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Are Scales Necessary (Read 10677 times)

Offline jazzhands56

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Are Scales Necessary
« on: February 27, 2011, 01:47:48 AM »
As A Intermediate Pianist Playing For 3 Years Up To The Standard Of ABRSM Grade 5 I'm Beginning To Wonder If Scales Are Necessary For Improving Performance As I've Only Learnt Basic Major And Minor Scales and have Reached Grade 5 Input Would Be Appreciated :)   

piano sheet music of Major Scales


Offline Mayla

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #1 on: February 27, 2011, 02:03:50 AM »
.
"The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we are, but in what direction we are moving"  ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

Offline Bob

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #2 on: February 27, 2011, 03:47:16 AM »
Yes.  (Bob is confused by the poll and the original poster wondering if scales are necessary *after* having learned them.)
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline musicluvr49

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #3 on: February 27, 2011, 03:52:03 AM »
Yes.
Scales help with technique.
They also help you remember all your different key signatures, when you're playing you pieces.
Currently:
Chopin Grand Valse Brilliante
Mozart Piano Sonata K 332
Scriabin Preludes Op 11 no.5,6,7
Bach Prelude and Fugue in G minor

Offline thinkgreenlovepiano

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #4 on: February 27, 2011, 04:51:24 AM »
Yes, learning them will help you in so many ways... I wish I realized that sooner. When I first started piano, I hated my scales, and never practised them much, and it caught up to me one day.
"A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence."
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Offline ted

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #5 on: February 27, 2011, 07:02:55 AM »
This answer is personal.

The question "Are scales necessary ?" is like asking "Are augmented chords necessary ?", "Is it necessary to play classical music ?", "Is it necessary to play jazz ?" "Is playing double thirds necessary ?"

The logical answer is "no", none of these things are strictly necessary and certainly not sufficient. But music is big, it's huge, and the more playing forms you become intimate with, the better a pianist and musician you will be, and the more you will enjoy your music. Reject only with the utmost caution. I rejected far too much when I was young.

In the limited, physical sense of technique, no, you could use any consecutive subset of the keyboard to condition the fingers. In fact, it could be argued, as Bernhard used to, that conventional scale playing is a  pretty poor finger exercise, if only because it uses some fingers more than others.

I'm not sure of the sense in which the original poster asked the question.
"We're all bums when the wagon comes." - Waller

Offline danhuyle

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #6 on: February 27, 2011, 08:17:09 AM »
Of course they are. They're seen in a lot of pieces, arpeggios, dominant 7ths and all those basic stuff.
Perfection itself is imperfection.

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Albeniz Triana
Scriabin Fantaisie Op28
Scriabin All Etudes Op8

Offline pianist1976

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #7 on: February 27, 2011, 11:30:54 AM »
There are many opinions about this. Barenboim and Richter claimed they never did a scale as an exercise. Others like Leimer, Hofmann or Lhevinne, to name a few, insisted that it's indispensable.

In my opinion practicing scales is very useful.

Offline becky8898

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #8 on: February 27, 2011, 04:44:44 PM »
Hi : I think people look at this wrong.  Scales really exist in music.  They need to be played . The only real question is how do you develop the technique to play them. Also knowing scales tells you a lot about the piece your playing. So practice them or not, they are very real , and have to be handled somehow. 

Cheers, Becky

Offline overfjell

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #9 on: February 27, 2011, 10:18:13 PM »
As A Intermediate Pianist Playing For 3 Years Up To The Standard Of ABRSM Grade 5 I'm Beginning To Wonder If Scales Are Necessary For Improving Performance As I've Only Learnt Basic Major And Minor Scales and have Reached Grade 5 Input Would Be Appreciated :)   

Sorry to break it to you, but grade 5 ain't intermediate, ><. Anyways, scales are good for learning positioning on the keyboard, but I'd much rather take a piece of music with a specific technical difficulty and strengthen my technique that way.
Now learning:
Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 1 in C Major
Rachmaninoff Prelude Op. 23 No. 5 in G Minor
Chopin Polonaise Op. 40 No. 2 in C Minor
Scriabin Prelude for the Left Hand Alone

Offline wert16

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #10 on: March 02, 2011, 11:18:49 AM »
Like ted said, it is personal, i never really practised scales independently, and i don 't find it particularly difficult to play pieces with lots of scales, it just depends on what helps you.

