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Complete newb question on scales #2738509
05/21/18 07:29 PM
05/21/18 07:29 PM
Joined: Apr 2018
Posts: 2,550
Tyrone Slothrop Online content OP
Tyrone Slothrop  Online Content OP


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So I am playing scale exercises from Philip Johnston's Scales Bootcamp book and I have a completely newbie question which the book doesn't address anywhere. If I am playing a scale, does the scale end when I get to the highest note, or do I have to turn around and come back to the starting point, and only when I am back to the beginning does the scale end? For only one of his scale exercises (contrary motion) does Johnston actually say to turn around and return to the starting position, but I wonder if this is an oversight. There are timed exercises, where for example, I have to do 25 consecutive scales in 3 minutes, and it seems awkward to lift up one's hands and return to the starting position. On the other hand, since they are timed, it would literally take almost twice as long if we had to walk the scale down as well as walking it up. I saw some videos online about this book, obviously before it was finished since it still had musical notation on staves in the video, but the actual printed book doesn't have such notation, and these videos show notes going up and then back down.

Is it conceivable that for the scale exercises in this book, they only go up? Or are scale exercises always going up and back down again, and this book has just neglected to mention this?

Last edited by Slothrop, Tyrone; 05/21/18 07:34 PM.

across the stone, deathless piano performances
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Re: Complete newb question on scales [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2738520
05/21/18 08:24 PM
05/21/18 08:24 PM
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I am still relatively new at piano, but I do have a few thoughts on this, largely based on other instruments and scales I have learned on them.

First of all, playing 25 scales in 3 minutes sounds more like athletics to me, and not musical. Granted, there is a degree of learning mechanics, but it should always be musical. And that degree sounds even more like athletics than music, and even worse, potentially sounds like building up strength and endurance, rather than training muscles to play fluid and relaxed. What you described is a recipe for disaster.

Granted, there could be more context than implied, but if you have this question about scales, and it has not been presented, I would not even think about trying to do '25 scales in 3 minutes'. There is not enough background or understanding of what is going on, and it will just be detrimental.

At this point, you should be looking at the *quality* of your scales, and not *quantity* and certainly not quantity/time. And are probably not ready for a scales bootcamp.

Your time would be better spent just learning how to play the scales efficiently. And ignore that book for a few years (or even never pick it up again). With that book, it would be like training to do a competition 500 meter freestyle while you only know how to dog paddle (going back to sports analogy, and yes, even sports require a large amount of technique to utilize strength and endurance)

And if you are an absolute beginner, just forget scales entirely for a bit. They have no value until you can see how they apply. For a good idea of how they apply, start with your right hand on a C, finger 5. Play down the scale, using the rhythm of "Joy to the World". That's just one easy example.

But, that example brings up a point. If you only go up, you're missing out. If you go up and down, your still missing out. That "Joy to the World" goes down, then up. Hmm... and if you are only doing a straight even rhythm.... (That is just my take, from learning and playing other instruments. I think scales are good to know and learn, but they are overrated, and never should be taken as a goal themselves)

Just my thoughts, but put that book on a shelf until you hit a point where you know your ability (or lack of) to play scales is limiting you. I am pretty sure that is a long, long way off.

Re: Complete newb question on scales [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2738522
05/21/18 08:25 PM
05/21/18 08:25 PM
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From what I've read, and from looking at the video on-line that gave a few hints, I wouldn't go near that book with a ten foot pole.

Re: Complete newb question on scales [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2738524
05/21/18 08:30 PM
05/21/18 08:30 PM
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Tyrone Slothrop Online content OP
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Thanks for the comments. Philip Johnston just wrote to me and said that the scales always go up and back down again and no scale is completed without returning to the starting position, so my original question is answered.


across the stone, deathless piano performances
Re: Complete newb question on scales [Re: keystring] #2738525
05/21/18 08:35 PM
05/21/18 08:35 PM
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Originally Posted by keystring
From what I've read, and from looking at the video on-line that gave a few hints, I wouldn't go near that book with a ten foot pole.


You were much more succinct about it that I was. I need to learn to stop saying so many words. laugh

Re: Complete newb question on scales [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2738533
05/21/18 10:09 PM
05/21/18 10:09 PM
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Originally Posted by Slothrop, Tyrone
Thanks for the comments. Philip Johnston just wrote to me and said that the scales always go up and back down again and no scale is completed without returning to the starting position, so my original question is answered.

