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 Post subject: How valuable is practicing scales? Any good alternatives?
PostPosted: Sat Sep 22, 2007 9:43 pm 
Hi everyone,

I'm an intermediate level player, also an older guy who started late in life. I'm making very good progress but have a lot of difficulty playing scales. Main problem is my arthritic thumb which starts to hurt after doing repetitive "thumb unders" on the scales.

I've read the discussions on Hanon and Czerny and find it interesting that so many of you feel good music like Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier" would be just as effective, if not more so.

What about scales in particular? Can anyone suggest other alternatives to accomplish the same kind of skills without so many repetitive movements of the thumb?

Thanks in advance for your help.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 22, 2007 11:17 pm 
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Location: Obamanation, unfortunately...
scales are effective as long as you practice in all the major and minor keys. (Unlike Hanon...it likes to stay in one key for 80% of the exercises)

I am sure that many will respond with something like this:


"Stick with Bach, nothing can beat it"


hope this helps
-jg

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 23, 2007 4:18 am 
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My personal view on scale practice is: "If you don't know why do them, don't". There must be a purpose with everything as what you really practice is not your muscles or joints, it is your brain. If the brain shuts off, there is not much use (the brain does never completely shuts off).

However, the scales are important to find finger patterns faster and to get to know the 24 basic major and minors so my advice from completely remove them from your practice is to rather make more interesting exercises of them and if your thumb hurts, you are doing something wrong or practice to fast and/or to long. Play them slow, one hand at a time, focus on how to move your fingers correct and relaxed. Don't bother about speed, you will eventually gain speed but only if your brain is not disconnected and registrates what you are doing.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 23, 2007 10:56 am 
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I'm editing this because what I said before didn't answer your question.

In my humble opinion, and not being a doctor, I wouldn’t know if exercising a part of the body that has arthritis actually helps it or not. Practicing scales may never be the right thing for you to do. And when it comes to repertoire that has scale passages, or parts of scales, maybe you can use different fingering to avoid so many ‘thumb-unders.’ I am curious about the doctor thing, though. Do you know if exercising the arthritic-inflicted body part is good or bad?

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 23, 2007 1:29 pm 
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I've never bothered practising scales. Sometimes I hit a piece or passage that makes me wish I had, and I struggle my through it best as possible, but mostly I can't say it feels like a deficit. Unless you focus on 19th century virtuoso repertoire, or unless you are a pro and have all day available for practice, I don't see the need for endlessly practising scales. Best to just enjoy the music, and take it as it comes.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 23, 2007 9:10 pm 
I appreciate everybody's feedback on this. Looks like there's some mixed opinion which is a good thing. That means I can't be completely right or wrong in my decision about practicing scales.

In answer to pianolady's question about playing with arthritis, I've read some good articles about developing "piano thumb" which is something everybody needs to watch out for.

I can only speak with some authority for my own case. Although exercise does tend to help by keeping the joint flexible, overdoing it will cause pain and could eventually make things worse. So the key is to listen to your body. When it starts to hurt, it's time to stop.

In addition to "thumb unders", the other movement to watch carefully is long stretches such as playing 10ths or greater. Unlike the other fingers that are pressing down, the thumb is being worked from the side and is pushed upwards. That's really hard on the joint and should be done in moderation and with care, especially "banging" (ff or fff) when the hand is stretched wide.


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 Post subject: Any value in practicing various modes?
PostPosted: Thu Sep 27, 2007 3:02 am 
For classical?

I read 'The Jazz Piano Book' and the recommendation is to play different modes. For example, play C major notes but start the scale on D, next try starting on E. Another example, play ionian scale starting on C, play dorian scale starting on C, play phrygian sacle starting on C, etc.

The standard way to play them in classical is to do ionian and the melodic and harmonic minor scales I believe. Does practising other modes help you to think in modes other than these standard ones? Payoff in playing classical pieces? Who actually does this? Or teaches this?


Last edited by Anonymous on Thu Sep 27, 2007 9:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 27, 2007 6:09 pm 
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Scales must be learned. I mean "learned" in the sense of your multiplication tables or grammar. They are of absolute value to any musician's knowledge, both in theory and practice. The more familiar with them you are, the more fluent your musicianship will be.
But should one practice them ceaselessly, without point? No. The point to scales is to increase one's understanding of the possibilities of music, as well as to provide a means to better technique. For those positive changes to take place, at least two conditions are required. One, you must know the proper theory; two, when playing a scale you must apply that theoretical knowledge consciously; and three, you must cause a positive change in your coordination, without causing physical deterioration or injury.