Offline scott13

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #11 on: May 11, 2011, 11:11:36 AM »
Scales are hugely important for several reasons :

1) The develop your awareness of Tonality and knowledge of all the Keys
2) They help you develop fast agile fingers
3) Scale and arpeggio runs make up the bulk of what people perceive as difficult music therefore having an intimate knowledge of them is essential
4) If you improvise they help you immensely
5) They teach you how to effectively move your thumb which is the foundation of all piano playing. 

However once you have them at the speeds you need for pieces, you have gained what you need from them and should not focus as much on them. A good guide is the grade 8 scales for ABRSM . If you can play them all at those speeds with accuracy, musical shape and dynamics, you will be well positioned to tackle almost all classical sonatas, alot of bach and the fast sections in romantic music.

Bottom line - Scales and Arpeggios = ESSENTIAL

Offline iratior

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #12 on: May 12, 2011, 08:37:48 AM »
Scales and arpeggios are useful tools for developing technique.  They are, in effect, exercises in transposition, helping to teach how it feels to play in different keys.  Transposing Bach little preludes, two-part inventions, and four-part chorales to different keys is also a good exercise, though I'm not sure everybody would be willing to impose upon themselves the discipline necessary to do it.  I think that playing a two-part invention in all the keys would be just as valuable an exercise as doing scales, so I wouldn't regard scales as indispensable.  But a considerable degree of talent and creativity would have to be applied to come up with effective alternatives.

Offline invictious

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #13 on: May 12, 2011, 09:48:29 AM »
A good guide is the grade 8 scales for ABRSM . If you can play them all at those speeds with accuracy, musical shape and dynamics, you will be well positioned to tackle almost all classical sonatas, alot of bach and the fast sections in romantic music.

Bottom line - Scales and Arpeggios = ESSENTIAL

I find myself unable to agree with that statement. I can do all those scales even faster than the required speed, with accuracy, "musical shape" and dynamics, even with mixed articulation, yet I still cannot play piano to save my life.

My contention is that playing scales and arpeggios in a vacuum is not going to do much to your technique.
Bach - Partita No.2
Scriabin - Etude 8/12
Debussy - L'isle Joyeuse
Liszt - Un Sospiro

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Prokofiev - Toccata

>LISTEN<

Offline scott13

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #14 on: May 12, 2011, 02:01:40 PM »
I find myself unable to agree with that statement. I can do all those scales even faster than the required speed, with accuracy, "musical shape" and dynamics, even with mixed articulation, yet I still cannot play piano to save my life.

My contention is that playing scales and arpeggios in a vacuum is not going to do much to your technique.

I actually doubt you can play the scales with musicality. Speed is nothing without shape and feeling in the scales, and your attitude of "they are a waste of time" leads me to strongly doubt your ability to play at those speeds.

If you actually read my initial post i listed several reasons why scales and arpeggios are important. The first was for the development of tonality and understanding keys. Let's take a piece in Bb minor for instance. Now say said piece has several fast runs that turn out to be of the Bb minor scale. If you don't know the fingering for this scale, it WILL take you longer to learn than somebody who knows the scale well and can immediately play the scale run accurately and with musical expression.

Move to another example - the piano concertos of Mozart. Let's take #21 in C (Prob the easiest of his concertos) Now the ending of the 3rd movement has descending C major arpeggios moving through root and 1st + 2nd inversions followed by a 4 octave scale to conclude the piece. Now if Student A takes your mindset and doesn't practice scales and arpeggios at all, he will not be able to play the ending as he will have to learn fingerings, technique etc . Where as Student B takes my mindset and has an intimate knowledge of all scales and arpeggios, he will be able to pick up the ending in maybe 10-15 minutes of diligent practice and then is only needs to add dynamics and articulation and has the ending down.

