Finding the Fun in Scales

NFMC Piano FestivalBy Marc Powell

I have not met many students who love playing their scales. Scales are the green vegetables that are left on the plate and passed off to the dog under the dinner table.

Here are some quick tips to help inspire your students to enjoy their scales:

1. Change up the rhythm: If one of my students has trouble with the fingering of a scale, I like to vary the rhythm each week until they can master each rhythm and master the fingering of each scale. It can be fun to use words or phrases like “Pepperoni Pizza” (4 16th notes with 2 eighth notes) or “Ham-burger bun (Quarter 8th-8th half note). The rhythm can also be assigned to prepare a student for new rhythms in their repertoire or etudes.

2. Tempo races: Another favorite activity of my students is the accelerating scale. I set a metronome to start at quarter note equals 60 M.M. and then increase it in increments of 12 bpm with each success. I write down the record speed for the week and challenge the student to get to the next speed at home. Some students love this competition and will sometimes race with me to see who can play it faster (I usually let them win J).

3. Teach all scales and modes possible: This third trick is perfect for the student who loves learning about music theory. With major, minor, chromatic, blues, pentatonic, etc., there are bound to be scales that the student will love to play. I find that the students who get through the most scales also have a much easier time with their sight-reading and their sense of pitch.

Scales are the best fundamental rudiment any student should learn when playing an instrument or singing. I have had students transfer from other teachers who did not require scales the same way, and those students inevitably have more technical and reading difficulties when they start with me. Once they are placed on a scales regimen, both the student and parents notice immediate improvement and the student starts to enjoy playing music on their own.


Good luck and keep running those scales!

Catoctin School of Music

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