Has Philip Johnston also told you how to play the scales in a way that are comfortable, will give a good sound for every note for both evenness of tone and timing from note to note - and in a way that you won't find yourself with an injury in a few months or weeks? Has he given any warning about the kind of harm that some of these exercises may cause you - i.e. the 25 consecutive scales in 3 minutes?

Of course scales can go up and down, and the practice of scales usually does. Scales are a sequence of notes with a given series of intervals that are contained in music. In actual music, a scale can start on any degree of a scale, and stop on any degree, going up or going down, or both.

I was injured within a few months of practising scales from a book. While I recovered, it took years for me to be able to do scales with my teacher, a good teacher, because of the wrong learning that had to be undone. And it wasn't even as crazy as the thing you described.

Re: Complete newb question on scales [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2738537
05/21/18 10:20 PM
05/21/18 10:20 PM
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Tyrone Slothrop Online content OP
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Good warnings. I think I will skip the crazy exercises in the book then, such as the 25 scales in 3 mins. I certainly don't want to develop any injuries.


across the stone, deathless piano performances
Re: Complete newb question on scales [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2738543
05/21/18 11:11 PM
05/21/18 11:11 PM
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It sounds like learning guitar in the 80s. Speed and more speed. As stated above, quality counts for much more. You are coming along fine it seems from other posts I’ve seen.


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Re: Complete newb question on scales [Re: keystring] #2738547
05/21/18 11:55 PM
05/21/18 11:55 PM
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Tyrone Slothrop Online content OP
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Originally Posted by keystring
I was injured within a few months of practising scales from a book. While I recovered, it took years for me to be able to do scales with my teacher, a good teacher, because of the wrong learning that had to be undone. And it wasn't even as crazy as the thing you described.

Was the injury you sustained a repetitive stress injury? Like carpal tunnel syndrome or trigger finger? How did you rehabilitate it? And how did your teacher correct things? Did she tell you to play with much less tension?


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Re: Complete newb question on scales [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2738554
05/22/18 12:52 AM
05/22/18 12:52 AM
Joined: Apr 2002
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Auckland, New Zealand
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Ted Offline
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I endorse the opinions of previous posters. A scale is just an arbitrary keyboard pattern like any other note combination. Grinding away at one playing form day in day out with no variation stands a good chance of killing your love of music as well as your mechanism. Here's a thought: once you have the whole scale (or any pattern) in your mind's eye, improvise using its notes in whatever way or sequence takes your ear and fancy. Just up and down is boring ! Make up little phrases within the scale which exercise your imagination as well as your fingers. Start with single notes in each hand and introduce double notes gradually as your ear and increasing dexterity suggest. Imitation baroque is a nice easy start but nothing is compulsory, freedom is the privilege and right of an adult beginner.


"We shall always love the music of the masters, but they are all dead and now it's our turn." - Llewelyn Jones, my piano teacher
Re: Complete newb question on scales [Re: Ted] #2738556
05/22/18 01:09 AM
05/22/18 01:09 AM
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Tyrone Slothrop Online content OP
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Originally Posted by Ted
A scale is just an arbitrary keyboard pattern like any other note combination. Grinding away at one playing form day in day out with no variation stands a good chance of killing your love of music as well as your mechanism.

As a newbie, I have no standing to discuss this and no horse in this race. So I will let THIS speak instead.


across the stone, deathless piano performances
Re: Complete newb question on scales [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2738570
05/22/18 03:30 AM
05/22/18 03:30 AM
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Auckland, New Zealand
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I agree with points 4 and 5 of the article to a very limited extent and disagree with all the others. I know that any benefits I might gain from repeatedly playing ordinary scales in the same fashion can be achieved in other, more enjoyable and certainly much more musical ways. However, I suppose that, as a seventy-year-old improviser who has not had a lesson for fifty years, I am scarcely typical, and there is a chance that my opinion is true only for me. I have also had the luck to own a Virgil Practice Clavier, which allows me to use my piano for nothing but creating music. The issue of scales comes up every so often on most piano forums and agreement is seldom, if ever, reached.

Last edited by Ted; 05/22/18 03:34 AM.

"We shall always love the music of the masters, but they are all dead and now it's our turn." - Llewelyn Jones, my piano teacher
Re: Complete newb question on scales [Re: Ted] #2738577
05/22/18 04:57 AM
05/22/18 04:57 AM
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The benefits of playing scales were discussed countless times on these forums. But there are two posts by Tubbie0075 and zrtf90 that I had found so good and so accurate that I copied them to my notebook.

