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Hi all,

I've been messing around teaching myself how to play for a few months and feel like it's time to put in place a slightly more rigid practice regime.

So far I've started with Hanon to get my fingers moving over the keyboard more quickly. I'd like to add some scales to my practice session but am not sure which would get me the best return on time invested. I'm already doing C and D Major. What else should I add?

If it makes any difference my repertoire tends to be romantic era pieces - Chopin in particular (although clearly only the easier pieces at the moment).

Any thoughts?

Thanks,
Sdd.

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Do you have a book of scales, chords, and arpeggios?

If so, go ahead and do G major for completeness. Then go ahead and do F major, and then Bb major. The idea is to not get really good at the "#" keys whilst letting yourself down on the "b" keys.

Then, go back and learn all the relative minors for the keys you have (Am, Em, Bm, Dm, Gm). Once you have (C, Am) (G, Em) (D, Bm) (F Dm) (Bb, Gm), I strongly recommend you proceed by learning another "#" key and then its relative minor and then another "b" key and then its relative minor.

Continue to alternate as such, in order around the circle of fifths, until you have all the major and minor keys. smile

BTW, where are you in Hanon?


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Thanks for the reply - I'm from the UK so have the ABRSM 'Manual of Scales, Broken Chords and Arpeggios' which seems to cover more less everything.

And erm, Hanon #3 so far laugh - but I've only started recently.

I'm a bit of a beginner in the terminology department but I think I get what you mean - and will start by adding in F major and Bb major and see how I get on. They're both definitely in the book smile

Thanks,
Sdd

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You're welcome! As you have surmised properly, you want to become proficient at both the # scales and the b scales. There are all too many who learned their # scales very well, but never got around to the b scales. Keep working! smile

BTW, be sure to not force too much speed too early out of Hanon.


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sdd - limited time you say?

Then forget scales and Hanon. Play pieces. Pieces contain all the "scales' you'll ever want or need in terms of the limitless variety and complexity of finger "gyrations" found therein.

I assume your ultimate goal is to play pieces - and not scales - well. Work on that. All else is extraneous and a distraction, unless you're planning on earning your living as a concert pianist.

Stop worrying about potentially time-wasting technical exercises and enjoy the music-making! thumb

Regards, JF


Every difficulty slurred over will be a ghost to disturb your repose later on. Frederic Chopin

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JF - I agree to an extent, but I won't feel I can really 'play the piano' until I understand the theory behind it, so learning the scales to be able to recognise the key a piece is in etc. is important to me.

If al I could do was churn out a few tunes through practice then I'd just feel I could play a few tunes, rather than play the piano.

So for my sense of satisfaction I've got to get the scales under my belt as well.

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Quote
Originally posted by sdd:

If al I could do was churn out a few tunes through practice then I'd just feel I could play a few tunes, rather than play the piano.
Well, eventually you'll be playing a few more than "a few tunes" - like maybe many more - and if at that point (or anywhere in between) you still feel that you're not really "playing the piano" then you've probably set your standards too high and are being far to unrealistc and critical of yourself and your piano-playing skills - i.e., if you can play tunes (a few or many) then you're playing the piano and you're a piano player!

Quote

So for my sense of satisfaction I've got to get the scales under my belt as well.
However - and given the above considerations - if, in addition to "playing tunes" you also need to be able to play and master scales as you say "for your sense of satisfaction" and perhaps you're sense of "completeness" as a pianist, then by all means do so, and have fun doing it (although I'm not quite sure how much actual "fun" is involved in playing endless repetitions of scales) smile

Regards, JF

P.S. So many tunes - so little time! wink


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I used to do extensive scale practice and
technical studies like Czerny, etc. But
now I don't consider a lot of scale practice to
be essential. My current technical workout
consists of just a couple of repetitions only of
the C maj. scale and the C maj. arpeggio
(triads: root position and first and
second inversions), and the rest of
it is composed entirely of extensive
diatonic (not chromatic) interval
scale practice, which I personally have
found to be the single best technical study
on the piano. If there is a secret to
impressive piano playing, this is apparently
it.

