When I started out as a piano teacher I didn’t teach students how to play scales.

I found them so boring when I learned that I decided what students would lose from not playing them was less than the risk that they would be turned off the piano by playing them.

I have heard many thoughts on them since.

  1. One piano tutor on the Sligo Jazz Project years ago asked us straight away to play various scales – 4 octaves hands together at speed. He reckoned we shouldn’t be in the class if we couldn’t do that.
  2. A singing teacher who I came across a few years back told me that she always spent the first 10 minutes of her lesson on scales. After that her students were free to work on whatever they wanted, but that 10 minutes of scales work was their ticket to do so.
  3. A colleague of mine here in Sligo is a great man for practising. He does it every day, and while he prefers to work on other things, when he has days where inspiration is low he is happy to go back to his scales. No inspiration needed there but valuable practice nonetheless.

I’m not sure how I feel about no.1, but 2+3 certainly make sense to me, and now I do teach them. Because I now figure that the calculation I mentioned above should lean the other way. They’re important, not just for technique, but also for knowing what notes are in what keys.

But I try to make them a little more exciting. Introduce a challenge or two, maybe an element of competition. Whatever it takes to make them more attractive. Because they’re worth it.

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