Originally Posted by Tubbie0075
Don't forget its usefulness for techniques. I use scales for practising finger actions, touches and dexterity, arms levels, weights and rotations, dynamics, hands coordination, speed etc. without having to worry about notes and rhythms like playing a piece of music. I can use C major scale and arpeggios to warm up for these technical aspects for half an hour. Yes, nothing but C major scale in many different ways. Sometimes that's all I do in a practise session, especially if I haven't touched the piano for a day or two.

I find that C major scale is the most difficult scale to feel "grounded". If I can feel comfortable with C major in all sorts of ways, I can be comfortable with any other keys, and I am more ready to tackle different pieces.


Before that zrtf90 had written that by playing scales a student learns to listen to his playing very carefully, to hear nuances of every played note. The great idea! Now I understand how true it is. It really may be the biggest benefit of playing scales, especially for beginners.

Besides that I would add that scales also develop the aural imagination very well, because every time we're going to play a scale we need to imagine how it should sound like for a moment before playing it. This is something of extreme importance for every piano player. And one more good thing about scales is that they train us in playing long passages, not only physically, but also mentally. This is what one Russian pedagogue called "the development of a musical will". By a musical will he meant the ability of a pianist to play many bars by a single musical movement, bringing all emotional energy of a fragment to some single endpoint. He measured the musical will of a student by estimating how many notes (octaves) of a scale a student can play by a single musical movement, maintaining artistic crescendo or diminuendo and bearing the endpoint in his/her mind. This mental ability probably affects not only the fast runs, but all the phrasing, and even the perception of the music in general.

Re: Complete newb question on scales [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2738589
05/22/18 06:42 AM
05/22/18 06:42 AM
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Florida
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I personally learned scales about a year into my playing. For me they were of immense benefit, but not because I could play scales, but because of what I then derived from them. My teacher taught me that scales and chords are basically one and the same, linked inextricably.

For example, learn the C man scale up and down, 4 octaves, then with contrary motion, then learn the chords that are contained within the scale. C, F, G then Cmaj7, Fmaj7, G7, then Amin, etc. Learn the inversions of those chords, learn cadences, or common combinations (e.g. 4-5-1, 2-5-1, etc), then their relative minors. If you do this for all the keys, then you can play any chord easily and know what works with what.

When I learned this I was working on Lead Sheet jazz music. Even better is to learn it in conjunction with a particular song, e.g. Cmaj w Fly Me To The Moon, Eb w Autumn Leaves. To me, that was the real benefit of learning scales.


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Re: Complete newb question on scales [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2738594
05/22/18 07:12 AM
05/22/18 07:12 AM
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Johnson constructed Scales Bootcamp for a purpose which he clearly describes in the book.
SPOILER: Playing 25 scales in 3 minutes is NOT his purpose.

Go ahead and express your opinions about scales and anything else (this is the internet, after all), but remember that you'll sound more clever if you hold off on issuing criticism until you have at least a passing familiarity with the object.


Enough is as good as a feast.

Re: Complete newb question on scales [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2738598
05/22/18 07:26 AM
05/22/18 07:26 AM
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Originally Posted by Iarolslav Vasiliev
Before that zrtf90 had written that by playing scales a student learns to listen to his playing very carefully...
I'm flattered that you've learnt something from me and remembered the source but I'm sorry if I wrote that...let me correct it here:

By listening very carefully to his scales a student learns to play. smile

I have said that scales are ear training more than finger training. We don't even use all five fingers when practising regular scales, babies are born with more than enough finger strength to play the piano, etc., etc.

Scales are more about coordination than anything else mechanically, coordination between hands and fingers, yes, but more importantly between brain and fingertip using the whole body, with our weight resting on the stool and balanced on the heels.

Western Harmony, since the introduction of tonality that followed the development of modern temperaments, has moved from the tonic to the dominant and back again. It's how music breathes. Scales inculcate in our hearing this movement to tonic. Nearly all tonal music cadences by a rise from the dominant to tonic via the leading note or by falling from dominant to tonic often via the third.

Because the piano keyboard has more keys than we have fingers we have to move our arms and hands to cover the keyboard. We do this by pivoting our thumb around one or other finger (RH rising, LH falling) or one of our fingers around our thumb (LH rising, RH falling).

Scales train this movment around our third and fourth fingers. Bach teaches us to use our second finger for this, as well as third over fourth and fourth over fifth, etc.
Chopin, Liszt and Brahms also teach us to use the fifth finger as a pivot.