This is very old-style technical study,
which has been all but forgotten today.
This is the kind of thing that Beethoven
and Chopin were apparently taught as
students, and they apparently practiced
these daily. If interval scales are
practiced at all today, they would be of
the chromatic variety. I consider chromatic
interval scales to be modern and trendy
--and worthless. (You want to learn in
the old way, the way Beethoven and Chopin
learned, not in the modern way, that
produces students who almost univerally
stall for life at the advanced-intermediate
level.) There is a detailed
discussion of diatonic interval scales here:

http://www.pianoworld.com/ubb/ubb/ultimatebb.php?/topic/37/1529.html#000003

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I would disagree with posters who have discouraged you from learning and practicing your scales.
I think they help develop keyboard geography / topography as well as improving technique, theory, understanding of key signatures and sight reading.
If you take John Franks approach of ignoring your scales you would have little chance of understanding the modulations of a Mozart sonata. Perhaps you couldn't give two hoots about the Modulations of the Sonata anyway, but I'm sure that someone who practices their scales diligently would have a far easier time with a piece like K545 than their identical twin who took the JF approach.
People say that scales improve your touch and technique - improving evenness of touch and fluency at the keyboard. Practiced with a metronome they have undoubtedly improved my sense of rhythm and playing 2 octaves in one hand against 3 in the other (& 3 V 4) has helped me finally crack the poly rhythms. Also varying articulation (staccato V legato) and dynamics (different in each hand and varying as you ascend and descend) has been useful to me.
As I wrote on the recent "3 tips thread", I used to hate scales and avoid practicing them at all costs, but partly as a result of what I have read both here and elsewhere I have started getting quite into them and am sure my playing has improved as a result.Perhaps I am just trying to persuade myself that I am not simply wasting my time, but I sincerely doubt it.
If scales really are such a waste of time I would be surprised that the ABRSM places such high value on them.
Kreisler recently posted and excellent article on scales - try searching his recent posts or if you cant find it perhaps pm him, and he may even be kind enough to e mail it to you.
Good luck and dont give up!

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I'm not a fan of technical exercises (i.e. Czerny, Cramer, Duvernoy, Pischna) and I have always promoted the idea that you get more results by practicing pieces, which already contain the technical challenges to practice but are also musical and not so monotonous, and are worth having in the repertorie.

That being said I consider scales worth practicing. Scales, arpeggios, chords, fourths, sixth, octaves, thirds. They are the real usefull worth practicing technical exercises, in my opinion.

If you want to learn scales you should first learn the ones that use all the black keys.

B major (F# - C# - G# - D# - A#)

Db major (Bb - Eb - Ab - Db - Gb)

The reason is that the fingering for these scales is very natural for the hand, so mastering them means developing a control over the coreography of scales that will makes learning the other scales much easier. Also the scarecrow of black notes and alterations is faced and defeated from the very beginning.

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Quote
Originally posted by Wombat66:
If you take John Franks approach of ignoring your scales you would have little chance of understanding the modulations of a Mozart sonata. Perhaps you couldn't give two hoots about the Modulations of the Sonata anyway, but I'm sure that someone who practices their scales diligently would have a far easier time with a piece like K545 than their identical twin who took the JF approach.
I agree - makes sense to me - good advice for many serious students Wombat66 thumb

But, then again, if you have very limited time for your piano studies, set your priorities straight and go directly to playing K545 (like the evil twin you are wink ) and shelve those hellishly tedious scales! :p

Regards (with mind starting to numb, eyes starting to glaze over and fingers starting to ache just thinking about it eek ), JF


Every difficulty slurred over will be a ghost to disturb your repose later on. Frederic Chopin

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As Wombat pointed out:

Quote
If you take John Franks approach of ignoring your scales you would have little chance of understanding the modulations of a Mozart sonata.
You must not forget the theory angle of the scales as well. smile


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Oh, and BTW: Gyro = [Linked Image]


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One thought: once you reach a level at which you instantly recognize any major scale and the standard forms of the minor, wherever they occur in any piece of music, I think concentration on pieces that use such scales as they weave around, double-back on themselves and even "morph" from one form to another or from key to key (and so on) is more useful.

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As John Frank pointed out above:

Quote
Originally posted by John Frank:
. . . if, in addition to "playing tunes" you also need to be able to play and master scales as you say "for your sense of satisfaction" and perhaps your sense of "completeness" as a pianist, then by all means do so, and have fun doing it (although I'm not quite sure how much actual "fun" is involved in playing endless repetitions of scales) smile

P.S. So many tunes - so little time! wink
But the jury is still out on whether or not sdd "gives two hoots about the modulations in the Mozart Sonata", as Wombat66 so eloquently phrased it.

Regards, JF

P.S. Horowitzian - be nice to Gyro - he means well, doesn't he confused - and exactly what does that quotation of Horowitz in your signature actually mean . . . never mind wink


Every difficulty slurred over will be a ghost to disturb your repose later on. Frederic Chopin

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Some thoughts concerning limited time in life, and pieces vs. scales, studies, and theory (taking up valuable time). It's not that cut and dry. It depends on you and your makeup, the nature of what you are playing, how you approach things, and what works for you. Scales and studies are not magical pills. And you can definitely take any part of a piece and turn it into an exercise. You can even do variations, change rhythms, play it in other keys, and other wild and woolly things. That might take you further.

