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Scarbo
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Playing scales *fast*
« on: Jun 19th, 2002, 9:30pm »
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Hi.
I'm an amateur pianist.  I practice scales all the time as a warm-up and as technical excersises.  I've played scales for as long as I can remember.  Right now I play them for about 10 minutes at the beginning of practice.  After scales, I go on to other exercises (Hannon, Pishna, Czerny, etc.)
 
I play them the following way:  Four octaves, in all keys-- Major, Harmonic Minor and Melodic minor-- hands separated by an octave, an tenth, and a sixth.  All of this with both hands in parallel and contrary motion.
 
Are there other beneficial scales I could be doing?  Maybe playing in other modes, separating by a 4th or 5th... chromatic scales?  Also, how do I go about playing them at faster speeds, other than the obvious way of playing slowly and building up to it?  Do you think that scales are valuable, or should I be spending my time working on other things?
 
If anyone has any advice, I would appreciate it.  Thanks!
 
Scarbo
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martin_s
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Re: Playing scales *fast*
« Reply #1 on: Jun 19th, 2002, 9:46pm »
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I wouldn't spend too much time on exercises and scales if I were you. But then again I have never been doing much of that myself except during certain periods of time every now and then. I do play scales for some 5 minutes first thing in the morning every day but rarely any more than that. I find it useful to warm up practising suitable bits of my repertoire slowly instead. And that keeps the repertoire going too!  
And as far as the fast scale-bit is concerned, I would suggest start of slow and loud and feel the bottom of the key-bed properly and then speed come very naturally very quickly. And remember what good ol' Fryderyk (Chopin ya know) used to prescribe: start with B major!!
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Mandy
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Re: Playing scales *fast*
« Reply #2 on: Jun 20th, 2002, 6:20am »
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One way that I have built up my scales is through a very simple exercise-which also helps take out the boredom of doing the same thing every day.  You start by setting the metronome at a reasonable level-say 70-then you play the scale one octave only, hitting each note to each beat of the metronome, then you do 2 octaves in 8th notes, 3 octaves in triplets, and then finally 4 octaves in 16th notes. Then, you just keep bumping up the metronome a couple of beats at a time. I have found this very helpful when I reach a plateau in my scales.  
 
I think that too many people stress out about playing scales far too fast.  I think it's much more important to be able to play them well, with good tone, and good arm technique than it is to race through them.  also, there is much more to technique than scales.  I worry if maybe you are a little too concerned about getting your scales fast-there is no point if you aren't doing them correctly, which could be a reason why you can't get them faster.....  
 
why don't you try the formula pattern, hands together, you go up 2 octaves, then separate and go in contrary motion for 2 octaves-rh up, lhdown, then back together again-then both hands go up 2 octaves, back down 2 octaves, split again-rh up 2octaves, lh down 2 octaves, meet again, then both hands go back down the last 2 octaves.  Hope that wasn't too confusing. I do this for the major and harmonic minors of every key. Melodic minor is too confusing! if you aren't familiar with the canadian royal conservatory system, they have an example printed in their syllabus which you can purchase on the internet.  
 
I agree with martin_s, I wouldn't spend too much time doing them.  I would also maybe focus on the alternating pattern, and some arpeggios.  I personally don't like Hanon, find it too restricting, repetitive and I've seen too many people get sore wrists from it.
 
