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Learning scales question
#3052536 12/03/20 05:20 PM
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What is the exact mechanic / process for the correct way of properly learning scales?

As a beginner...I understand what a scale is.
I've been following a book step by step that teaches scales along with a bunch of music in that key, along with the relevant chords etc.
I understand how scales are constructed. Whole steps, half steps etc.
I can play about half of the scales reasonably well up and down over a few octaves.
I can play the rest of the scales also, but real slow, because I haven't "learnt" them yet - it's to come in the next pages of the book.
I realize I've learnt the scales I can play well purely by means of repetition. So I think it's become rote memory. It's also applying some music theory from other books, but it seems sofar being able to play the scale well and at a good speed, is mostly just due to doing it over and over again.

I recently started wondering if I'm doing it the right way. I'm all for lots of practice, I'm okay with repetition...but considering the sheer amount of scales left to learn I want to make sure I'm actually doing it the right (and hopefully) most optimal way.

The reason I'm asking this, is as an experiment I tried saying out loud all the notes of all the scales I can play, as fast as I can play them. And I've realized that I can play the scale much much faster than I can say the notes. In fact some scales I realize my brain just can't get the note out at all while my fingers are just playing the right notes because of muscle memory?

So I'm wondering. If playing scales becomes automatic, have I achieved what I'm supposed to achieve?
If I can play every single scale accurately, and fast, is that the goal?
I feel like if I keep going in this direction I will get there, but that I'll lack something.
It's a feeling more than anything.
I want to make sure I don't look back and realize I never learnt it the right way...
Hope this makes sense.

I guess the real question is, how to "really" learn to play scales, or is it just about being able to play a scale accurately and fast.

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Re: Learning scales question
JohnnyIssieBangie #3052553 12/03/20 05:43 PM
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Quote
. . . The reason I'm asking this, is as an experiment I tried saying out loud all the notes of all the scales I can play, as fast as I can play them. And I've realized that I can play the scale much much faster than I can say the notes. In fact some scales I realize my brain just can't get the note out at all while my fingers are just playing the right notes because of muscle memory?

I assume that you're using "standard fingering". If not, all bets are off.

(a) _No_ pianist can say the note names, faster than they can play the notes. You're just normal.

(b) If you want to play scales accurately, evenly, and quickly (you need all three):

. . . "muscle memory" is the only thing that will let you do that.

You just don't have time to think about "which finger comes next, on which key?"

(c) And I suggest that you should work on:

. . . first, getting the right fingers on the right notes;

.. . . second, even dynamics and steady timing.

. . . . third (after those are mastered), increasing velocity.

Increase velocity _gradually_ -- it's a good time to learn how to use a metronome.

Do this process for one scale at a time. Most "methods" work around the Circle of Fifths, but that's not sacred.

Have fun (I don't teach, and others may disagree with these suggestions) --


. Charles
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Re: Learning scales question
Charles Cohen #3052620 12/03/20 08:16 PM
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Thanks for your input. I appreciate it!
I use standard fingering only, religiously and as per the books.

Originally Posted by Charles Cohen
[quote]

.. . . second, even dynamics and steady timing.

. . . . third (after those are mastered), increasing velocity.

Increase velocity _gradually_ -- it's a good time to learn how to use a metronome.

--

With dynamics, you mean loudness?
With velocity, do you mean speed, or loudness?
I assume you mean dynamics = volume, and velocity = speed, since you mention using a metronome in relation to velocity.
I'm also learning Logic Pro, and in there velocity is loudness.
Thanks again!

Re: Learning scales question
JohnnyIssieBangie #3052629 12/03/20 08:37 PM
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If you look at the grades then you can have an idea of what scales you need to learn. If you are a beginner than probably you need to only learn simple scales. You start with I think 1. eventually 2 octaves and eventually get to 4 octaves in most keys. A teacher will give you an idea what you need to work on. I think to start need to have a slow and all notes even. I think also a good position with the thumb under which is ideal for scales. I think you can play them faster and at different dynamics. When I was more advanced my teacher got me to focus on a specific aspect. I remember for example A flat major arpeggio in RH was 2-1-2-4 and there was a 1-4 step over. So I would just practice the step over a few times. I would warn you of just repetitive practice. I had a very bad injury of my wrist when younger and had an operation on my left hand so maybe repetition for the grade 6 abrsm at a young age with a very high level of scale requirements was no ideal. I have to be honest and I dont practice scales or arpeggios for years. There are all still there however. I have never forgotten them.