A good study is written with a particular purpose. It will highlight a particular thing to be developed, and if well designed, will concentrate that skill from every possible angle. It might make things more difficult than in real life, more demands than normally exist in music. You work on it, you get skilled in that one area, and you become "stretched" in your abilities. IFF you work on the study toward its purpose and as intended.

Supposing that you are weak in one general area. Supposing that this area of weakness affects many things that you play. If you can address that weakness in a concentrated manner, very methodically, through a study or exercise, then you may experience a surge in your ability to play any piece that requires that skill. If that happens, then you are gaining time by diverting over to studies or scales, because you will no longer be slowed down by a weakness in that area. There is a time and place for it. Anyway, that's been my limited experience. But you and/or your teacher would be the best judge.

I think I would see an interplay rather than an either/or. I have worked on a study that emphasized a particular thing, then gone back to a piece and discovered that my fingers were flying in places where I was stuck before, because whatever had been missing was now there. Not always, but sometimes.

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Quote
Originally posted by Danny Niklas:
If you want to learn scales you should first learn the ones that use all the black keys.

B major (F# - C# - G# - D# - A#)

Db major (Bb - Eb - Ab - Db - Gb)
I find teaching these scales first rather impractical, but they are the scales I use as examples myself, since they are indeed the most natural for the hands for long runs. I demonstrate for my students several things:

1) Although I am right-handed, I can play a Db scale with my LH, ascending, faster and smoother than I can play a RH C scale, ascending. First of all, it is much easier to play into the body and across it than the other way. I also teach my students to observe what happens to their wrists and elbows as they "play in" and to try to keep that experience as a powerful set of clues to use when "playing out", where students have a much greater chance of making unnecessary and unnatural elbow and wrist movements.

Even young students will usually assume that I am left-handed, if they listen carefully. (I can hide these weaknesses, but I deliberately let them be seen and heard.)

2) B is easiest for the RH, but Db is easiest for the LH. Gb is equally easy for both hands (and slightly harder).

3) The very "simple" C scale, so easy looking, is actually the most awkward scale to "run" all the way up and down the piano, because of the more awkward thumb-passing, BUT that it is the easiest to play patterns certain patterns with.

An example would be, in Mozart's K. 545:

A-BCDEFGAGFEDCBA—1---23 12345 4321 432
G-ABCDEFGFEDCBAG—1---23 12345 4321 432
F-GABCDEFEDCBAGF—1---23 12345 4321 432
F-GABCDEDCBAGFED—1---23 1234 54321 432
D-etc.

This is harder in any other key, including when it reappears in the development section in the key of F.

Danny, are you opposed to the idea of learning all the scales, making sure that they are absorbed and understood in a way that assures a true "sense of key" but without making them such a huge part of practice that they may actually detract from time spent in learning compositions?

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Danny, are you opposed to the idea of learning all the scales, making sure that they are absorbed and understood in a way that assures a true "sense of key" but without making them such a huge part of practice that they may actually detract from time spent in learning compositions?


I'm opposed to doing something for the sake of it, without a real reason. Scales should be practiced for their usefulness, which in my opinion doesn't justify spending hours and hours over them. What is usefull instead, is practicing the relative scale of the composition you're going to practice, before practicing it.

I also don't think it's a good idea to teach the C major scale first. It is indeed an awkward scale, that tends to promote two very bad things: internalization of the white keys as being more important or common than black ketys and getting a trauma when you start having pieces that use the black keys a lot and also internalization of the playing on the edge of the keys, having problems later bringing the hands up and playing in the central area of the keys.

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I think scales are very useful for several reasons. Probably they are good to make your fingers fast, they teach you the keys (as in "c minor", "g major" etc.) and they are a good start for learning to coordinate both hands.

Going through all scales one per week or per two weeks might be a good start. Later on, when you know them all well, you can have your daily key for a few scale and appreggio exercises - and perhaps a few more exercises from your teacher (these have priority anyway!).

But: Scales and many more exercises are for long term progress. There are lots of techniques that you can learn well just using the pieces you are working on. So, if you have some time left even when doing your homework properly, spend it with exercises. If you haven't, concentrate on the pieces and on exercises that you get from your teacher for addressing individual weaknesses.

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The only "scales" I want to deal with are those on the fish I catch and those that allegedly weigh with accuracy the produce I buy at the local farmer's market - but I couldn't care less about the scales along the side of the road manned by the Highway Dept. that weigh the trucks carrying that produce to the market, nor whether or not I've "scaled" the heights of erudition with this post.

Regards (and on a "scale" of 1 to 10 this post is maybe a 2.375 at best), JF


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Current favorite bumper sticker: Wag more, bark less.
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