good luck!  Hope this helps
Mandy
 
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martin_s
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Re: Playing scales *fast*
« Reply #3 on: Jun 20th, 2002, 10:46am »
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talking of excercises...
I am currently reading this excellent! book by Eigeldinger, "Chopin - pianist and teacher - as seen by his students". At one point Eigeldinger mention that someone, either Henselt or Kalkbrenner I reckon, had a system of excercises that he would practise for 4 hours daily, every day, while reading the Bible! Now that's what I call excercise!!  
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Ludwig
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Re: Playing scales *fast*
« Reply #4 on: Jun 23rd, 2002, 2:31am »
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I find playing scales and exercises when you haven't been playing for too many years very beneficial. After you've been learning for a few years on it is important to keep some scales practice, not so crucial with exercises. The best way I think to do scales is to play 4 plain octaves, then the formula pattern Mandy mentioned. I like the 3rds and 6ths scales, also the Dim/Dom 7ths. Arpeggios are important too. Also doing double octaves, especially staccato is good. But if you're pretty confident about your technical abilities, then you should do fewer. Oh and slow practice makes perfect fast scales. anyways, hope I've helped.
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mojohk
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Re: Playing scales *fast*
« Reply #5 on: Jun 23rd, 2002, 7:06am »
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Scales, you should spend some time on, because 1) they come up in real pieces way too many times to ignore 2) they're great for technique and 3) they help you remember or keep your sense of harmony.  I also find that since scales are after all the foundation of all music, it's helpful to practice scales in the same keys as the piece you're working on right before you practice that piece.  It helps you ground yourself to that tonality/harmony.   And by scales, i mean, everything...arppeggios, thirds..the works.
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Ted
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Re: Playing scales *fast*
« Reply #6 on: Jun 23rd, 2002, 9:24am »
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I think bare scales, just played up and down, are far too dull. Chopin very seldom used straight scales. There's one at the end of Winter Wind, a few in the Ab Polonaise, one in the Gm ballade - but they occur so seldom he must have been sick of them, and rightly so. I always improvise within scales, break them up into all sorts, of patterns, fingerings and rhythms. Play in one key in the left hand and another in the right, go around the key circle, bring in a tune which comes into your head. Also use different touches - these are infinite in variety. Use double notes (not just thirds) and triads within scales. Get the mind into action as well as the fingers.
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mojohk
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Re: Playing scales *fast*
« Reply #7 on: Jun 24th, 2002, 6:12am »
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And oh yeah, as for playing fast, I know it's true that a good solid grounding in slow playing and adjusting your touch is essential, but I also encountered problems when my teachers told me to simply now speed up.  I couldn't...I was playing too deep and was clogged down with all that slow playing.  And that was probably because I used too much arm weight in playing them slowly.  Hence the immobility when speeding up.  So I also suggest playing besides slow, actually practicing fast, with an extra light touch.  First in octaves or short distances, and eventually working up to the full four octaves.  Trying out dynamics with the scales is also a good exercise for touching and lessening the boredom.  Hope this helps  
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Robert_Henry
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Re: Playing scales *fast*
« Reply #8 on: Jun 24th, 2002, 8:12pm »
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I believe in scales everyday.   Most concerts pianists and great pedagogues will say the same.
 
I have a system that I use on a regular basis:
 
1.  Scales in every major and minor (harmonic only) key, four octaves:  Unison, thirds, sixths, and tenths.  Then, contrary motion in thirds, sixths, and tenths.  
15 minutes
 
2.  I have a 5 minute non-repetitive chromatic scale exercise.  It is four octaves and uses both contrary and parallel motion.
 
3.  Double thirds in every major and minor key, four octaves.  I play these twice, once legato and once staccato. 10 minutes.
 
4.  Arpeggios in every major and minor key, four octaves in all inversions.  I play these twice though also, in triplets and quadruplets. 7-8 minutes
 
5. I have a creative octave regimen that allows me to build up stamina and gives me adequate periods of rest.  15-30 minutes depending on whether I do the whole program.
 
So, in total it takes me an hour to do everything I need to do technically.  
 
I never used hanon, czerny, or any series of exercises.  I don't believe they are necessary.  I did however play through the Chopin etudes everyday for about three years.  That helped.
 
I don;t know anyone who is any good who hasn't slaved over scales.  I am seeing more and more threads that deal with trying to find an "easy" way out of playing scales and practicing a fair amount of technique.  I don't practice scales that much anymore, but the years I spent doing them really made the difference.   If one is playing for fun and enjoyment only, then 10 minutes a day is fine.  If one is planning on a career, then hours must be spent on scales. Many teachers don't insist on them because they are afraid they will lose the student.  There is no substitute.
 
Robert Henry
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colt0925
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Re: Playing scales *fast*
« Reply #9 on: Jul 4th, 2002, 6:39pm »
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There are many good feedbacks on this topic. I do believe scales are absolutely essential. I've used them for technical excercises all through school up to grad school. As Mandy suggested , try Russian technique of playing the scales and in all other forms as Robert Henry suggested. Also try a dotted quarter technique to stabalize the rythm in ur scales. Scales are a wonderful way of loosing up your wrists, forearm and upper body, which are all used in piano playing. Practice slow and learn to relax on each note. I was always reminded to play scales beautifully, like glissandos in an even tone,  rather than focusing just on speed. The speed will come in time. Another good practice is to play the scales  softly...how difficult!! You can hear every uneven tone , especially where the thumb turns over and under the other fingers.
 
Cheers!
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pianoman13
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Re: Playing scales *fast*
« Reply #10 on: Oct 25th, 2002, 9:09pm »
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Scales help you a lot when you go into improvising, and memorizing pieces.  Technical exercises helps strengthen your fingers so you can play "Faster".  Keep your hands warm during the process of the entire day, espeacially in the winter, so your joints don't stiff up, and technical excercises also gets you ready for playing difficult pieces later on in your practice.  After playing your excercises you should go into pieces you know really well, like the ones you've learned before and play those over for 1) keep them in your repitore and 2) to get your hands ready for your real practicing.  
 
