Top 10 Reasons NOT to Practice Scales

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scalesI 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.

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  • Nanci

    I remember my teacher telling me that Perlman did scales and exercises daily still as a virtuoso. So who am I to think I don’t need exercises? An athelete wouldn’t play a game or run a race without drills and training. I think without my teacher I would have never known to do exercises which is why it’s not a good idea to teach yourself an instrument.

    Reply

  • Darlene

    This is certainly an area in my playing that needs improvement. I must make scales a part of my routine practice. I do Salzedo’s Conditioning Exercises but I need to do my scales. I also need to do hands together. I, too, would rather work on a piece of music.

    Reply

  • William Hull

    The 10 reasons not to practice scales and the commentary were inspired to show students how we can mislead ourselves. My regular teacher does not stress technique hardly at all but from the flute I have learned that scales and arpeggios etc are indispensable and have an effect on playing “real” music. Bill

    Reply

  • Regina Clarke

    Wow. The Perlman video is awesome. I have resisted scales but your 10 points give me great pause–I clearly need to pay attention.

    Reply

  • Karen DeBraal

    Very good post! I will dig into scales and quit being such a piece slut. Always wanting more pieces.

    Reply

  • Anne Knights

    Priceless video!

    Reply

  • Marilou Smith

    Thank you for the reminder, scales will be part of my routine practice.

    Reply

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