To reinforce my point, 3rd example - Chopin's Piano Concerto #1 in E minor. The entire 3rd movement (for the right hand) is essentially scales and arpeggios is triplet rhythms. Student who follows my advice and knows all scales and arpeggios will have a much easier time learning the concerto, than a student who adopts your mindset of not practice scales and arpeggios as they are "not going to do much for your technique"

Also i have never once in my posts suggested "playing scales and arpeggios in a vacuum" . If you read my posts in other topics, i suggest an hour a day every morning on purely technical aspects of piano playing. Then have a 3-4 hour practice later in the day for working on pieces, but always have that 1 hour to work on technique. That is where i proclaim you should play through scales and arpeggios for maybe 30 minutes of that hour and use the rest on an etude or two.

If you want more examples of when scales and arpeggios are valuable happy to list all the current pieces i'm working on and explain where my learning process was greatly reduced by knowing the scales and arpeggios.

Offline floydcramerfan

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #15 on: May 12, 2011, 02:47:21 PM »
Yep, scales are a necessary evil to play classical music because it's loaded with them.  If you're able to do your own arrangements of popular songs, maybe you could incorporate the scales into your arrangements once you know them rather than just practicing them over and over.  At least that's what worked for me when I played classical because for me it cut down on the tedium of it and made it something I could actually relate to.  Of course, what works for one person may not always work for everyone.  I don't think there's one right way you have to do it.
I don't practice.  I call it play because I enjoy it. --A quote by Floyd Cramer.

Offline gore234

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #16 on: May 22, 2011, 05:46:19 AM »
As your knowlegde of music theory increases, you will be able to understand what composers like mozart and bach were thinking when they composed their pieces. 

If a piece was written using the notes of the diminished whole-half scale such as D,E,F,G,Aflat,Bflat,Bnatural,Csharp or the notes of the whole-tone scale such as  C,D,E,Fsharp,Gsharp,Asharp and you had never learned the diminished scale or the wholetone scale, You would have some trouble playing pieces that used these scales.

I like to compose original pieces on the piano and learning everything I can about music theory gives me ideas and inspiration.  When I first started playing piano, I didnt think scales were important.  Now I know how important scales are.  I know all 12 Major and minor scales, the cromatic scale, whole-half and half-whole diminished scales, the whole-tone scale, all the modes, the blues scale, and the major and minor pentatonic scales.

There are several other exotic scales from all over the world.

Learning scales is only one thing out of many things that will help you get better at playing piano.

When someone creates a piece of music, they usually have a tonal center in mind.  music without a tonal center is called Atonal.  I personnaly dont like the way most atonal music sounds.

Offline mcdiddy1

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #17 on: May 23, 2011, 01:26:24 AM »
Scales are vital to being able to play well. Even the pianist who "never practiced a scale" practiced in their music, probably unintentionally, and had the luxury of rich musical background and teaching they learned instinctually rather than playing scales out of context.

Scales are useful for being able to play scalular runs and passages with correct fingering., practicing thumb crossings, and gaining finger dexterity in different keys, and potential warm-up. Beyond that ( which is pretty good) there is not a huge use for them. It can be used to introduced what major and minor scales sound like. Piano technique does not come from scales, it comes from being able to do the correct body movements in the a particular context in a musical and efficient way. You can learn all the scales you want but it will not teach you about tone, speed ( in your pieces including jumps, skips, and octaves), improvise ( you need experience creating melodies), playing musically. The most scales can do is be a tool if you have a specific goal in mind. If your goal is to improve fast thumb crossing, you can use it but you can just as easily find a piece that does the same.

Bottom line: if you want to be good at the piano you should be able to play scales

Offline countrymath

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #18 on: May 24, 2011, 10:14:14 PM »
I have not practice scales since 1 year ago, when I just sucked on them. Today I made some runs on G major scale and I was pretty good.

