Ah, scales. A word that causes many musicians to sigh with exasperation or boredom. Personally, I always welcomed them, with their structure and consistency. Love them or hate them, scales are a big part of practise life for any musician (instrumentalist or vocalist).
A scale is “…any set of musical notes ordered by fundamental frequency or pitch. A scale ordered by increasing pitch is an ascending scale, while descending scales are ordered by decreasing pitch.” (Wikipedia) They are the backbone of all types of music we play.
While a variety of scale types exist, each type is defined by its characteristic interval pattern. It is the constant repetition of these patterns that causes scales to be such a large part of learning to play an instrument – including the voice – because they help build muscle memory. By playing scales, your fingers will learn to easily go to the correct notes in the scale you are playing, so when you play a piece of music, your fingers will move more automatically to the correct notes.
Why practice scales?
- Scale practice plays an essential part in developing a pianist’s skills.
- They improve keyboard fluency.
- Scales develop posture, hand position and coordination, as well as balance between the hands and movement of the arm.
- Practising scales speeds up the learning of new pieces (muscle memory).
- They develop evenness of line and quality of tone.
- Scale playing builds aural awareness.
For students preparing for an exam, the examiner will be looking for:
- A positive sense of rhythm without under-accentuation;
- Even, firm tone and a musical curve;
- Good legato;
- Accurate and fluent realisation of the different types of scales, arpeggios and broken chords; and
- Convincing negotiation of technical challenges such as smooth passage of thumb and hand coordination.
So the lesson here is we need to learn to love scales. They are incredibly beneficial physically and the basis of all we do as musicians. All practise sessions should start with a variety of scales, even if their only purpose is to warm up the fingers and hands (although we know they do much more than that). To break up the repetitive nature of practising scales every day, apps such as Blitz Book’s ‘Scale Blitzer’ can add a bit of fun.
If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW or mobile lessons are available in the eastern suburbs of Lake Macquarie.