I didn’t understand my teacher!
Each piano lesson was the same. Half an hour of scales followed by half an hour of Bach! I hated it!!!
Needless to say, I didn’t want to practise scales between lessons. What was the point? He certainly never told me if there was one. It just seemed like a pointless half hour of boredom each week.
Fast forward on. Now I am the teacher trying to encourage my students to practise scales!!! How ironic!
Sell the Benefits
As humans, we are much more motivated to do something if we think it will benefit us.
So what are the benefits of scales? Have we discussed them with our students? What do they think the benefits are? Here’s a few to get started:
• Practising good finger and body posture will help pieces sound better
• Learning to make each note the same speed and volume will give a better sounding melody
• Listening carefully for no gaps or overlaps will improve our legato technique (also we can practise our staccato technique too)
• We can become more key aware for better sight-reading, improvising and composing, with fewer mistakes
• Learning to control crescendos and diminuendos can best be honed in scale playing. The list goes on…
A little idea I’ve been trying is something I call, wait for it, “Ninja Scales!”
I’ve noticed that the best sight-readers hardly look at their instrument. They have confidence in the “geography” of the piano keyboard and can focus all their attention on the sheet music in front of them. Conversely, I’ve noticed that the worst music readers spent all their time looking at their fingers and trying to rely on their “dodgy” memories to help them survive their song!!!
By trying to play a familiar scale or arpeggio without looking at their instrument, over several weeks my pupils are gaining confidence at anticipating where the sharps and flats are and judging distances better. As a result, they are looking down less and gaining much from the sheet music. Even my more experienced students are just having fun with this simple exercise and as a result, doing more scale practise! Anything that can make scales more enjoyable is a good thing in our books!
Less is More!
Apart from students who are preparing for an exam, I’ve reduced the amount of exercises set for my pupils to the specific key that they are working on that week in their sight-reading books. This way we’ve been able to focus on the quality of their scale practise rather than the quantity. We’ve also explored chord playing techniques and other useful exercises. As a result, I’ve seen a marked improvement in their technique and they are much happier for it. Me too! Long live Ninja Scales!!!