I think you should work on scales just after got a good tecnique
  • Mozart-Sonata KV310 - A minor

Offline chopinlover23

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #19 on: May 29, 2011, 02:26:29 PM »
Yes. to me they;re essential to sight-reading in identifying the key-signatures, they develop technique and also they're essential in composing music.

Offline gerryjay

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #20 on: May 29, 2011, 03:30:54 PM »
No, they are not. Scales, arpeggios, hanons, and the like are plain waste of time.
Best regards,
Jay.

Offline pianisten1989

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #21 on: May 29, 2011, 03:58:58 PM »
What's up with the attitude? =/

We can argue forever if scales are necessary or not. However, they are real, and every major work has them. Either you practise them, so you know them before they show up, or you practise them when they show up.

Offline gerryjay

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #22 on: May 29, 2011, 04:17:15 PM »
What's up with the attitude? =/

We can argue forever if scales are necessary or not. However, they are real, and every major work has them. Either you practise them, so you know them before they show up, or you practise them when they show up.
Yes, you're right and - if the attitude remark was direct to me - there is no attitude at all. It's nothing personal, Pianisten.

My point is simple: why bothering to know things beforehand, if they probably will never show up the way you studied them? Of course, you must do whatever you feel best, provided the result is good enough.

Best regards,
Jay

Offline gore234

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #23 on: June 01, 2011, 04:08:47 AM »
My point is simple: why bothering to know things beforehand, if they probably will never show up the way you studied them? Of course, you must do whatever you feel best, provided the result is good enough.

Most of the time, scales in music are played the way you study them. For example, the cromatic scale is in the piece fur elise by Beethoven. wouldn't practicing the cromatic scale help you be able to play it at the right tempo when it came up in the music? yes it would help. All the scales on the piano have different figerings unlike playing scales on the guitar.

Offline gerryjay

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #24 on: June 01, 2011, 01:22:59 PM »
Most of the time, scales in music are played the way you study them. For example, the cromatic scale is in the piece fur elise by Beethoven. wouldn't practicing the cromatic scale help you be able to play it at the right tempo when it came up in the music? yes it would help. All the scales on the piano have different figerings unlike playing scales on the guitar.
Dear Gore,
I must respectfully disagree.

1. Any scale is unique in its interpretation. It's not only a matter of fingering, which do change, but also of phrasing, dynamics, touch, pedal, articulation, und so weiter. Thus, my point stand: it is unlikely to find a scale that is exactly the way you did study a general patterned one.

2. Fur elise is not a good example, because any student with a year of practice can solve it from top to bottom in a couple of months. So, that is a case you don't even start mind bothering.

3. Scales played on the guitar are as varied as played on the piano. Don't confuse yourself with the patterns used in pop music: scales in classical guitar repertory are THE technical issue in the instrument, because they actually never repeat. When you consider the fact that you have alternatives in both hands (yes, right hand is never the same), scales on the guitar are quite a complex argument.

Back to topic, if you feel like studying hours of scale to be able to play Fur elise on the spot, it's up to you and your teacher. The ultimate question, in this case, is to play the piece very well. The process varies...

Best regards,
Jay.

Offline mrvladimirhorowitz

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #25 on: June 01, 2011, 11:45:30 PM »
I will let you into a secret. Before you play any piece, play the scale corresponding to what key the music is in.. eg. Bach prelude and fugue in c major... play a c major scale and arpeggio... :) and also regularly practice your scales they are imperative to becoming a professional pianist.

Offline nanabush

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #26 on: June 02, 2011, 06:31:59 AM »
I agree that a student with a year of practice (a hard working student at that) is able to learn all parts to fur elise.

