technique that fits me. I haven't practiced scales in over two years. (I've played them during lessons, but practicing isn't the same.)

The point is, I know how to play scales, and I get the freedom that comes with it.

Playing scales, and technique, opens up possibilities for you. You can play Liszt, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff.

Playing just Bach is not good for beginners because Bach isn't great for developing technique from the ground up. Scales and other technique do that for you.

Like I said, there are other alternatives (see my last posts) to scales, but when you know how to play scales and other standard technique, doors will open for you, because you'll be able to play all sorts of music.

Originally Posted By: TrapperJohn

Originally Posted By: Bluoh

Come to think of it, you don't have to brag if you're worth your salt.


It's not bragging if you can do it...


Please read your own words below.

Originally Posted By: TrapperJohn
Don't play scales - play Bach.

It's virtually the same thing - but then you can brag about playing Bach. Nobody brags about playing scales.


Again, you're saying Bach is mechanical and doesn't require musicality. That doesn't explain why pianists with PhDs will spend two hours dissecting three bars.

Why do we analyze Bach's work? If Bach is so basic and stupid, then why do we spend so much time on his work?

[Edit] Actually, no, apparently not everyone spends so much time on Bach's work, as you have shown. But then again, not everyone is amazing at piano.
Posted by: Bobpickle

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 08/02/13 03:35 AM

If I may mediate, Bluoh, I think trapperjohn is trying to get across the point that scales and other technical exercises can effectively be argued to be useless when practiced in the absence of music (see Here). Obviously you can't play a large percentage of the piano repertory if you're unable to play scales back to front and trapperjohn isn't trying to argue this (I don't think anyone would, because it's obviously a losing argument).

What I believe he's trying to argue is that while practicing scales is necessary, it's simultaneously worthless (http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php/topic,2758.msg23889.html#msg23889), or rather, it can be when they're already thoroughly learned. And while I don't mean to take sides, Bluoh, you obviously know well that mastery of scales alone don't open the doors to the aforementioned piano repertory which contains them in unbroken format (I don't presume you don't, but I'm simply clarifying your post that, "when you know how to play scales and other standard technique, doors will open for you, because you'll be able to play all sorts of music"). I've learned well from your posts (here and on your site) among others that there's far more that's necessary in regards to practicing music for performance - or just to play in general - than overcoming a few simple difficulties in the form of scalar passages (why else would you have assimilated all the neat information Here wink ). Also, there's no need to make farcical and outlandish extrapolations that trapperjohn thinks Bach is "mechanical, doesn't require musicality, or is stupid."

And trapperjohn, while - I presume - you tried to argue that scales aren't necessary as technical exercises, it's likely irrelevant as I'm not sure that Bluoh was ever implying that she thought that this was the case. Hopefully this is evident from her last post.

I think that there was simply a misunderstanding from where both sides are arguing from.
Posted by: TrapperJohn

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 08/02/13 07:14 AM

Originally Posted By: Bluoh

If you can't play scales, how can you play Bach?


One plays Bach (or any other composer) by playing Bach (or any other composer) - one doesn't have to master scales (or even play them at all) in order to take on the study of musical compositions in general, and become very good at it - but if one masters this real music one sure as heck could play any scale one wanted to, if one wanted to...although why one would want to is beyond me...

Originally Posted By: Bluoh

Maybe you don't care about being smart with piano and saving time, but that's not true for everyone.


How can wasting one's time playing scales instead of real music "save time" - and why is this smart?

Originally Posted By: Bluoh

Interpretive ability is not advanced. Anyone can interpret. A two year old can tell you how to sing Mary Had a Little Lamb.

Having musicality is advanced.



Musicality is just another name for "interpretive ability" - but it's like political opinions - while everyone has them, a very few are definitely far superior to the vast majority of the "run of the mill" - and one sure doesn't get into that "few" by playing scales until one's brain explodes...

Originally Posted By: Bluoh

Playing scales, and technique, opens up possibilities for you. You can play Liszt, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff.


Playing scales opens up the possibility that someday one will be able to play scales amazingly well - but who wants to hear a concert of selected scales? If one works hard enough and long enough one can play the music of the Great Composers, and without ever having attempted a friggin' scale!

Originally Posted By: Bluoh

Playing just Bach is not good for beginners because Bach isn't great for developing technique from the ground up.


Not so - of all the Great Composers he's the absolute best for that...

Edited to add: Teachers who browbeat their students into practicing scales should be flogged or tarred and feathered - and forced to listen endlessly to those students practice them!

DOWN WITH SCALES!!!
Posted by: TrapperJohn

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 08/02/13 07:22 AM

Originally Posted By: Bobpickle


And trapperjohn, while - I presume - you tried to argue that scales aren't necessary as technical exercises, it's likely irrelevant as I'm not sure that Bluoh was ever implying that she thought that this was the case. Hopefully this is evident from her last post.



Hey Bob - actually I'm trying to argue that scales are irrelevant.

And I'm surprised to find out that "he" is a she - not that it makes any difference - just a little surprised - not sure why - but I'll bet she has an opinion on that! laugh
Posted by: Bluoh

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 08/02/13 10:15 PM

Hey Bobpickle, it's good to see you here. Thanks for your efforts.

I am saying that you should know how to play scales. I do not understand how a beginner can play Bach well but not know how to play scales. That's like saying you can run in the sand but you can't walk on the ground.

As you know, I never look to start arguments; I clarify things so people who read after will make the right choices for their piano journeys.

Sometimes I get worked up because it means so much to me-- I've made so many mistakes and I want to help people get through that.

