Scales really are a hallmark of piano study. They help us to understand key signature, improve technique, and develop finger facility. The biggest challenge in beginning scale playing is the smooth crossing under of the thumb. A special thanks to Charl Louw for contributions to this post.
Our students begin their study with technical warmups and five finger patterns. Once they are at a late elementary level, we introduce tetrascales. We begin in the keys of C, G, D, F, and B-flat.
When these are secure, we move to one octave scales, played with hands separate. The key here is to work for a smooth crossing under of the thumb. To achieve this, we do preliminary warmups, prior to begin playing a scale in one hand. We begin with the keys of C, G, D, and later add more keys such as A Major, A, E, and D minor.
Students can then begin working to play their hands together. Sometimes it is helpful to begin this process, using contrary motion scales. We also begin adding the harmonic minor scale.
As this becomes secure, we can begin working on 2 octave scale playing with hands separate. The fingering in two octaves because much more difficult for students, yet it is important to move quickly to two octaves because this helps to develop finger agility and really is how scales appear in our repertoire.
Eventually, we move to hands together playing of two octave scales and add the remainder of the major keys, starting with B, F, and B-flat Major, and on to the other black kyes. We begin working through the minor keys as well, beginning with C and G minor, and moving to F and B, and then the black keys. This takes quite a bit of time.
Around this time, we begin the addition of the formula pattern (Up-Out-In-Up-Down-Out-In-Down). When playing in minor keys, we have our students use the harmonic minor form for these scales.
As students gain control of increasing speeds, we begin working to add scales in three octaves (triplets) and four octaves (sixteenth notes). Students play scales in 2s, 3s, and 4s. This is preceded by working to learn scales slowly in three and four octaves, as well as becoming fluid with the changing the rhythm without changing the tempo.
Once students are comfortable with this procedure, they can work to increase their tempo.
Our more advanced students also work to play scales in 3rds, 6ths, and 10ths.
In addition, they play a scale pattern we affectionately refer to as the “Ann Farber Routine.” This involves one hand playing triplets—but being limited to 2 octaves—while the other hand plays quarter notes. The exercise is in practicing the “turn-arounds” and working on the phrasing that is involved.
There are so many ways to make scale practice interesting and fun. What tools do you use to ensure that your students are playing scales correctly and diligently, and are enjoying the practice of this important warmup?