Some of you never practiced your piano scales and it shows.
That included me as a kid. I just didn’t see the point, and running scales (with metronome — quelle horreur!) seemed way less fun than noodling on the piano or playing my pieces.
However, now that I’m a grown adult, I’m telling you: go practice your scales.
Why? Because they are the most efficient tool for developing certain fundamental piano skills. In that sense, think of scale practice as saving you time instead of wasting your time.
As a basketball player, you wouldn’t play a dozen scrimmage games just to improve your three-point shot, would you? No. You’d do a focused drill designed to workshop that specific skill.
Anyway, the NBA season is sadly on hold so let’s get back to piano lingo. The way I see it, there are three big benefits to working on scales.
1. Scales build important physical skills.
Scales are an intensive way to master a few key piano techniques.
One is efficient and smooth use of the thumb (sometimes called thumb crossing), which you will need when you run out of fingers and have to move your hand to a new position to keep going in that direction. Scales contain a rich concentration of thumb crossings!
Another skill is fluidity of arm and body movement across the entire span of the keyboard. Because scales can cover a lot of ground, they test your balance even at the extremities of the piano.
Lastly, scales help you get used to asymmetries between your two hands. Conventional scale fingerings make you put down mismatched fingers at any given moment, and your untrained brain hates this.
For example, if you have to play your right-hand thumb with your left-hand second finger, your brain will sometimes sneakily just put both thumbs down (ever notice that?).
Mastering scale fingerings gets you acclimated to all kinds of finger combinations, preparing you for the wild and woolly world of fingerings in your repertoire.
Ready to take your scales to the next level? Get started on Jarred Dunn’s 6-part “Crafting Scales” course which draws from the teachings of the widely influential pedagogue Dorothy Taubman. Learn more at tonebase.co!
2. Scales help you develop your sound.
Once the fingerings become automatic, scales become the perfect laboratory for controlling your piano sound.
Do all of the notes sound clearly and evenly? Are your hands equally balanced? Can you change dynamics and articulations? Can you do all of this at fast tempi? Basically, do you know how to modulate your touch to get the tone you want?
Scales are a potent way to zero in on what you’re hearing and what you want to improve.
3. Scales help break your repertoire down into patterns.
Advanced pianists look at their scores and see groupings, not single notes. Scale patterns are some of the most basic chunks, and they are everywhere.
Go ahead and flip to any page in your Beethoven sonata books. I guarantee you’ll spot whole measures, sections even, made up of scales.
Once you’ve isolated a scale pattern, a lot of your work has already been done. You have a default fingering. You know what black keys you need. You can go ahead and think less about how to execute that passage and more about how you’d like to shape it.
The best part of practicing scales? They are a means to an end.
Once you achieve these benefits, you can stop drilling scales for their own sake (unless you want to) and instead spend that time on all of the glorious piano music you have planned.
You’ll have done the hard work to build your technique — and it will show.