When most of us think of scales, I fear the words: drill, technique and exercise would come to mind much faster than “music”. What a shame.
Scales are seen as the chore to get through, the diligence we pay to show we are committed to getting better at the piano.
Is it any wonder they don’t get practiced? Or that students play them like robots, hammering up and down the keys?
I’m here to remind you that piano scales can be beautiful. That they should musical.
Making Piano Scales Interesting
I’ve talked at length about strategies, tricks and games for making the practice of piano scales fun. Articles about gamifying piano scales and making scales stick should give you ample ideas for this.
But in this post I want to talk about making scales seem interesting to students. That the scales themselves can breed curiosity and can be inherently motivating without any added incentives or whimsy.
And they can be – if we use them as a testing ground.
The Music of Musical Scales
There’s one ingredient above all others that will make scales sound like real music: dynamics.
Dynamics are the key to unlocking so much beauty in the scales, arpeggios and other technical drills that we ask our students to practice each day.
Sometimes it can be a struggle to teach sound before symbol (even if we know this is what’s best). Using scales as a testing ground means you can introduce your students to new dynamics before they see them on the page.
Teach dynamics through scales first and your students will be more successful when executing them in their pieces.
Musical Scales in Exams
If your students participate in festivals, exams, or other situations where they are tested on their scales, those can be musical too.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of focussing on drilling the fingerings around and around until you’re sure they’re well and truly stuck in your student’s fingers…but what if you took it to the next level?
I get wonderful comments back from examiners about my students’ scales. The sheets don’t say “Well prepared” or “Proficient”. Instead they enthusiastically declare “Beautiful dynamics!” and give full marks.
Wouldn’t you appreciate these next level scales if you were an examiner?
I like to think that when they hear these gorgeous and rich technical exercises a little smile comes across their face and they’re awoken from the stupor they were in from seeing student after student all day long.
And if they don’t appreciate it? At least my student was enjoying making music, and that’s what’s most important.
Make scales in your studio more musical
Add a crescendo here, a diminuendo there, and maybe even a ritenuto or an accelerando. Wake up your students’ ears and get them to listen to the music in their scales.
Come back and tell me how it went. I’d love to hear from you about the musical scales happening in your studio.