Issue 109: Scales and Arpeggios

The “young man in a hurry” I mentioned in another post is having problems motivating himself to learn his scales.

I have every sympathy – I hated scales after grade 1 (hands separately, only a couple to learn). Grade 5 and 6 ABRSM piano exams require Every Single Major and Minor scale and arpeggio – both melodic and harmonic minors for grade 6 – which strikes fear and loathing in most student’s minds.

So why do we do them? Because it is the way that you map out your instrument – completely – whatever instrument you are playing. Fingerings, combinations of fingerings, different keys, shifts and instrument geography (string and keyboard instruments, trombones), alternative fingerings and embouchure (wind instruments), lip flexibility (brass), hand shapes (strings and keyboards), “breaks” (wind instruments)…

Technique – once the scales are fluent, you can practice articulation, touch, dynamics, phrasing, rhythms…

Here’s an eloquent and complete answer for pianists from Ilinca at ;

Would I have been convinced by all this as a student? No, quite frankly. They were a dreary drudgery. Until that day, which I remember well, when I played through every single major and minor scale on every note in a single session. I remember thinking “Now I REALLY know my way around the piano”.

I wish I could find a way to motivate and enthuse my students with a burning desire to become experts at scale playing. Meanwhile, I rely on star charts, reward systems, and even competitions between students to encourage them to get to grips with such a vital part of their piano journey.


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