I remember being in tears, because I could not play a Bach passage evenly at my lesson. My teacher made me play the same scale, going up, for five minutes straight in the lesson, before I even got a slight nod to continue the piece. This was at the performer's level.

So you should know how to play scales before you try to perfect Bach. Because scales are more basic than Bach, and Bach uses scales.

Once you know how to play scales, you're open to things like Hanon, Bach, Czerny for technique. All of these have scales but you shouldn't use these to learn scales.

You can always tell, though. When a beginner plays Bach without knowing how to play scales first, the notes are uneven and there are weird accents everywhere. You can bet that 99% of the time, the notes aren't smooth either.

Originally Posted By: Bobpickle
Also, there's no need to make farcical and outlandish extrapolations that trapperjohn thinks Bach is "mechanical, doesn't require musicality, or is stupid."


TraperJohn did, though. It's not outlandish at all.

For example:

Originally Posted By: TrapperJohn

Don't play scales - play Bach.

It's virtually the same thing
- but then you can brag about playing Bach. Nobody brags about playing scales.


He says scales = Bach.

Originally Posted By: TrapperJohn

... mechanically playing scales well doesn't necessarily mean that you can thus play the complex music of the great composers well also - this requires interpretive ability, which is a totally different and advanced skill...


Then he says scales are mechanical.

So Bach is mechanical too, since Bach is the same thing as scales (and scales are mechanical), would you agree from his statements?

Plus, he also implies that Bach's music is simple, since he says that "complex music" requires "interpretive ability" and that's "advanced".

We are talking about whether a beginner should learn how to play scales or jump into Bach.

Apparently Bach is not advanced enough to need "interpreting".

So, maybe people who pore over Bach's scores are idiots and TrapperJohn is a genius, who knows? And I'm an idiot when I paid my teacher to yell at me for Bach.

There is technique, then there is using technique to play dazzling pieces. The point of technique is to be able to play other pieces.

Like, why do basketball players bother running laps when all you need to do is shoot baskets to win a game? Because you still have to run back and forth during games, and keep up with the other team, or else you'll lose.

If you've read my writing, you probably know a bit about the way I think (although I'm revamping my blog soon). I'm just like everyone else; I've made lots of mistakes. I'm not perfect, but I know how to make the smart choices for my goals and I hope to help others too.
Posted by: Bluoh

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 08/02/13 10:34 PM

Originally Posted By: TrapperJohn

And I'm surprised to find out that "he" is a she - not that it makes any difference - just a little surprised - not sure why - but I'll bet she has an opinion on that! laugh


I am surprised. Is it because I talk about sports? Are girl pianists supposed to be delicate and not play sports? I only talk about the sports I play, so I'll never talk about golf.

I am genuinely curious. I was just living in the forest a few weeks ago. I wrote a blog post about it actually, I can even share it with you if you want.

I looked over my posts here and I don't see anything that gives any hints.

Anyways, I think I'm done debating.

I'm not interested in convincing you that scales are worth learning, since you don't seem to see Bach as a final product, but more like Hanon or Czerny-- things that help you build technique. (No one performs Hanon, like no one performs scales.) Which is fine. I performed Bach but I don't go out of my way to polish Bach pieces, so I see how you'd think that way.

I hope that whoever reads this next will make a smart choice for their goals, from our discussion.
Posted by: Sweet06

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 08/02/13 11:43 PM

my understanding of scales is they are just the notes that make up a certain key. For example I know the key of G major means you have to hit F# instead of F unless its natural'd out. I don't understand how playing those notes up and down really does anything for me except help ingrain a sort of "geography" of the keys depending on the key you're playing in... which i guess could help with improv so you know whats safe to hit and will sound good. But can't you gain that same geography type training just thru experience with playing musical things instead of just doing a scale? I know the C major scale both hands with the right fingering. I don't know how it helps me tho. can't you also learn this using basically a textbook due to the nature of how it works?
Posted by: HalfStep

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 08/02/13 11:57 PM

This thread is interesting! Honestly, I do not practice scales but wonder if I should.
Posted by: TrapperJohn

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 08/03/13 04:18 AM

Originally Posted By: Bluoh

Anyways, I think I'm done debating.



Me too - I've exhausted my "ammunition" - it's a stalemate.

Just one final note to clear up matters: I don't particularly like most of Bach's music - and I do think it takes advanced interpretive ability to play it well - I only meant to imply that there are far more than enough scale-like passages in his music to satisfy even the most obsessive or compulsive scale practitioner - hence his works serve a dual purpose.

Carry on...
Posted by: dire tonic

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 08/03/13 05:03 AM

Originally Posted By: TrapperJohn
I don't particularly like most of Bach's music ...


Me neither, some of his music, though not much, absolutely blows me away but most I find sterile and too geometric.

But just to show it takes all types – I am pro scales. I don’t do them now, I hate them but they were an integral part of my practice time as a kid and I think they’re vital for evenness of tone. I believe if you haven’t done them at some time, preferably earlier in your training, it shows. It’s in the glide. Arpeggios too, so many pieces have them either fragmented or extended. Both are important for evenness, for achieving it and even for perceiving it as a target.
Posted by: Sozo

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 08/03/13 01:44 PM

Quote:
I hope that whoever reads this next will make a smart choice for their goals, from our discussion.


I have still been following along with this, I just didn't have anything more to offer as your discussion became technical to a degree that I didn't have any input for, so I have been just watching and learning what I can.
Thank you, from me at least. smile
Posted by: JimF

Re: When practicing scales, do you count or say key designations - 08/03/13 01:46 PM

Originally Posted By: dire tonic
.......important for evenness, for achieving it and even for perceiving it as a target.


+1 based on some of the comments in this thread, I'd say the bolded part is on the money.