Daily scale practice, how to get results

November 22nd, 2008

DSCO concerto winners perform – Arts & Living: “I could not have been more amazed at Capone’s masterful and impressive execution of playing high and low scales and at his overall performance throughout this difficult folk-influenced piece. Because Capone is a sophomore, the Davidson community will have a few more years to continue hearing his brilliant performances with the DCSO.”

You see, this is really a very nice critique on a performance of scales in a difficult pieces in recital. Regardless which instrument, the control, polished and flawless execution of “basics”- scales is always expected, but it is refreshing to read a review where they are commented on. Quite obvious, there are performances of lesser quality.

If focused correctly with the goal in mind, that excellent performances are possible and a LOGIC consequence to proper practicing, the daily “chore” of working scales should not be more than a refreshing, easy “walk in the park” of beautifully executed structured sequences of sounds. Any agony or frustration will not result in “usable” scales now, later or anytime.

The other day I had a student play scales, as fast as she could (fourth year piano), sort of getting through the notes, lose wrist, correct notes, correct fingering BUT: the notes were uneven, there was no evident rhythmic pulse, no beauty of tone. Why practice in a manner that will NOT RESULT in the ability to play more difficult works? Students need to be reminded DAILY, that all practice needs to lead to eventuating in a RESULT now and later. The result NOW needs to be USABLE, beautiful scales totally under control AT THE CURRENT SLOW SPEED. Later on at a faster speed. The focus must be: TOTAL CONTROL at ALL SPEEDS from the very slowest to the very fastest.
Good luck in your daily practice.

Teaching this so obvious concept is almost like needing to REMIND a student to breath: “now, make sure you take a deep breath and then blow it out, etc. or you will choke!”. Do I need to mention that? Of course, not. Well scales are similar: If you continue to “noodle” scales now, you certainly will “die” trying to play more difficult pieces later. Is that so difficult to understand? Well it must be, since it’s a daily battle for most (even in my studio).

But for those students where everything comes together and we get beautifully played scales at several slow to medium speeds (for starters), then we really have a good foundation to build on. And patience is a very good virtue!

Piano playing is like solving a 10,000 piece puzzle. Each stone needs to fit perfectly to result in the final solved picture. Each day’s scales practice equals 1 stone. Maybe now you can understand WHY a bad daily 10 minute scale practice session will only destroy the beautiful expected result for now and down the road.

Each note in every scale needs to be “cultivated” like a budding rose.
Simply put, enjoy each note and scale played well. And as you see in the review above, scales appear in most all pieces and if well performed are an absolute delight to listen to.

Learning HOW to practice and perform scales is really NOT THAT DIFFICULT, if you know how. Maybe, I can make a difference sharing my years of dedicatd practice and finding answers on how to PLAY.
Back to practice!

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Categories: Piano Basics, Piano Scales, Practicing Tips

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