Tuesday, May 21, 2013

12 Reasons to Take Your Scales and Arpeggios Seriously

#1  Patterns
Scales and arpeggios are patterns of notes (and fingerings). Practice them to feel the patterns; that way they will become built into your muscle memory.

#2  Keys
Pieces are in keys, depending on the key signature. Knowing the scale of a piece gives you a head start; composers writing in a key will inevitably use fragments of scales and arpeggios.

#3  Mental agility

 photo Scales_zps8d37d234.jpgBeing able to change quickly from key to key is important for musicians; playing scales in different keys builds this up and speeds up the processing needed to switch between keys.

#4  Muscle development
Athletes train; so should musicians. Scales are a great way to get your muscles in shape and build up stamina.

#5  Coordination
Scales and arpeggio practice will build and focus motor skills.  It is no coincidence that many surgeons play the piano to keep their fingers dexterous and supple.

#6  Brain gym
Just supposing you know every scale, there is always more you can do to challenge yourself:  
  • Start on a different degree of the scale
  • Play them top to bottom
  • Play them at different intervals or using different rhythms
  • Play different dynamics – or even in different keys - in each hand (piano)

#7  Physical agility
Playing at speed becomes increasingly important as you progress; scale practice will improve fluency (NB make sure that you use consistent and good fingerings).

#8  Listening
Articulation - the way a note is played.  Use a scale you know well to focus your attention on a particular articulation, such as staccato, or on making an even, clear sound.

#9  Sight-reading
Scale practice facilitates sight-reading; know the scale and arpeggio that go with the key signature and you are in the zone.

#10  Improvisation
Once a decision is taken on which key to use, scale knowledge will help you to improvise in that key.

#11  Transposition
The more idea you have of the concept of ‘key’, the easier you will find it to transpose music into different keys.

#12  Overall technique
Great players have technical mastery over their instruments that means that they are so fluent at playing that they are free to do anything they like with the music and their technique will not hold them back.  

Even if you’re not planning to become a professional musician, scale practice is a vital building block towards becoming freer and more assured on your instrument.

This post was contributed by Naomi Yandell, Educational Consultant for the UK-based app ScaleBox. Developed for UK students preparing for the rigorous ABRSM exam requirement, ScaleBox helps students build independent practice skills while encouraging them to use their own ears to assess their work.


  1. Great tips! That Batman cartoon captures it well: scales can be such a drag when what you want to play is your pieces (I remember this very well from my instrument learning at school!) but it's essential for good musicianship and confidence.

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