Scales can actually be transposed WAY easier on a guitar than on a piano.  The basic pattern for a major scale can be moved up one fret, and voila, you now have the major scale a semitone higher.  Guitarists don't have "black and white" frets creating different fingerings, they just have to deal with smaller frets further up the neck.  A scale starting on an open fret obviously can't be transposed down a step without altering a different string.  If a guitarist can play a 2 octave scale starting on the A string, then he can probably play that same scale, shifted one step higher, just as easily.
Interested in discussing:

-Prokofiev Toccata
-Scriabin Sonata 2

Offline gerryjay

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #27 on: June 02, 2011, 01:52:09 PM »
Scales can actually be transposed WAY easier on a guitar than on a piano.  The basic pattern for a major scale can be moved up one fret, and voila, you now have the major scale a semitone higher.  Guitarists don't have "black and white" frets creating different fingerings, they just have to deal with smaller frets further up the neck.  A scale starting on an open fret obviously can't be transposed down a step without altering a different string.  If a guitarist can play a 2 octave scale starting on the A string, then he can probably play that same scale, shifted one step higher, just as easily.
Dear Nana,
I must disagree completely.

1. I play both the guitar and the piano, and I always did find scales way harder on the guitar than on the piano. Btw, it's a common misconception of the sound producing on the classical guitar: it takes both hands, and the right hand play a decisive role in scales.

2. Of course, I'm not talking about patterned pop scales, but repertory of a higher level of complexity. I'm not that fan of syllabuses, but let's assume a LRSM level at least (the first level where, on both instruments, you really must concern yourself with scales). A comparison of two demanding scale etudes would be helpful: Villa-Lobos' Etude 7 and Chopin's Etude op.10/8.

3. Chopin presents very fast scale movements on the right hand, while the left do nothing. In the rare moments where it does, we have mirror or parallel movements, which are the great problem of this study, at least in my experience with it.

4. Villa-Lobos presents very fast scale movements that demands coordination of both hands with complex and completely unrelated patterns. By the way, the easy transposition is a myth when we consider the classical repertory. In this study, we have two scales that look the same on the score, but are quite different on the guitar. There is no direct transposition of movements possible.

5. Scales are, then, two distinct matter on both instruments. When we consider pieces of a related general difficult, the guitar scales are quite harder than on the piano. But I don't want to lead to a misconception: while scales are the single most complex aspect of mechanics and technique of the guitar, they are not on the piano. There are other things (simultaneous arpeggios on both hands, leaps, etc) that are a bigger problem than scales.

6. It happens basically due to one point: scales on the piano (I talk about the repertory, not exercises) normally have only one hand, or both hands playing the same thing or nearly related stuff. Of course, when you have two distinct scalar movements simultaneously played...well, that is quite difficult, but I can't recall an example by now. Anyone?

Best regards,
Jay.

Offline nanabush

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #28 on: June 02, 2011, 04:36:00 PM »
I understand that the two hands would add a challenge.

I think you are using way too specific of examples though... a scale is very different than a scale etude.  The Chopin Op 10 #8 combines scale and arpeggio technique, and the Villa Lobos, by the looks of the score, has scales among many other techniques.  The scale parts (E major at the beginning) wouldn't be out of the ordinary... most of the second and third page are broken or larger chords.  The two are too varied to compare 'difficulty'.

I'm talking about regular scales.  I don't know how a major scale suddenly becomes a 'pop' scale, when it is the same major scale that comes up in classical music.  What about an octatonic scale or a whole tone scale?  The T-S-T-S-T-S pattern going up can be used starting on any fret, and going from there (without using an open string)... obviously the right hand has to pluck/pick or whatever but the actual pattern itself is visually easier to retain than on the piano (for me at least).

If you give a piano student with one years experience the C blues scale, then ask him to play it on F# just as quickly without mistakes, then give a guitarist the same task, I don't see how the pianist would have an easier time.
Interested in discussing:

-Prokofiev Toccata
-Scriabin Sonata 2

Offline gerryjay

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #29 on: June 02, 2011, 07:30:15 PM »
Dear Nana,
it's an interesting topic. Let us proceed.  ;)

I think you are using way too specific of examples though... a scale is very different than a scale etude.  The Chopin Op 10 #8 combines scale and arpeggio technique, and the Villa Lobos, by the looks of the score, has scales among many other techniques.  The scale parts (E major at the beginning) wouldn't be out of the ordinary... most of the second and third page are broken or larger chords.  The two are too varied to compare 'difficulty'.
I'm comparing the scalar passages in both etudes, and both have some mixing with other stuff. Why I did choose these example? Because they present common usage of scales in actual music. Although there are "pure" scales in passages of the repertory, they are less common.