Ryan
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benedict
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Re: Playing scales *fast*
« Reply #11 on: Oct 26th, 2002, 12:56pm »
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Sviatoslav Richter never played any scales.
 
Walter Gieseking never played any scales.
 
They just played music (which actually contains a lot of scales and other melodic and harmonic patterns).
 
Anybody has any idea how they could be so inspired and technically formidable without any scales, or Hanon, or Czerny or.... ?
 
Reminds me of the scene in Dead Poets Society where the teacher have the whole class tear the analytical treatice on poetry.
 
It would be great if music was the true road to music.
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SteveK
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Re: Playing scales *fast*
« Reply #12 on: Oct 26th, 2002, 6:52pm »
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In my case, my teacher only wants me to play Chopin Etudes!!!  But I just play Czerny for fun.  I play the School of Velocity and I am almost finished with that book!  When I told her I was playing Czerny, she said, "Goodbye Czerny!"  
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e60m5
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Re: Playing scales *fast*
« Reply #13 on: Oct 28th, 2002, 12:36am »
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Scales are very important for the building of proper technique, with regards to fingerwork, rhythm, steadiness, and especially evenness of tone.  But let me also stress that whilst essential for development and formation of technique, one should never kill one's self over scales and hours of practice every day. It is a given that yes, hours and hours of drills and scales will steady the fingers, strengthen the fingers/forearms, and give other valuable benefits, but in the end, we as pianists strive to create music; we do not strive to create endless perfect runs of scales and notes up and down the keyboard like a machine. It is much more valuable to play the music, the real repetoire, than to perform all these exercises and drills, endlessly, hour after hour, day after day.
 
Yes, I know what's coming. Scales are essential to play the repertoire, to play the music. I will be the last to deny this fact. But instead of trying endlessly to perfect the scales, I find it just as valuable, if not more valuable, to perfect one's style; one's expression; one's own way of expressing one's self through the music in a way that only you can.  
 
For in the end, that's what sets us apart as pianists; anyone can attain the technique, anyone can play the notes. It is how we play the notes, and what we get across, that really distinguishes us from each other. It is this that is the soul in music.
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Kilgore_Trout
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Re: Playing scales *fast*
« Reply #14 on: Dec 26th, 2002, 10:33pm »
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"we do not strive to create endless perfect runs of scales and notes up and down the keyboard like a machine."
 
Unless of course, you are Philip Glass.
 
Sorry, I couldn't resist.
 
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annuy
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Re: Playing scales *fast*
« Reply #15 on: Dec 31st, 2002, 5:03pm »
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Based on my experience, the only way to play scales fast is to make sure that the fingers are as close as possible to the keys.  That requires  independent finger action without the help of the arms.  Too much arm, wrist and shoulder movement interferes with the speed and makes it too complicated for your eyes to keep up with speed.  This means playing without much effort from the arms or wrist.  It's all in the fingers.
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RachFan
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Re: Playing scales *fast*
« Reply #16 on: Jan 6th, 2003, 3:14am »
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I believe that SOME technical work during practice is essential.  But the practice session shouldn't be biased toward technical work either.  Scales (and arpeggios which are abbreviated scales) are hugely important.  Their fingerings can often be directly applied to pieces where partial scales occur in passage work, short cadenzas, etc.  The most important scales in all keys are the major and harmonic minor scales, in my opinion, since that minor mode seems to occur more frequently in the repertoire.  The chromatic scale is essential as well.  Speed can be won through metrome drills over time, and avoiding too much arm weight.  Keeping the thumbs parallel to the hand rather than "passing the thumb under" is also a big help in that endeavor.  Still, I believe that accuracy, evenness, fluidity, and clarity in performing scales is more important than the goal of sheer speed per se.
 
In other technical matters, I would consign Pishna and Czerny to an obscure corner of the music cabinet.  Hanon has some value to reestablishing evenness of playing (and does so unfailingly), but should be used by exception when absolutely needed.  Most technical work can be fashioned directly from troublesome passages within pieces themselves.  Open any piece by Rachmaninoff, for example, and someplace therein you'll have an important technical exercise ready made for you.  That kind of learning is far more profound and transferrable than any dusty volume of Czerny.  Incidentally, I like to do technical practice AFTER my work on repertoire rather than as an initial warm-up.
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