Why and How Should One Practice Scales?

Practicing the most common scales in western classical music – major, minor, chromatic – has been the cornerstone of the pianist’s art around the time the first-generation Romantic Era composers (Chopin, Schumann, Liszt) began composing in the new virtuoso style in the 1830s. Scales were certainly practiced by fortepianists and harpsichordists earlier than this; however, the modern fingering system as we know it today as well as the emphasis on virtuoso-style four-octave scales played rapidly up and down the keyboard became the norm in the 19th century and still remains the norm today. This tradition, however, needs to be truthfully examined and scrutinized. If a list were to be made of a dozen of the most popular piano classical piano works that most pianists desire to play, it comes as a shocking surprise that major, minor, and chromatic scales are actually very rare and even non-existent in most of these works:

  • Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca – a few one-octave scales in the right hand 
  • Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata – no scales in the first and second movements; in the third movement, a few passages in the right hand with one octave or a little over one-octave scales; one three-octave chromatic scale divided between the hands  
  • Beethoven’s Für Elise – two-octave chromatic scale descending in the right hand
  • Chopin’s Fantaisie Impromptu – three-octave chromatic scale descending in the right hand
  • Schumann’s Träumerei – no scales 
  • Liszt’s Liebestraum No. 3 – no scales
  • Liszt’s Consolation No. 3 – no scales
  • Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 – in the Lassan, a couple harmonic minor scales less than two octaves; no scales in the Friska except for two major scales played three octaves ascending in the right hand
  • all the Intermezzi of Brahms – virtually no scales anywhere
  • Debussy’s Clair de lune –  no scales   

If scales are so rare in the most popular of piano works, and if when scales occur they are rarely over two octaves and almost never as fast as possible or with hands together, then what justifies spending countless hours practicing four-octave scales hands together up and down the keyboard at breakneck speeds? The answer to this question is “nothing.” This is why the crux of the WRP scale system consists of just two-octave scales. However, to make things complete and to appease the speed demons, a complete section in Volume 2 is devoted to three- and four-octave scales. In addition, WRP’s own “High-Velocity Scale in Septuplets” is used to as a vehicle for practicing scales with the utmost velocity should one desire to do this. 

Complete Guide to Major & Minor Scales (Volume 1) covers Grades 1-4, which may be broken down into the following segments:     

1  (Beginning)The 12 major scales played one octave in parallel and contrary motion
2  (Late Beginning)The 12 minor scales (harmonic and melodic) played one octave in parallel and contrary motion
3  (Early Intermediate)The 12 major scales played one octave harmonized in thirds, sixths, and tenths  
4  (Intermediate)The 12 minor scales (harmonic and melodic) played one octave harmonized in thirds, sixths, and tenths
Grades 1-4Basic 3:2 and 4:3 polyrhythm exercises using slow, five-finger positions and one-octave scales

Complete Guide to Major & Minor Scales (Volume 2) covers Grades 5-7, which may be broken down into the following segments:  

(Coming soon!)  

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