July 2000 - Feature Article - by John Maccanelli

Many queries come asking why scales?

What are they good for?

The scales like other forms of technical studies, are useless unless the student understands from the beginning the necessity of practicing all the Major, Minor and chromatic scales. Many students, as well as advanced players, consider the practice of scales an uninteresting part of study in music - some go as far as to say it is a bore - a waste of time. Such thinking is incorrect and spells defeat at the outset.

To eliminate the practice of scales from musical studies would be like developing technical dexterity without acquiring sound musicianship at the same time.

There is no form of technical study which will more effectively give the student, beginner or advanced, an absolute command of the keyboards (right and left hand) and a complete mastery of the various major and minor keys, that a faithful, consistent practice of scales. There is also no form of technical excercise which will help the player develop a better conception of legato playing than the study of scales. Since scales are the root of all music, one should consider their importance.

The mastery of the scales is also a great help in sight reading. If the student has developed his fingers by systematic study, he will have no trouble or difficulty reading any technical passages easily at sight. He will be able to recognize a passage as a group of notes instead of a succession of individual notes. He should keep in mind that in memorizing, as well as in sight reading, perfect coordination of eyes and fingering is necessary.

Now that some of the most important facts of why scales have been covered, let us see exactly why they are so necessary in your studies and playing:

(1) Scales are the root of your music, you learn all of the different notes from them and where they are located on your keyboard.
(2) Scales develop dexterity of fingers, besides helping you handle that accordion of yours.
(3) Legato is and can be developed if one studies systematically; while this is going on you are also developing tone shading. That is, if you are varying your crescendos and diminuendos from pp to ff.
(4) Scale practice develops sight reading and perfect coronation.
(5) Memorizing is also aided in scale practice, if one learns to group passages instead of taking one note at a time.
(6) Above all, if you are studying with an open mind, besides developing technical dexterity, you are acquiring sound musicianship.

The above six points should make you realize the importance of scales. There are other points but this should be sufficient to set you straight in your thinking.

If you just rattle keys to see how fast you can get through with your scales, then you are wasting time. Make your scales sound as if you meant them to be a passage from a novelty, an overture etc...

For the advanced player, scales can and should be practiced in 3rds, 6ths, 8ths, contrary motion etc...

This writer suggests a ten to fifteen minute study period per day, more if you can concentrate on scales that long. Go slow at first and you will see your speed develop.