Re: Learning scales question
JohnnyIssieBangie #3052632 12/03/20 08:42 PM
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I think this exam board gives a more reasonable scale requirements so have a look at what you should do at what level. The other exam board has a little too much scales in my view.

file:///Users/A/Downloads/Piano%20Syllabus%202018-2020%20(2).pdf

Re: Learning scales question
JohnnyIssieBangie #3052657 12/03/20 10:02 PM
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Originally Posted by JohnnyIssieBangie
[...]I assume you mean dynamics = volume, and velocity = speed, since you mention using a metronome in relation to velocity.
I'm also learning Logic Pro, and in there velocity is loudness.
Thanks again!

Dynamics in music refers to the range of volume from the softest to the loudest.

I wouldn't have too much faith in a system that says velocity is loudness; velocity means speed and has nothing to do, by definition, with loudness. One can play at very high velocity (speed) at any dynamic level, with the requisite technique, of course.

Regards,


BruceD
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Re: Learning scales question
JohnnyIssieBangie #3052676 12/03/20 10:48 PM
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Originally Posted by JohnnyIssieBangie
What is the exact mechanic / process for the correct way of properly learning scales?
There is no exact mechanic process. Use correct fingerings and really learn the scale you're working on very well. I spend weeks/months learning and practicing a key. I'm about half way through circle of fifths but I do a bunch of work with each key.

Originally Posted by JohnnyIssieBangie
So I'm wondering. If playing scales becomes automatic, have I achieved what I'm supposed to achieve?
I think as long as you keep improving at them you're achieving what you should. Even if right now it's playing 2 octaves hands separate but smoothly. Eventually you'll be playing 4 octaves hands together, etc.

Originally Posted by JohnnyIssieBangie
If I can play every single scale accurately, and fast, is that the goal?
You can set any goal you want for it but there's always more that can be done with scales. Such as more musical, smoother, playing in thirds, contrary, different dynamics/articulations in each hand. If faster is your goal also make it so you play without tension in the hands.

Originally Posted by JohnnyIssieBangie
I feel like if I keep going in this direction I will get there, but that I'll lack something.
I have always loves scales but I didn't really see benefit until after a couple years playing them.

Originally Posted by JohnnyIssieBangie
I guess the real question is, how to "really" learn to play scales, or is it just about being able to play a scale accurately and fast.
Be patient with learning them and its not just about "fast". Keep in mind while a parallel 4 octave scale on paper looks easy it's not they're tricky and take lots of practice. Good news is as you learn each key all those skills you develop make learning each next one a little easier.

Re: Learning scales question
JohnnyIssieBangie #3052689 12/03/20 11:44 PM
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I have not seen mention that you should also sing the scales.

Last edited by Nahum; 12/03/20 11:45 PM.
Re: Learning scales question
BruceD #3052720 12/04/20 02:39 AM
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Originally Posted by BruceD
Originally Posted by JohnnyIssieBangie
[...]I assume you mean dynamics = volume, and velocity = speed, since you mention using a metronome in relation to velocity.
I'm also learning Logic Pro, and in there velocity is loudness.
Thanks again!

Dynamics in music refers to the range of volume from the softest to the loudest.

I wouldn't have too much faith in a system that says velocity is loudness; velocity means speed and has nothing to do, by definition, with loudness. One can play at very high velocity (speed) at any dynamic level, with the requisite technique, of course.

Regards,

Not quite . . .

Logic Pro is a DAW (digital audio workstation). When it talks about "velocity", it means "MIDI velocity" --

. . . which means "how fast did the key move from key-up to key-down ?"

