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Why Do We Learn Scales?

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5 Reasons to learning scales:

Why do we have to learn and practice scales? Have you or any of your students ever asked this question? Is it a tradition that every piano teacher assign scales for students to work on? or is it part of the ABRSM syllabus? I think it is important not only for us as teachers to know the WHY behind scales, but also for our students to know as well!

My reasons to why we should practice scales:

  1. They appear in music. Knowing your scales makes learning and memorizing scale passages a lot easier if one can identify the scale that the passage is based on.  Many intermediate-level sonatinas (by Clementi, Kuhlau and many others) contain instances of scales passages occurring in the piece. If students already know their scales, learning these passages in their pieces will be much easier.
  2. To develop coordination between the hands. It is not easy to get both hands and fingers working together!  Practicing scales is a great time to focus on developing coordination.
  3. To develop a good sense of fingering. If students learn good fingering through their scale exercises, then when they encounter similar fingering in their pieces it will seem natural and logical.
  4. To develop an aural awareness of a key or tonal center. Practicing scales will develop the student’s ear so that they begin to hear how each note of the scale functions within a key. Example, the leading note or 7th note always resolves to tonic.  They will also begin to be able to aurally recognize major versus minor pieces they might be learning.
  5. To improve your theoretical understanding of key / tonal center. Knowing about scales and key signatures is the basis of understanding how music works and part of theory knowledge.  Students will than begin to understand how chords are formed, which chords usually progress to other chords, how to transpose to a different key, how dissonances are properly resolved to consonances (voice leading), how modulations work, which keys are closely related, etc.  And, of course, understanding how music works allows for better interpretations of repertoire.  It also makes it easier for students to learn and memorize music if they can understand what is happening.

Scales are basically where technique and music theory meet. Not only are we developing things like coordination and fingering but we are developing an understanding of keys, which is the foundation of music theory. As an added bonus, learning scales helps with learning and understanding repertoire pieces better.

At first, scales might seem like quite a drag, but if you begin to understand their importance and appreciate them, you will open up a whole new possibilities in all areas of musical development. So give it try.. learn with enthusiasm.