If scale practice worsens your technique due to a medical condition, you'd be better off studying them from a mostly theoretical standpoint.

Pete


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 28, 2007 12:50 am 
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very good feed back everyone. For me, I dnt practice scales. BUT you do need to learn all scales as part of traning and knewledge. Its not good to play all music without its histriocal date and infromation. For an simple example, to play chopins the revolutionary study, its best to know why he wrote it and what age.....

I also practices scales just for the sake of AMEB.....-exams.

These day, I am sorry to say, I DNT DO IT AT ALL. But My children does, because its still part of their traning curve.

Bye from now.


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PostPosted: Fri Sep 28, 2007 8:37 am 
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johnmar78 wrote:

These day, I am sorry to say, I DNT DO IT AT ALL. But My children does,.


That's funny. It's like the way it is with me and my kids. "Do as I say, not as I do." :lol:

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 28, 2007 9:45 am 
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pianolady wrote:
johnmar78 wrote:

These day, I am sorry to say, I DNT DO IT AT ALL. But My children does,.


That's funny. It's like the way it is with me and my kids. "Do as I say, not as I do." :lol:


And does it work that way with the kids? If yes, please tell me the secret how to get them to do what I avoid doing myself. :lol:

I never did any scales, at least I can't remember. I really do think it should be sufficient to grow with pieces which are good for training finger- and hand independencies, and the scales will be included here and there anyhow in the actual real pieces.

For instance, now I feel the need to work again a bit on left hand fluidity, so I grabbed again that wonderful Chopin g major prelude 28/3. So to combine what makes fun with what is helpful.

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 28, 2007 10:19 am 
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Great example, Olaf. And also a coincidence. I’m practicing this prelude too. It has that LH legato thing going on throughout. And to compliment this piece, I’m practicing the no. 10 prelude (I call it the ‘moth’ prelude). The RH gets it’s turn to play all those fast little arpeggios.
Are you using the pedal very much on the 28/3?



Quote:
And does it work that way with the kids? If yes, please tell me the secret how to get them to do what I avoid doing myself.



You just have to point at them with a stern look on your face. But no, it doesn't always work. Like when I tell them to eat their spinach and they say, "But Mom, you're not eating it." (I hate spinach)

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 29, 2007 2:07 am 
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first thing, you should not be passing your thumb literally under your hand. the easiest way to demonstrate proper scale technique (which should be almost effortless) is to start on D (as if you were playing a D major scale) and play your first group of three notes, rotating the hand to center each finger on the key and with the arm. then, rotate the hand the other way (towards the thumb) while shifting your hand to the right, so that the thumb lands on G without awkwardly attempting to pass under the hand. Remember that the thumb is not to be played as a finger, but as an extension of the arm!!! At first this will seem awkward and you may hear a slight hiccup in between the passing, but with time and practice, this will become a much easier thing to do. (btw, i was using the RH as an example going up the scale. Reverse coming down, the thumb should still not pass under the the fingers, or the fingers over the thumb).

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 30, 2007 3:27 am 
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good to hear from you Joseph K.

Olaf, the secret of sucess to make my kids playing scales is ...to have a long loop training just before their memory starts to slip away. That means, 30 minutes - 1 hour scales at least once every fornight. Sometimes 20 minutes for 2 keys only. Again, practice these keys just for exam purposes only. I also give them "economic Bonus: for their acheivement. eg, more time allowed on computer games or playstation or some otherthings for "human" basic needs... I am a corrupted father.....haaaaaaaaa


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PostPosted: Mon Oct 01, 2007 6:32 am 
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pianolady wrote:
Are you using the pedal very much on the 28/3?


That is almost THE question for that prelude to me too. I do like to prolong the very first deep bass note of the LH runs at the beginning of every bar, since it is the fundamental tone of the harmony, that's why I try to let it stand out a bit. Without pedal it gets lost, unfortunately. So I take pedal, mainly to prolong that. The question is how long and how deep. One does not like to get the thing blurred on the other way. A possibility would be half-pedaling in order to prolong that strong bass notes a bit even if the other softer higher notes of the runs are damped. But not easy to get the right level of pedaling. So I rather let the pedal complete down for a half bar or so instead.

