I was a kid who, when it came time to study for school exams, would always pick maths first. Not because I was particularly good at maths or that it was my favourite subject (it certainly wasn’t). But to me it was about right or wrong. I had the answer right, or I had the answer wrong, so I knew how I was going. Maths had structure, order and logic and working my way through a list of problems was easy discipline.
Playing scales is, to me, a very similar discipline. You have a list of them and work your way through the list. If you play with the correct fingering you should end up finishing in the right place. OK, that’s probably a bit of a simplistic way of looking at it, but you get the point. Structure, order and logic. The things that suit my brain so well.
I have posted before about how important scales are and why we play both them and arpeggios, but I am very aware that not everybody finds them quite as mesmerising as I do. Sometimes you need to kick things up a level. Add a bit of variety. That’s where the app “ScaleBlitzer” comes into the routine. I use this occasionally during lessons, but also encourage my students to use it regularly at home.
Enter all of the scales you have been given into your homework list and the app will generate a vast range of activities based on those scales. Basically, it throws them back at you in a random order, with added instructions. Mixing it up a bit. ScaleBlitzer remembers your homework and keeps track of your progress.
Once you enter the Practice Studio, there are five different modes from which to choose:
- Warm-up: Easy practice methods like ‘ascending only’, ‘play twice’, or ‘no blowing, fingering only’.
- Basic: No practice method given, just straight out no-frills instructions (e.g. like you would get in an exam).
- Muscle Builder: Practice methods using such things as rhythms and accents.
- Brain Strain: Harder practice methods, or a combination of two methods (e.g. in a certain rhythm AND staccato).
- Thrill Seeker: This mode will give you either really tough methods, or sometimes three different methods to incorporate into one scale.
The following is just a sample of the type of direction you may read:
- Play twice, second time faster
- Double staccato
- Descending then ascending
- Rhythm: “Seventy sixty fifty”
- Play three times without stopping
- Play twice, mezzo forte first time, piano second time
- Accent: “Galloping galloping”
One of the features that makes using this app interesting is the self-rating feature. After each scale, you need to select how you think you went – Perfect 1st go, Got it eventually or Having trouble – before moving on to the next one. As we know, effective practise requires listening to the way you’ve played something and deciding whether it needs more work or not. This self-rating system encourages listening and critical thinking, rather than just playing through.
The app remembers what you do well and where you have trouble and future sessions are based on where the work is needed. You will be tested more often on the ones you’re having trouble with, until they start to improve.
Along the way, points are accumulated and characters and outfits are chosen and changed. Once you have made it through a Practice Studio session (5 scales/activities), it will offer you the opportunity to go on a World Tour, where you can choose your character, outfit and the countries in which you will play. The kids love getting to this part and it’s lovely to see their inner rock-child or pop princess come to the fore in their outfit choices! You can even record your playing to show your teacher what you have been doing.
Overall, the aim is to make technical work more interesting to play while having a bit of fun along the way. I like using it as a teaching tool because it makes my students stop and think about what they are playing. For students, your technique will be improving without you being bored. For parents, it’s a bonus to have any resource that makes the kids want to play instead of having to nag them. You will also know they are practising the scales that need the most attention, because ScaleBlitzer is keeping track of it. At the end of the day, improved technical work means improved technique, which results in improved playing. If we can add in a bit of fun and variety along the way, then we have a bonus!
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.