Now, about the E major scale at the beggining, and the other ones, they are anything but ordinary. It may looks quite nothing on the score, but on the guitar it is a huge nightmare. You have - as in the Chopin - to begin full throttle, forte, legato (which is a beastly problem on the guitar), and in a demanding speed. Then you must repeat the idea musically (the transposed scale), but the way you produce it on the guitar changes (specifically, there is no way to repeat the exact relation between the two hands. So, you have two different passages that must sound the same. To add a twist, you have some ornamentation, leaps, chords...

I'm talking about regular scales.  I don't know how a major scale suddenly becomes a 'pop' scale, when it is the same major scale that comes up in classical music.  What about an octatonic scale or a whole tone scale?  The T-S-T-S-T-S pattern going up can be used starting on any fret, and going from there (without using an open string)... obviously the right hand has to pluck/pick or whatever but the actual pattern itself is visually easier to retain than on the piano (for me at least).

If you give a piano student with one years experience the C blues scale, then ask him to play it on F# just as quickly without mistakes, then give a guitarist the same task, I don't see how the pianist would have an easier time.
Well, it is a matter of opinion of course, and I respect yours for sure. But I think we reached the point I made earlier. A major scale is a major scale, but usually - in pop music - guitar players use patterned scales that are always the same. In this sense, I agree with you completely: a patterned scale plucked on the guitar is quite easy, because it never changes. Anyway, you can't compare this practice to scales and scalar passages on piano classical repertory.

The other way around would be: piano scales are so easy, because you have the major scale on the white keys, and the pentatonic on the black keys, and it never changes.

Although these patterned scales are...er...patterned, they are completely useless in concert repertory. First, you never study all string combinations that a 2 or 3-octave scale may have on the guitar. Then, the left hand fingering is a set of very little streams, and finally - and the single most complex problem in guitar technique - the right hand fingering is a complete mess. In a demanding scale (occurs me, besides the Villa-Lobos, the ones on Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, or Turina's Sonata, or even Berkeley's Sonatina), you use every eight available fingers in many combinations.

Back to the piano, please don't think I disregard scales as a problem. My point remains the same: scales on the guitar are the most difficult topic of technique, while on the piano they are not.

The blues example is a perfect one: the blues scales on the guitar, specially with a plectrum, are piece of cake. You are right. But where does you use them in classical repertory? But we must dig deeper. The transposition you mentioned, from C to F#, would probably lead the guitarist to another pattern. So, if s/he doesn't know this new pattern he is as clueless as our pianist who doesn't know the F# scale.

It leads me to another consideration: when you solve an octave of a scale on the piano, you solved everything. On the guitar, every octave is a complete different story, and to play a 3-octave scale (A major, for instance) involves learning and memorizing a stream of 22 double movements. You won't find anything scale related on the piano.

Nevertheless, it's my own experience, and I'll rest my case before (I hope  :P) I start bother somebody.

Best regards,
Jay.


Offline iratior

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #30 on: June 02, 2011, 11:31:13 PM »
Above, it has been suggested that, before playing a piece, it's good to play the scale for the key the piece is in.  I agree, but did something else I liked a lot.  I wanted to record the prelude and fugue in A-minor from WTK vol. 1.  First, I played one of the C-major little preludes.  Then I played it again, only transposed to E-major.  It sounded special, to have the two keys contrast.  And it really set off the prelude and fugue.

Offline polojarvi

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #31 on: June 10, 2011, 03:30:06 PM »
Hello everyone,

I'm just adding a few things not yet mentioned.

