Thursday, September 29, 2016

Why Learn Scales?

One of the most hated assignments for developing musicians is the dreaded appearance of scales. Students complain because scales are boring. They hate the demand that specific fingers be used. By this point in every term, I hear the question.....Why do we have to learn scales anyway?  Here are a few of my answers from a pianistic point of view.

  • Scales build finger dexterity while developing basic technique. Fingers four and five are naturally weak. Passing the thumb under the fingers (and the reverse) are not common motions. Scales are an easy way to build fine motor skills in a balanced way while establishing common finger patterns that will be used routinely in the standard repertoire.
  • Understanding scale structures helps with score analysis and memorization. Scales emphasize the relationship between sol and do as well as the function of the leading tone. The more we know about the scale's structure, the easier we can begin to understand how chords progress in music -- and that leads to easier memorization.
  • Knowing scales assists in sight reading and learning repertoire. Scales are the basis of much of our music. They are found in repertoire of all types in various ways. If I can recognize a scale that I have already mastered, it is not unexpected that the fingering pattern for the scale passage will be the same as that which I have drilled into my head.
  • Scales improve the pianist's aural skills. Although playing scales can sometimes feel mundane, by actively listening to the progression of the notes from one to another, the pianist will actually strengthen their ears as they develop relationships between the various scale degrees.
  • The process of learning scales is an introduction to the rehearsal process. Discipline is required to learn scales correctly. Scales can also present some technical problems for the developing pianist. The skills and tenacity required to master the scale patterns will serve the musician in the future as they face challenging repertoire.