. . . which controls _the volume (or loudness)_ of the sound.

Which (confusingly) musicians call "dynamics".


When _I_ talked about "velocity", I meant (as you thought):

. . . How fast are you going from one note to the next? =
. . . How fast are you playing the scale?

In Logic Pro, that concept is probably filed under "Tempo" (which musicians also understand).


EDIT:

. . . "Dynamics" is from soft to loud (as BruceD said);

. . . "Tempo" is from slow to fast.

That gets rid of the pesky, ambiguous word "velocity".

Last edited by Charles Cohen; 12/04/20 02:44 AM.

. Charles
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Re: Learning scales question
JohnnyIssieBangie #3052774 12/04/20 08:46 AM
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Mechanical repetition is not enough. If you want to really learn scales you need to learn every degree of every scale and the finger that it is must be played with. You may practice it like this: get some anthology of simple melodies (one used for solfeggio and singing may suit), identify the key of a melody and practice naming the degree (I II III IV V ...) of every note in it and also the finger of the RH that it must be played with. Then the same for the LH. It takes some time to learn it well. When you're good at it, try playing these melodies using only the fingerings of the corresponding scales. Also try playing a scale beginning with random note of it. And only when you master this exercise you may say that you know scales really well. wink

Re: Learning scales question
JohnnyIssieBangie #3052779 12/04/20 09:04 AM
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A couple of additional observations:
1. Learning scales helped my confidence with chords and keys. By learning scales I became confident in the other music I was playing. When I see a key signature I know that most of the piece will be limited to a certain 7 notes (unless I see a special indicator like a flat, sharp, or natural).
2. Folks will tell you to go slow and build up speed. But even at a slow pace, be aware of moments of hesitation between notes, changing directions, moving a finger underneath, etc. Look for hesitation!
If you set a metronome, it helps to occasionally play the notes of the scale as eighth notes (assuming the metronome is set to 4/4 time). It doesn't matter what speed it is.

Otherwise, my advice is not to overthink the need to be great at playing scales. Scales to me are like reciting the alphabet or spelling a word. A useful tool that has to be applied more than it has to be mastered. But I would take the advice to learn every scale with a degree of comfort and confidence.


“Nobody wants to show you the hours and hours of becoming. They'd rather show the highlight of what they've become.”
― Angela Duckworth, Grit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success
Re: Learning scales question
JohnnyIssieBangie #3052855 12/04/20 02:09 PM
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The best way to learn scales is with a teacher who is good at explaining technique. Learning the notes and the fingering is the easy part. It's not just a question of practicing them over and over and trying/hoping to gradually build up speed and evenness. Technical problems rarely get solved that way or, at best, it takes much longer to solve them. If you don't have a teacher, try and find the best online video about the technical aspects of playing scales. But the problem with those videos is that they can show and discuss the correct technique but they can't correct anything with your playing.

Re: Learning scales question
JohnnyIssieBangie #3053162 12/05/20 07:00 AM
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Once you can work the controls, driving is about negotiating traffic and weather.

Once you know the notes of the scale and can play them fluently and easily then the work begins. Scale practise has very little to do with just playing scales.

Try E major in RH, two octaves and hold your forearm with your LH. Take the highest E with your thumb instead of your pinky. Your forearm should be moving at a steady pace up and down; it dictates the pace of the scale. Scales are clearly not a finger exercise as the pinky is seldom used and the fourth only once per octave.

Because the keyboard is wider than our hands or our handspan, we need to be able to negotiate the keyboard using finger crossings. The trickiest crossings are turning the thumb under the third or fourth or turning the third or fourth over while the thumb acts as a pivot. Scale practise includes being able to do this evenly. You'll also need to play 1 under 2 and 2 over 1 as well as 2 over 3, 3 over 4, 4 over 5 and 3 over 2 as well as slide each finger from one key to another with as much legato as with two fingers. This is one of the reasons we learn Bach. No other composer makes as much use of both hands in this regard.

