Scales are often considered a necessary evil of music practice. You may equate them with your least favorite vegetable; you eat it because it’s good for you, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it.
Any professional musician will tell you that you ignore practicing scales at your peril. The scale pattern is perhaps the most fundamental musical pattern, and when you are able to play your scales fluidly and without effort, all your music seems easier.
But you can’t just practice your scales mindlessly. In order to get the most benefit, you must be fully engaged in practicing your scales, just the same as you are when you are practicing your repertoire pieces. And if you take the extra step of giving your scale practice a specific goal, you will double your results.
Here are six specific items to focus on when you practice your scales. Not only will they help you get great results, but they make your scales more interesting to practice, too.
1. Every finger correct. This is the slow, ultra-concentrated form of scale practice. Slow the tempo way down so that you can pay attention to the way each finger plays. Listen for tone, watch for the finer points of your technique, and make each finger play its best. This will help prevent any bad habits from forming and will keep your technique strong.
2. Dynamics. Create a dynamic scheme for your scales. You can create a different one each time, depending on your mood. Perhaps a crescendo-decrescendo type pattern, or a constant, even dynamic level are the simplest dynamic schemes. But you could be more inventive and try a hands together scale with each hand at a different dynamic level, or play each octave of a scale at a contrasting dynamic (one octave soft, the next loud, etc.). This is your chance to be musical with your scales, so express yourself!
3. Tone. As you play your scales, listen to your sound. Is it even throughout the scale? Does it change character at the top or bottom? Create the tone you want and then make sure that you maintain that sound through the entire scale.
4. Accuracy. There are different aspects of accuracy to watch. Placing, especially at the crossover or crossunder points, is a major concern, but also watch for rhythmic accuracy. Are your fingers playing exactly rhythmically even, so that your scale sounds unbroken and fluid? Do you have one finger that seems to miss its placing every time? You can also practice your scales in rhythms to help develop more even fingers.
5. All over the harp. Do you regularly play your scales from the bottom to the harp of your harp? Don’t just stay in the middle of the instrument! Harps like to have all their strings played regularly, and it is important for you to be comfortable playing in each register of your harp. Just for fun, try a contrary motion scale: start your right hand at the top of the harp and your left hand at the bottom. Play them together until they meet in the middle then turn them around back to where they started. It’s a little quirky, but fun!
6. Speed. Practicing your scales for speed is different than just practicing your scales. Try jumping your metronome to play your scales 25%, 50% or even 100% faster than usual. Be sure to lighten your dynamic, relax your hands, arms and fingers, and don’t be afraid to let your fingers stumble. You will find that as you keep at this technique over time, your fingers will start to become more accurate in their placing at that tempo, and you will gradually be able to keep up with the metronome.
Learning how to play faster (more evenly) is the topic of this month’s webinar class: The Need for Speed – Flight School for Your Fingers. Be sure to register so you have access to the bonus training guide and the replay recording. Thursday, May 21 at 9 PM Eastern time. Register now and put it on your calendar!