It may seem as though there are a lot of scale practice tips here, but remember you don´t need to apply them all at the same time. Work through the list and apply them over the course of a few months and soon your scales will be the envy of all your musician friends! It actually probably takes longer to read this page than apply all the scale practice tips on it!
Practice Tip 1: Practice scales when you don't need to
It might seem very obvious to say practice scales regularly, but you would be surprised at how many people don't! They try and cram them just before a lesson or exam. This can have two consequences... neither of them good! Either the scales collapse under the pressure of the exam or they get through the exam but a couple of weeks later all the scales are forgotton, meaning they need to be crammed again for the next exam, and the next, and the next and the next etc. This is not an efficient use of your time, especially when knowing your scales makes learning all pieces so much quicker! Having just one or two scale targets each week and reviewing your scales regularly makes a huge difference to your overall playing and progress. Get them on your practice plan and you will soon wonder what all the fuss was about!
Practice Tip 2: Speed comes later
There is always room for slow scales practice - even when you can play them. Concentrate on your technique, getting every note totally even, ensuring fingering is correct every time. Once you are confident you can speed them up... but not to a point where you start to make mistakes. The challenge of speed in scales is not how fast you can go, but how fast you can go with all notes 100% correct and totally even. You can challenge yourself to speed once you have the notes and techniques totally nailed.
Practice Tip 3: Use dynamics
Use scales to practice dynamics. Concentrate on playing pp all the way through a scale with all notes sounding evenly. Practice ff for the whole scale - make it slow as well for a great breath or bow control exercise! Practice gradual crescendos and diminuendos as well.
Practice Tip 4: Practice articulation
Scales may be played legato, staccato, tongued, slurred, arco, pizzicato... make use of scales to practice different techniques without having to worry about the notes - well you do know your scales perfectly don't you?
Practice Tip 5: Slowly, slowly
Even when you can play scales at a blinding speed it is still worth playing them slowly. The ensures you still have the notes and technique and also helps develop other skills such as breath control and phrasing. Some of my sax and clarinet students have a running competition to see who can play the slowest scale in one breath - with the tenor sax players claiming they have a harder job, so need something like a golfing handicap to keep it fair!
Practice Tip 6: Change the rhythm
Once you know your scales play them in other rhythms than straight quavers. What about swing quavers, or triplets over three octaves? How about scales in five-eight timing?
Practice Tip 7: Down and up
Scales are generally played starting at the bottom - going to the top and back to the bottom again. Instead, start at the top, go to the bottom and back to the top. When you can do this for all scales try the challenge of Tip 8!
Practice Tip 8: Start in the middle
Start a scale on any note but the tonic. Can you play a scale starting on any note names? Go to the top, down to the bottom and back to your starting note. Or visa versa. Being able to play scales starting on any named note means you really know them. And if you think about it, scale passages in actual pieces of music often start on other notes so you if you can do this you are well prepared for anything!
Practice Tip 9: Speed Challenger
How fast can you play a scale WITH CLEAR ARTICULATION, CORRECT NOTES AND FINGERING? Can you beat your best time? Can you beat your friend's time? Can you beat everybody else who reads this site? Contact me and let me know!
Practice Tip 10: Smile
This is one of my top scale practice tips. Smile when you play scales. It helps you stay relaxed - and it leaves other musician wondering if you know something they don't!
If you are unsure of what this entails check back soon for more information here or read about the differences in Chuan C. Chang's work Fundamentals of Piano Practice. He also gives some other great scale practice tips in addition to the Thumb Over/Thumb Under techniques. Click here to read Fundamentals of Piano Practice free online.
This is an in-depth treatise on piano technique, but if you are an intermediate or advanced pianist and you haven't read it, you should. It is essential reading for all pianists along with On Piano Playing: Motion, Sound and Expression by Gyorgy Sandor. Both contain a wealth of excellent information on piano playing techniques as well as scale practice tips!
Click here for Sandor's book on Amazon
There will be more reviews of various technique and repertoire books for many instruments as well as more scale practice tips on the site soon. Sign up for the Perfect Practice monthly e-zine on the form on the right for more tips on how to practice scales effectively and check back to see what is new or click on the link on the left to subscribe to the RSS feed for this site.
Read my review of the new Scalebox App for iOS and Android which helps ensure you are practising the scales you really need to.
Do you have and scale practice tips that would help other users of the site, or any music practice related tips?
Please add them in the comment box below! Thank you :)
Frustrated with your practice? Read Practice Makes Perfect and hack the 10,000 hour rule. Cut your practice time by up to 25%! Make faster progress, learn pieces and scales faster, memorize more easily, and much more. "If you play an instrument you need this book!"
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