I used to resist practicing scales.
My teacher thought they wee important, but I just couldn’t see it. Playing music – heck, even practicing music – was so much more interesting. Plus, when I was done practicing music, I had something to show for it, a piece I could play. Who wants to listen to scales?
I had all the excuses too. And then I learned better.
If you’re reluctant to spend time and energy practicing your scales, I urge you to reconsider. All I ask is that you read the “top 10” list below and see if any of those reasons NOT to practice scales are yours. I’ve tried to provide strong evidence to help convince you to change your thinking.
And if you’re a teacher whose students struggle with scales, the list below may provide you with some extra talking points.
10. Scales are boring.
You must be practicing them incorrectly. In the words of famed flutist James Galway, “Scales played in the correct musical way are very exciting and rewarding.”
9. Scales aren’t real music.
Many musicians would be happy to debate that point, but it is indisputable musical melodies move in only two ways – by step or by leap. Scales move by step. It follows then, that roughly half of the music we play must have scale elements. Scales may not feel like “real” music, but they are essential to it.
8. I won’t ever need to play fast.
There’s no easier way to develop speed than through scale practice. Even if you never intend to play fast music, wouldn’t it be nice to know you could?
7. My rhythm isn’t that uneven.
Scales, along with arpeggios, are the prime method for developing the coordination to place every note with rhythmic precision.
6. I want to play expressive music, not repetitive drills.
Don’t confuse the tool with the end result. Scales practice done correctly (see #10) will enable you to play fluid, sensuous phrases and increases your dynamic range and control.
5. I don’t need to know key signatures.
Playing scales in all major and minor keys is the easiest way to learn and memorize key signatures. When you know your key signatures, your music reading, learning and understanding all become faster and easier.
4. Who cares about tone anyway?
Yes, scales are an ideal way to concentrate on your tone. Paying attention to your sound as you play a slow scale over the whole range of the instrument will develop that even, rich sound you’ve been longing for.
3. My fingers just don’t like scales.
They might, if you practiced them regularly 🙂
2. I don’t have enough time.
I have found scales to be a lifesaver for my technique when time is short. Scales played slowly and quickly, evenly and in rhythms and at differing dynamics can take the place of any number of more complicated studies. And when my technique is in shape, I can play all my music better. This thought of guitarist Andres Segovia puts it most clearly: “The practice of scales solves the greatest number of technical problems in the shortest amount of time.”
1. Scales aren’t really that important.
You never know. This is a brief reflection from Itzhak Perlman on his first encounter with legendary violinist Jascha Heifetz. Perlman was only 14 years old and very thankful he knew his scales.