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    How to practice piano scales

    Practicing in a focused and methodical way is important if you want to play scales fluently. In this article, I’m going to cover the most essential, time-tested techniques for scale practice, along with some of my own ideas I’ve implemented over the years that have worked for my students.

    Play with finger dexterity

    Always play scales with strong, active, even, and independent fingers. Never play like you’re just typing! You should feel the effort it takes to play with energy and conviction. This will build strength in your fingers and allow you to control them.

    The slower you play, the stronger and more heavy your fingers should be. As you speed up, lighten up the resistance on your fingers so they can move faster.

    Keep your thumb resting over the keys at all times. Don’t let it droop below the keyboard or hold tensely above the keys.

    If you make a mistake, don’t fix it and keep going. Make sure you stop, analyze what went wrong, then start from a decisive point and intentionally play it correctly

    Break down the scale into its core positions

    Core positions are a more practical way to break down the scale in order to actually play it. 

    Two comfortable hand positions: one group of 3 notes with fingers 1,2,3, and one group of 4 notes with fingers 1,2,3,4. The core positions can be played all the way up and down the keyboard in succession.

    First, play each core position in a solid block, lifting up your entire hand as you alternate between them. Then, play up and down the whole keyboard in solid blocks with each hand separately .

    Next, play individual notes, but hold them down as you play, stopping to relax in each core position. While stopped, look at your hands to ingrain the mental image of what the core positions while your hand develops the muscle memory of what each core position feels like.

    Finally, play the scale up and down, one note at a time, using the tuck unfold (where to talk about this, under its own heading here or in another post and then have it as a link?) technique to anticipate each next core position and fall comfortably into it.

    Use the “tuck-unfold” technique for shifting hand positions

    Don’t think about “crossing over” or “crossing under” your hand. This can lead to a less optimal hand position, like slanting your knuckles as you attempt to cross over or under your hand. It also puts you in the mindset of thinking one note at a time.

    When you tuck, rather than crossing, your knuckles stay aligned horizontally with the key bed and your thumb can stay on track to anticipate the next notes coming up. When you unfold

    The tuck-unfold technique gives you what we call “finger foresight,” or the ability to aim anticipate the entire position that is coming up, rather than just the next note in line. The result? Less halting and hesitating, and a more fluid performance.

    Recognize sync points when playing hands together

    Sync points are moments in the scale where your hands unite and play either right together with the same fingering, or in a clear and easy-to-remember position, like a mirror image.

    Isolate and scrub problem areas

    This refers to the practice of isolating a small part of the scale, like the junction where you switch octaves, and repeating it over and over again, back and forth. This helps take a problem area and master it, so that when you attach the segment to the rest of the scale, it feels much more practiced and fluent.

    Build speed and stability with a metronome

    Practicing with a metronome has many benefits, including:

    • Reinforces a strong sense of rhythm
    • Develops independence and control with each finger
    • Keeps you from rushing and learning mistakes
    • Makes practicing more methodical and keeps you on task

    The metronome is a great tool, but it is important to learn how to use it properly so that you don’t get frustrated. We have a whole guide on how to use a metronome that you can check out right here

    Loren Fishman

    Loren Fishman

    Loren Fishman is an award-winning concert pianist who has been teaching in both private and university settings for over 20 years. He started Vita Piano as an effort to make professional piano instruction and resources accessible to everyone.
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