Scales are useful melody development in improvisation. I use them as a basis for what I think of as walking meditations at the keyboard, maybe working a five note scale pattern up and down, then doing a three note pattern, etc. If you treat them as incipient gregorian chant patterns (especially when doing modal scale playing), you can get extremely interesting results. The important thing is to get away from the page of scale notes and begin to work with the scales rather than just playing them by rote.

Even the fingering of the scales is then up for grabs. Most people learn their scales as fingering patterns, but that's just the beginning of their usefulness. I was just working on some exercises from Clementi's Gradus, and I was struck by the instruction to deliberately use awkward fingerings, for example playing the pattern with just your thumb or two fingers, etc. This is, of course also possible with scale practice. At first it seemed counterintuitive, but then I realized it was liberating. I suffer a bit from cubital tunnel syndrome, and playing the patterns this way forces a new investigation of the process of tone generation. It becomes a very meditative re-exploration of the kinesthetic relationship between musician and keyboard. It opens up the restricted motion patterns of years of rote practice. Plus, it creates a new level of focus. When one has been playing for years and years, it's easy to take technique for granted.

Scales are also a useful basis for rhythmic patterning. I like to set the metronome then play scales in one tone to the beat, two tone to the beat, etc. patterns, including ten tone patterns, etc., moving randomly back and forth between the patterns. Right now I'm trying to work with separate patterns in the left and right hand. The joy of this practice is the way it challenges the mind to grapple with rhythmic complexity. This leads to an understanding of rhythmic relationships that one can't really find in any other way I know, and it leads to very refined legato playing.

This kind of work takes scale practice out of the purely technical exercise mode and places one in the improviser's world.

The real issue to me about scales is whether or not the practice is rote/ purely mechanical. Whenever that happens I think I'm training bad habits. One of my issues as pianist is focus on the moment of playing. I've been playing for 40 years now, so it's easy for my mind to wander. That's never really a good thing, and lots of people practice scales without in-the-moment enjoyment of the note by motion that is their singular pleasure.

I've noticed some people arguing that scales are a waste of time because one always finds fingerings, etc in compositions they're learning (I had a teacher in grad school who thought that about all exercises). To me this point reflects a 20th century understanding that pianist mostly plays already written music. Before that time, the training included an expectation that one should be able to create extemporaneously at the instrument, not just to improvise cadenzas, etc. but to simply play one's own musical thoughts like a jazz musician would be expected to do today.

If you're mostly playing other people's music, then scales (and things like Hanon or Czerny) will seem much less useful than they potentially are. When you're planning to create extemporaneously, though, all these exercises come under the heading: potential patterns in all keys. Then the student learns the basic patterns and, once those are learned and embedded in his or her improvisation practice, he or she starts creating new patterns to add to the book. For example, Czerny or Hanon are wonderful classical tonality pattern books; augmenting or diminishing a tone or two in any of their basic exercises takes one into a totally different music world.

This is true for scales as well. If you treat scales as a fundamental concept in music, then think through the process of scale generation, they take on another fascinating level of complexity. In my current practice I've been working on creating microtonal scales on the piano by doing very subtle blurs between tones and practicing Alan Fraser's overholding technique. Each new thinking through of the scale pattern then leads to revised understanding of melody generation, etc.

Thanks for this thread. It's nice to articulate these things.

DJ

Offline justanoob

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Re: Are Scales Necessary
«Reply #32 on: June 13, 2011, 01:16:02 PM »
this is an interesting topic :).
if you are a jazz player, there is a saying, "you are what you practice". meaning, if you practice scales just like... well scales, you're solo will probably sound like... well scales.

I found scale exercise is a good 'measure' on how good your finger. it's a baseline to find your finger weakness, and strength.
Scales can be useless as just like gerryjay mentioned. You'll never find, or very rarely find part that is exactly the same with the way you practice.
But I personally never practice scales for this purpose (sorry jay ;)). When practicing scales, I practice the one that I have trouble the most. It's quite vary from scales, some scales are just too easy hence quite useless for me, but some can be tricky.