If you want velocity there are many excellent examples of fast pieces in the piano canon that serve our purposes better than scales. Developing speed from scales often defeats the purpose because in real music we need to be able to change patterns as fast as we change fingers - a mental exercise far more than a mechanical one - but scales don't need mental involvement for velocity, just procedural memory (and a good book to read while we're practising).

A much better option is to practise scales and arpeggios in the key of the piece you're about to study with the touches, tempos and moods required by that piece. Suit your scales to music, not vice versa.

You don't have to play the pieces, necessarily. You might try cycling the preludes (and/or the fugues) of the WTC over 48 days, 48 weeks or 48 months as mood and style indicators that cover all keys (and a wide range of moods). They also serve as great active listening if you have access to recordings or for audiating (reading and hearing them in your head without actually playing) if you have the scores.


Richard
Re: Complete newb question on scales [Re: malkin] #2738600
05/22/18 07:32 AM
05/22/18 07:32 AM
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Oops
Originally Posted by malkin
Johnson

Correction:
Johnston constructed Scales Bootcamp for a purpose which he clearly describes in the book.
and SPOILER #2: Increasing speed is also NOT his stated purpose.


Enough is as good as a feast.

Re: Complete newb question on scales [Re: malkin] #2738603
05/22/18 07:39 AM
05/22/18 07:39 AM
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Tyrone Slothrop Online content OP
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Originally Posted by malkin
Johnson constructed Scales Bootcamp for a purpose which he clearly describes in the book.
SPOILER: Playing 25 scales in 3 minutes is NOT his purpose.

I've found these three statements from the book which seem relevant to his purpose for the book:
Quote
Helping you master scales so you know them for life. As sure as you know the alphabet, your times tables, your birthday. To get you there, we've borrowed from computer game design, stolen from Practiceopedia (see the "Boot Camp" entry), and packed this book with Challenges to complete for each new scale, giving your scales practice, a purpose.

Quote
Fanatical attention to the scales you'll actually use. Instead of being a museum of every scale ever invented, Scales Bootcamp is about getting you very good at the scales you'll work with most often. Majors, harmonic minors and chromatics, taken through the most rigorous combination of drills and challenges, all leading to an extraordinary promise...

Quote
...have to be able to play one hand louder than the other/deliver tricky rhythms with precision/show excellent dynamic control/increase the speed... It's what scales practice should be. Instead of just playing your scales up and down and back again, you're relating them to the sort of challenges that actual repertoire will throw at you. You're also working directly on skills that you need for all your playing.

Is this what you were referring to?

Originally Posted by malkin
Go ahead and express your opinions about scales and anything else (this is the internet, after all), but remember that you'll sound more clever if you hold off on issuing criticism until you have at least a passing familiarity with the object.

Which is why I didn't here and just linked what a piano teacher as said about this. As a beginner, I am coming to this without any ideas about what is right or wrong to do with respect to playing the piano. I would could just as easily be convinced that playing scales would completely screw me up forever. I learn only what I read, and because the Internet is such a big place, and you can probably find any viewpoint one wants if you search hard enough, my "shortcut" is to try to look for stuff written by experienced, credentialed people -- it's not a perfect approach to gathering knowledge, and misses a lot of perfectly valid "alternative" viewpoints, but one only has so many hours in a day.

Last edited by Slothrop, Tyrone; 05/22/18 07:44 AM.

across the stone, deathless piano performances
Re: Complete newb question on scales [Re: Tyrone Slothrop] #2738605
05/22/18 07:48 AM
05/22/18 07:48 AM
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Tyrone, what does the RCM (or ABRSM) syllabus have the student do as far as scales, at the very earliest level? Since you’re interested in following one of those programs and taking the exams, I would think you would want to follow their recommendations.


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Re: Complete newb question on scales [Re: zrtf90] #2738606
05/22/18 07:54 AM
05/22/18 07:54 AM
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Florida
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Originally Posted by zrtf90

..............
You don't have to play the pieces, necessarily. You might try cycling the preludes (and/or the fugues) of the WTC over 48 days, 48 weeks or 48 months as mood and style indicators that cover all keys (and a wide range of moods). They also serve as great active listening if you have access to recordings or for audiating (reading and hearing them in your head without actually playing) if you have the scores.



While that sounds like a great idea, I'm not sure I have enough time left to learn all 48! At least I've got C maj (Prelude only) under my belt! Just wondering, also, if you feel the Chopin Preludes have similar value. I'm sure the Etudes do, but if I understand correctly, they're far more advanced.


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