Are You Practicing Scales the Wrong Way?

In the previous blog post, I revealed how fluent scales are a critical factor in playing with more technical security, more musical flow and learning with more ease and confidence. Today I show you the four factors your scale practice must include to produce the results you want.


One of my favorite musicals is “The Music Man.” I love the setting, the characters and the musical part of the plot line. I have always been somewhat amused by the thought of a shady character making money selling band instruments to unsuspicious townsfolk. And of course, I connect with the many musical references in the show. 

In one early scene, we see librarian Marian Paroo teaching a piano lesson to young Amaryllis. While Marian and her mother discuss the latest events in River City, Marian directs Amaryllis in her piano exercises. No one, including Marian, is paying much attention to the piano lesson or to Amaryllis; the conversation is much more compelling. This scene always makes me recall the hours I used to spend in mindless repetition of my own scales and exercises. 

Thankfully, that was years ago. I discovered in my college years how vital scale practice - correct scale practice - is to developing the fluency and security needed to play music well. There are four key competencies that scale practice strengthens, and when you focus your scale practice on those areas, you will see quick improvement in your technical facility and  musical expression, and even be able to cut your learning time dramatically.



There are several ways not to practice scales. No matter how much time you spend, if you are practicing your scales in one of these ways, you are wasting your time. 

First on the list is always practicing your scales slowly. Your scales should be a laboratory for your technique, a place to test what your fingers can do. The fact that the notes for a scale are uncomplicated makes the scale the perfect vehicle for focusing on developing speed and agility. Slow playing is not enough.

The second time waster is multitasking during your scale practice. I used to have a friend who read magazines during her scale practice. To get any benefit from your scales, you need to be engaged and observant.

The last major time waster is lack of variety. Playing the same scales the same way all the time will help you play those scales well. But it will not develop the flexibility and finger “vocabulary” to enable you to breeze through the varied situations you will encounter in real music. The more different scales you study, the more nimble and skilled your fingers will become.



There are four core competencies, fundamental skills, that correct scale practice strengthens.

First is simple mechanics, how your fingers and the rest of your body produce the sound you want. This is the aim of slow careful scale practice. Make sure that you are sitting straight, head up, shoulders relaxed, arms supporting your hands. Be certain that your fingers place accurately and close fully. Stay relaxed as you play. All these things and more are part of mechanics practice.

The second core competency is speed. As mentioned above, scale practice is ideal for increasing the speed of your fingers while also watching your accuracy in placing and playing. Working with different fingerings and rhythms can help you start moving faster and playing more accurately.

Even, flowing playing is the third core competency. Rippling passages in your pieces start with practicing scales (and arpeggios too) with a focus on legato and dynamics. Adding this focus to your scale practice will help you play with more effortless expression and fluidity. 

The final core competency is independence of the fingers and of the hands. This is pure technical coordination, and it is essential. I have seen many students falter in music they are learning because they have not set aside time to develop this coordination. Once this independence is developed, they experience fewer technical challenges in their music and can learn it faster and play it with more ease. 

Once you start focusing your scale practice on these four competencies, you will begin to see the importance and value of practicing scales. The benefits are not slow to materialize, and I’m positive that the rewards will convince you to make correct scale practice a permanent part of your practice. 

NOTE: If you are interested in getting the many benefits that come from practicing your scales focusing on the four core competencies, I invite you to join my brand-new course, “Four Weeks to Finger Freedom.” It’s everything you need to practice your scales the right way rolled into an easy-to-follow four week course. Start your journey to Finger Freedom today - join the course now


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