Do you take the pedal?

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 01, 2007 8:51 am 
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MindenBlues wrote:
pianolady wrote:
Are you using the pedal very much on the 28/3?


That is almost THE question for that prelude to me too. I do like to prolong the very first deep bass note of the LH runs at the beginning of every bar, since it is the fundamental tone of the harmony, that's why I try to let it stand out a bit. Without pedal it gets lost, unfortunately. So I take pedal, mainly to prolong that. The question is how long and how deep. One does not like to get the thing blurred on the other way. A possibility would be half-pedaling in order to prolong that strong bass notes a bit even if the other softer higher notes of the runs are damped. But not easy to get the right level of pedaling. So I rather let the pedal complete down for a half bar or so instead.

Do you take the pedal?


Yes. I have also been experimenting with it. Half-pedalling is so hard to do when the piece is supposed to go fast. I can't concentrate on keeping my fingers moving fast, staying relaxed, and remembering how much to push down on the pedal all at the same time. So basically, I'm leaving it down for practically the whole measure, maybe a little less. It's a little blurred, but when I hear the pros play this, I hear a lot of reverb, and I'm not sure if they are pedalling or not. Maybe we could use the middle pedal for the 1st low note so it could carry through. But since the tempo is fast, I'm not sure I could do that, either. Are you planning on recording this?

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 01, 2007 10:45 am 
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pianolady wrote:
Maybe we could use the middle pedal for the 1st low note so it could carry through. But since the tempo is fast, I'm not sure I could do that, either. Are you planning on recording this?


I also thought on the middle pedal, since the right hand chords are held down anyway, so the bass base note could ring without blurring the LH runs. Unfortunately, I have no middle pedal on my 75 year old piano, so I have no choice beside the normal sustain pedal :roll:
I think, in November or so I let tune my piano again, and try to record some pieces I worked on since short or long or even very, very long time (Chopin 2 little Mazurkas, Chopin g minor ballade with hopefully improvements compared to the recorded video, rerecording of some Bach WTC items). Could try to add that 28/3 prelude too to the "recording list", I like that prelude much. However my organ playing eats much of my given spare time, so not so much time for piano playing.

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 Post subject: Re: How valuable is practicing scales? Any good alternative
PostPosted: Tue Mar 10, 2009 11:36 pm 
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I also had that thumb problem, but I often ignored it and it eventually went away. Scales - if done properly can definitely show quick results (increase finger independence and sensitivity) in my experience. I usually perform each scale for two octaves, staccato, lifting the fingers high and emphasizing every third beat (not the 4th as most written scale exercises would instruct). I found that doing them normally is completely useless - you're just memorizing linear movement and fingers remain imbalanced due to such a limited role. When you add the odd emphasis, it drops some of the mental load on the rhythm and makes the physical action more of a subconscious task while also balancing each finger by individually 'giving them the spotlight' so to speak. At least that's my theory on it, but the bottom line that it works. It's a bit difficult in the beginning, but becomes second nature once you get the rhythm down and each scale becomes easier and easier to learn and perform. Just make sure you don't overdo the emphasis or there's a tendency to numb the fingertips. The purpose of practicing scales - other than the tremendous aid in sightreading since you'll know how it 'feels' to navigate a scale, eliminating the need to look - is to expose the imbalances of each finger and correct them, so I would say they're a necessity. I don't think there's any alternative that can deliver such results as raw scales. Liszt even took it to the next level and mismatched the fingerings for different scales because he knew the importance of balance.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 17, 2009 1:01 pm 
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Quote:
scales are effective as long as you practice in all the major and minor keys. (Unlike Hanon...it likes to stay in one key for 80% of the exercises)


That's not true, Hanon's own instruction was that it was to be played in a variety of articulations in all keys. But nowadays it's only practised in C, at mf or f, and legato - especially for the first 30 or so exercises.

My personal opinion is take what comes and work on it. I've never done scales except what is necessary for stuff like the ABRSM graded exams, and now I do other kinds of exercises: in interest of training my left hand, some Chopin/Godowsky transcriptions of the études, and for octaves, Liszt passages work pretty well. I don't think scales should be studied apart from piano literature, but as part of it, in the context of the piece itself.

Hope this helps!


