I’ll let you in on a secret. I don’t practise my scales and arpeggios every day. As a matter of fact, I hardly practise them. But at one point, I did actually practise them almost every day.
Do you think there was any benefit at all in doing so? Are scales an absolute must to practise every day?
Will you die if you don’t?
I believe in living life with intention. I believe in being intentional with all my practice. When I practised my scales back then, I knew clearly what I was trying to achieve out of it. I wasn’t doing it simply because someone told me that it’s “important to practise your scales every day.” I had a personal goal in mind.
The story goes like this.
I wanted to be able to play my scales fast. I wanted to see how fast I could go, while still maintaining a smooth and flawless run. It was like a little game for me. But more importantly, I knew I needed to improve a certain technique if I wanted to make any progress.
Because the speed of which I’m able to flawlessly play my scales is pretty much determined by how well I’ve mastered this one particular technique (at least for one-handed scales).
Take a look at this C major scale:
Anybody can play C-D-E fast and smooth. And anybody can play F-G-A-B fast and smooth.
The problem lies with playing from E to F, and B to C (the blue notes), where you have to bring your thumb over to a new position. For the most part, this is what makes or breaks our scales. How fast and smooth our scales are is dependent on how well we execute this movement, and the faster we play our scales, the harder this movement becomes.
With that in mind, I often practise my scales (hands separately) by isolating the problem spot so I can focus on mastering this movement / technique.
I listen carefully for an unnecessary accent by the thumb, and also for evenness. I want to have an equal amount of space between every single note.
By practising the above, I can pretty much master one-handed scales. But the flawless two-handed scale requires togetherness as well. It requires an equal amount of volume intensity from both hands, and each RH note must play at the exact same time as each LH note.
I have found that this togetherness gets thrown off gradually as the speed increases, particularly in the extreme ends of the scale.
I troubleshoot this by playing hands together at the problem spot (extreme ends of the scale) with a slower tempo, but with high fingers and loudly.
This practice method also helps me with one last thing that would make a perfect scale. And that is ensuring that each preceding finger is lifted off the key at the instant the next key is depressed. This is usually a problem when you are playing fingers 3 4 5 (or 5 4 3) successively, like at the extreme ends of the scale.
So there you have it.
Did I get anything out of playing my scales every day?
Because I was intentional about what I was trying to achieve, I certainly did.
My fingers strengthened and I was able to play my scales faster and smoother. My thumb crossings became more and more efficient. Simply running my scales up and down for the sake of making it into a routine would have been useless for me.
So why did I stop practising my scales?
1. Diminishing returns. Up to a certain high speed, it gets much tougher to continue increasing that speed while maintaining a flawless smooth scale. I might as well focus on something else to improve on that has a better ROI. And by the way, if you’re not practising scales to push the limits of your maximum speed, then what’s the point?
2. Scales aren’t the only way to acquire / improve technique. You can get them from repertoire, in which case you would be able to kill two birds with one stone, since you would have also learned a new piece. In fact, all the technique you will ever need can be found and acquired in repertoire. That’s not to say scales / studies are useless. It has its place.
Now that you’ve heard my story, you decide for yourself…
Should you practise your scales and arpeggios every day? You are unique and I can’t answer that for you.
While I certainly don’t any more, I do however know them very well. And I think you should too. Practising them and knowing them well are two very different things. The latter is quite important and has numerous benefits. Plus, it doesn’t take long to familiarise yourself with all the scales. Good ROI. :)
Last but not least, always be intentional.
What do you aim to achieve from your practice sessions?
What do you aim to get out of practising your scales every day?