Learning and practicing scales at the keyboard can be relatively easy and enjoyable with the aid of some simple visual aids. Yet music students often feel daunted with the learning of scales, chords and arpeggios, thinking that they are either difficult, unnecessary, time-consuming or irrelevant.
Difficulties for students are most often seen when first trying to cross fingers over/under for piano scales and especially when playing both hands together, trying to remember which fingers to use and which white/black notes and more.
Practising scales plays an essential part in developing skills with the sense of key and pattern acquired through familiarity, speeding up the learning of new pieces, developing aural awareness and increasing familiarity with the geography of the instrument.
From my perspective and personal background, I have always felt that scales, chords and arpeggios are very important for finger dexterity and a better understanding of analysis of musical compositions, particularly with regard to modern music. Yet some teachers put technical exercises somewhat in
the background, concentrating instead on teaching pieces of music either ‘for fun’ to keep a student’s interest in the instrument or as the only focus for playing their instrument in examinations.
So I like to find as many ways as possible – creative ways to help students understand what scales are all about and what rules to apply for ‘standard fingering’, etc.
When starting to learn a new scale with ‘hands together’, my students start by making a handmade ‘scale ruler’ to place behind the keys on the piano (left hand fingering placed below the right-hand fingering so both can be seen at the same time, when placed right above the notes). This can be made most easily by using a keyboard chart such as the one sold by Alfred’s Publishing, or by doing it yourself, creating a series of boxes the same size and shape as the white notes on the piano (see pictures here).
Working together with each student, I discuss the rules for fingering 1231234, etc., writing the numbers on each note on the paper chart – coloured stickers are placed on the places where the notes are changed to sharp/flat to match the key signature. TIP: When laminated, these scale rulers last long enough for the student to remember their notes/fingering to help them learn and memorise their scales more easily. Students then visually keep track of their fingers on the correct notes when playing their scales, particularly when playing with both hands together.
I have also found several websites that I use information from, such as the keyboard charts and diagrams below which really helps to view which fingers should be on which notes when learning scales.
I find that filling in the charts with finger numbers helps my students change fingers throughout the scale. Keyboard Scale Sheets (see picture here from a page I worked on with one of my students). They are free to download from www.MusicMePiano.co.uk.
These sheets can be used also to create chords and arpeggios. Many other visual aids are available on that site as separate downloads or in student workbooks available to purchase.
Many useful pages including a ‘Circle of Fifths’ assist the teacher in building their students’ knowledge of key signatures for scales.
I personally use these workbooks for my students, as there are many useful pages, keeping track of all the different parts of the regular lessons and tracking progress through the year.
I like the information that helps make scales easier to learn, from the logic of grouping scales to colour-coding fingering patterns. Why not take a look at these Sample pages from one of the Workbooks – there are four pages attached here with detailed information to help make scales less daunting to understand. I find them very useful for my students.
There is also a wealth of useful information and very colourful pages for learning scales more easily in the Purrfect Practice scales books available at www.PurrfectPractice.com.au .
These books are from a site which also has a Technique Trainer book which I have found helpful as it has lots of tips for working with the technique of playing scales.
Other visual aids that I have used for teaching scales, chords and arpeggios are available from the Music Educators Marketplace which offers teachers and students a “bag ‘o blocks” for creating chords, “circle of fifths wheel“, “major-minor slider” and much more. Visit www.musicedmarket.com for more information about what they have to offer.
So what ways have you found to help your students get to grip with scales and their complexities more easily? Why not write them in the comments below as I would love to hear what makes scales easier for your students.