Using just your middle finger play a couple of octaves up and down as smoothly and as legato as you can. Then make the scale SOUND exactly the same while using regular fingering. There should be no audible difference when you turn the thumb under the fourth or play the fourth over the thumb.

It has more to do with tempo than with speed but you should be playing faster as the years go by and being able to play quickly is one of the attributes you'll need for music making but it isn't a consideration in scale practise during the early years.

There is no need to learn more than one scale every two or three months and no need to play hands together in the first cycle. Try as many scale fingerings as you can think of with each scale and understand why there is only one practical way for most scales, two practical ways for for a few and at least seven alternate fingerings for C Major, all using the fourth finger once per octave and the first three fingers twice.

Start with five note scales. Drum your right hand fingers from G down to C. Then do the same upwards and see how awkward your fourth finger is. You need to fix this if it isn't smooth. Now do the same with six notes from A down to C. You'll need to use your second finger over your thumb for C. Now go up from C to A using 4 over 5 for the A. Now extend the run to seven notes, B down to C and C up to B. This is to help you understand the issue not to practise every day. It isn't scale playing, per se, it's using scale playing to practise the techniques we need to play longer runs than we have fingers for and choosing the best fingering for negotiating various black and white key permutations.

Does that make sense?


Richard
Re: Learning scales question
pianoloverus #3053188 12/05/20 08:37 AM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
The best way to learn scales is with a teacher who is good at explaining technique. Learning the notes and the fingering is the easy part. It's not just a question of practicing them over and over and trying/hoping to gradually build up speed and evenness. Technical problems rarely get solved that way or, at best, it takes much longer to solve them. If you don't have a teacher, try and find the best online video about the technical aspects of playing scales. But the problem with those videos is that they can show and discuss the correct technique but they can't correct anything with your playing.

Agree, mostly.
Learning the notes and fingering is the first part. While it may be easy compared to mastering other technical aspects of playing, learning notes and fingering may well present considerable difficulty for some students.


Learner
Re: Learning scales question
JohnnyIssieBangie #3053198 12/05/20 09:17 AM
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Just as I thought I was doing ok- comes staccato 😳

Re: Learning scales question
Nahum #3054397 12/08/20 11:43 AM
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Originally Posted by Nahum
I have not seen mention that you should also sing the scales.

This is a really interesting and provocative idea, but one that seems impossible!
I played and recorded a few scales on my phone and been trying to replicate it with my voice while driving. I must look ridiculous but this is a lot of fun.
I'm managing kinda to get the tonic, subdominant, dominant and then octave tonic again but as for the rest, not even close laugh

Do you have a technique for this?

Re: Learning scales question
zrtf90 #3054423 12/08/20 12:25 PM
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Originally Posted by zrtf90
Does that make sense?

Yes!
Thank you for this; this is what I was looking for.
The way I've been practicing made it "feel" very flat or almost single-dimensional.
The information you provided has given me another dimension from which to perceive and and think about it.
Is that a reason why I love Bach so much?
It seems to me that Bach knew something that no one else did.
Thanks again.

Last edited by JohnnyIssieBangie; 12/08/20 12:25 PM.
Re: Learning scales question
JohnnyIssieBangie #3054679 12/09/20 05:52 AM
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Originally Posted by JohnnyIssieBangie
Originally Posted by Nahum
I have not seen mention that you should also sing the scales.

This is a really interesting and provocative idea, but one that seems impossible!
I played and recorded a few scales on my phone and been trying to replicate it with my voice while driving. I must look ridiculous but this is a lot of fun.
I'm managing kinda to get the tonic, subdominant, dominant and then octave tonic again but as for the rest, not even close laugh

Do you have a technique for this?

PMFJI--

Practice . . . Practice . . . Practice . . .

You may want to try a "guitar tuner" for accuracy. My singing teacher told me that she cried, when she got one, and saw how inaccurate she was. I've felt the same, on bad days.

If you're serious about this, please don't drive while you do it. One, or the other.PMFJI--

Hardware chromatic tuners are around $20. Smartphone tuners are free.


. Charles
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