Why Learn Scales?

I make my students learn to play scales on the piano. Most start learning scales within the first year of study. Some teachers feel that scales are not that useful and should only be learned in context of a piece of music. But others, like myself, disagree and see scales as a necessary part of piano technique and musical development. You may ask, “But why? Will I ever use scales?”

The answer is YES! You WILL use scales when playing the piano! Learning scales WILL help you become a better pianist.

  • Scales help you develop more spatial awareness along the piano keyboard. When playing scales, you must go up and down the keyboard in octaves, leaning to the right and left to get up to the highest and lowest notes. By playing the scales, you can feel the distance different octaves and how far away they are from your body’s core and the middle of the piano. You also gain a very solid feel for the distances between the individual notes of the piano: where different black and white keys are located, the difference in feel between half-steps and whole steps, and the feel of different combinations of notes. In short, scales help you memorize the layout of the piano.
  • Scales help you understand key signatures. When you learn their scales, you are also learning theory. You begin to internalize, both mentally and physically, the association of sharps and flats in each scale and corresponding key signature. Scales provide the foundation for music theory.
  • Scales help you play more smoothly and quickly. You begin to recognize scale-like patterns in music and are able to choose appropriate fingering which allows for more fluid playing. Drilling scales in practice helps you execute these passages fast and effortlessly.
  • Scales help you be a better sight-reader. Because you have memorized the piano keyboard, because you understand key signatures, because you can identify patterns in the music and predict fingering, you can approach a new piece of music with more confidence and be able to process it more fully the first time seeing it. While the specific piece of music might be new, you will approach it with a toolbox of skills that is developed from learning scales.

Scales are not just exercises. They are a foundational music tool for learning.

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