Piano students, by and large, don’t relish playing scales. They would rather eat spinach than practice what they view as tedious, finger-trippers.
I have a different perspective.
For me, scales are my playground and workout space. They keep me in shape, fine tuning my ears to their internal undulations and curvy turnarounds. They translate from aural images, into buoyant, touchy-feely journeys across the keyboard with a tie-in to pieces I study.
Practicing them in a tradition-bound sequence around the Circle of Fifths, also provides a solid harmonic and theoretical foundation. They’re the underpinning of chords that form progressions which influence melodic contouring.
So even if students are turned off by the academic side of scale practice—needing to process the content of sharps and flats for each key, they can easily be redirected to a vibrant, athletically-charged arena, with sports metaphors woven in.
A pitcher on the mound, for instance, winds up for the pitch, preparing its delivery in a series of graceful synchronized movements.
The pianist will likewise roll into scales at the right moment, rippling his way to the top with a curvaceous turnaround that avoids an angular finger poke.
Most students will crowd the notes in the last octave, finding themselves tagged out before the scale makes it safely back home. Known as a choke, it’s often a sports commentator’s analysis of a faulty play on the baseball diamond or football field.
For piano students, who might be tackling C# Major with 7 sharps, white included, such a finger pile-up instigated by tension, can be blocked by a rotation that smooths out a stream of notes on the descent, making it feel like a breezy journey down the ski slope.
Finally, what better way to justify the time spent practicing scales, than to find a composition that’s pleasantly permeated by them. I’ve picked an Intermediate level piece that’s popular among students of all ages.
But first, tips on how to pace and curve around scales that form their own unique category by a symmetry of double and triple black keys. These are good springboards to practice melodic shaping and rotation. I’ve thrown in a slow motion replay in the spirit of athletic adventure.
Latour Sonatina in C Major