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 20, 2009 5:27 pm 
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I recommend practicing them in non-conventional ways..

eg. play two different scales at once and change as you ascend (eg. left hand plays C minor and right plays A Major for an octave, then you switch to say... G Major and E Major respectively, then descend, but right hand goes down in C minor then G Major and left goes down in A Major then E Major)

Also, playing two C major scales at the same time, but right hand gets different rhythms.

Most simple ones I can tell you...

Left hand gets 1 octave
right hand goes up 2x speed and does 2 octaves

Left hand gets 1 octave
right hand gets poly rhythm 2/3, and goes up 3 octaves

you could also do 3 against 4 and mix it up as well as you ascend and descend.

This is a good way to enforce your hand independence..

but yeah...

Bach.... WTC and Inventions and Sinfonias will get you more hand independence than any exercise that I've ever come into contact with.

EDIT:
also, don't forget to alternate your scales with staccatos and legatos, and when using legato: NO PEDAL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 20, 2009 5:34 pm 
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I'm sorry if somebody has said this before in this thread or another, but practicing scales is
fundamental to eventually making your own music (i.e., composing and improvising).
If you don't care about making your own music then I agree with everybody that says
they are not that important, but I know many musicians that will sneer at a player that
can't play a solo over some simple chord progressions.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 20, 2009 10:41 pm 
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I can, as long as it's simple chords...

once I had a chord chart where I was needed to play like...

C# Maj 7-12-32 flat-6

and I'll never forget that....

It was given to me by David Liebman (the famous Sax player.. he lives around me and gives lectures and teaches at the local university)

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 31, 2009 9:13 pm 
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Hello asf62,

I suggest you practice scale passages only in pieces you are currently playing rather than spending time with abstract scale exercies. This will help you focus on the problems at hand. When dealing with a challenge, I feel it is best to pick and choose one's priorities with great care. Practice only what you need to practice to improve your interpretation of the piece.

When you play your scale passages, try to zero in on the position that feels best to you.
Without straining any other part of your hand, perhaps you need to turn your wrist a bit to the right or the left. Do not try to compensate too much because you do not want to create a new problem from overuse. Try this slowly.

Try to relax your thumbs as much as you can while away from the piano by placing your hands on a table and tucking your thumbs slightly under your index fingers. I would try to do this a few times a day.

I hope you feel better.

Kaila Rochelle

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 31, 2009 10:43 pm 
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There has been a long-standing myth in pedagogy about "passing the thumb under the hand" in playing scales. There is actually no need of it. Scales are played more easily and efficiently with the thumb kept beside and parallel to the hand. What it means is that instead of using the third finger as a pivot point and turning the hand with the pivoting and the thumb diving under the palm, you simply move the whole hand laterally into the direction of the scale without the thumb ever ending up under the palm. If you try that, I believe you'll feel the greater ease of playing that way. Likewise, because we learn scales to assist us in playing passage work in repertoire pieces, there again, the thumb should live beside the hand, not under it.

David

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 01, 2009 7:48 am 
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Rachfan wrote:
There has been a long-standing myth in pedagogy about "passing the thumb under the hand" in playing scales. There is actually no need of it. Scales are played more easily and efficiently with the thumb kept beside and parallel to the hand. What it means is that instead of using the third finger as a pivot point and turning the hand with the pivoting and the thumb diving under the palm, you simply move the whole hand laterally into the direction of the scale without the thumb ever ending up under the palm. If you try that, I believe you'll feel the greater ease of playing that way. Likewise, because we learn scales to assist us in playing passage work in repertoire pieces, there again, the thumb should live beside the hand, not under it.


How much I agree with you!

And, by the way: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/article-preview?article_id=351

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 02, 2009 2:00 am 
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Hi Alfonso,

Yes, that's interesting that Dinu Lipatti did not subscribe to passing the thumb under the hand. Also, Gyorgy Sandor was opposed to teaching that method of playing scales. Here are some excerpts from his book On Piano Playing.

"... we have to avoid placing the thumb under the palm of the hand at all costs. .... When the critical moment comes for the thumb to follow the third or fourth finger, let us anticipate the event with a slight outward motion of the upper arm (and elbow), a slight lift of the thumb alongside the hand, a slight lowering of the wrist in preparation for the thumb, and then a quiet descent of the thumb to the next note. The size of these individual motions is minimal. This preparation is a perfectly natural, easy motion to execute...."

It surprises me that there are still piano teachers out there training intermediate pupils in passing the thumb under!

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