Friday, October 31, 2008

The Importance of Scales Practice

I am writing this as I am listening to the artistry of the D Major Mozart Piano Concerto, No 26.

In my twenties, I was so fortunate to have had the leisure in my life to study all 27 of them and perform a few. The music is so fantastic – simple, pleasing, yet with an amazing depth of emotion, very true to my core heartfelt emotions.

And I am, once again reminding myself of the importance of scales practice. I am hearing scales and more beautiful scales woven in this piece. Even when practicing scales, the sounds need to be played like pearls, smooth even, exacting and yes, musical.

Just today, one of my students was playing scales and I could feel my hair start to stand up – in Halloween anticipating mood. Let's briefly discuss: "good scales" and "bad scales":

How do bad scales sound? Wow, you mean you never heard bad scales???? The majority of scales I hear unless rehearsed right, are horrendous: Fingers 2 inches above the keys, snapping, slapping down on the keys, harsh, undefined, uncontrolled sound, forced, too loud, too soft, notes missing, unsteady beat, tempo not in control, note definition never considered, over lapping notes, uneven leggiero (even light almost staccato touch), too clumsy and slow; simply ugly, unmusically performed; thumb turns jerked, wrist locked, flat finger scales (I call these: dry your nail polish scales, hot dog fingers,…)

Now, that we more or less defined "the bad", let's take a look at how scales should be performed: Yes, you guessed right, they should sound absolutely fabulous: even in touch, perfect note definition (each note should have an equal sounding duration, the lift of each finger AFTER playing each note, should be clean, not delayed unevenly).

How do you get evenness in fingers as all our fingers are uneven in length, strength and mobility? Since I have relatively small hands, good, solid technique did not come natural and easy; I had to put my mind to it. In my teens, the forever same answer would have been "practice, practice, practice". But there IS a simple answer that works for anyone's hands, large or small:

Try to play with your fingers as little as possible, leave them relaxed, just get them on the right key and then use your arm to depress the key. With good dedicated practice, you will see results coming little by little; effortless, arm floating beautiful and fluid playing is not acquired over night (no, it takes a little – or a lot – of elbow grease – not exactly the "American Dream" – but absolutely worthwhile) – it is so satisfying to sit down and play beautiful scales and you know, that next Mozart Piano Concerto is not that far away and will sound great as scales are mastered.

Good luck

Eva Martin


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