Mark Westcott Artist, Piano Teacher, Lecturer, Author

Notes on Scale Practicing from Mr. Mannheimer's Classes and other sources

Developing a good, strong scale technique is the most important element in piano playing. From it are derived the basic motions and patterns which also apply to arpeggios and irregular passages.

If scales are practiced with concentration and intelligence, it will be found that the 30 or 40 minutes which ought to be devoted to it daily (at least until a fair mastery is secured) pass rapidly and with a minimum of pain.

Aside from developing fluency, evenness, security and speed, one important aim of practicing scales is to develop finger strength. The 3rd Knuckle, i.e. the furthest one from the wrist, is the one which usually needs strengthening the most. Whatever force is applied by the body, must finally pass through this joint, and if it gives way under the pressure, the blow will be weakened and control will be diminished. Therefore, be continually not to allow this knuckle to buckle! It may help to try to think of the finger as one unit starting from the 1st knuckle (the one closest to the wrist) and to confirm most of the motion to that joint, without, however allowing unnecessary rigidity in the 2nd and 3rd joints. These must retain their flexibility in order to make back and forth movements adapting to black or white notes.

To develop strength and economy of motion, one of the most important principles of modern piano technique: keep the fingers close to the keys. Increase volume by increasing force, rather than by lifting the fingers higher. The accented notes should be played with arm weight. At the moment of applying the accent, the wrist and elbow as well as the knuckles must be quit firm, but should be relaxed immediately when the sound has been produced.

Practice in exact rhythm, and slowly enough that each note can be played with perfect clarity. Pay special attention to the final note preceding the accent, which is easily blurred.

Here are a few more pointers:

Hit the black notes exactly in the middle, but as far forward (toward the player) as comfortable. Hit the white notes, with the exception of those played by the thumb, as far backwards (away from yourself) as comfortable, but stay forward of the front of the black notes.

Give extra attention to the left hand, practicing it alone. Keep the fingers which is not playing relaxed, curved naturally and close to the keys.

Lead ahead with the wrist, and incline it slightly downwards in the direction of travel (i.e. in the ascending right hand scale water should run off the wrist to the right). The wrist will lead slightly more in outward-bound (i.e. ascend right hand) than inward bound motion. Try to keep wrist motion as even as possible with no jerks, but still flexible.

Don't be satisfied with any defects.

Concentrate on one scale a day. If you can do the sequence and the preparatory exercise in less than 1/2 hour, you are not doing it properly. Go to the limit of your strength at least once a day, without straining any muscles.







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