Robert Estrin - piano expert

3 Tips For Practicing Scales

Learn three important tips to improve your piano technique with scales

In this video, Robert gives you three tips for practicing scales that will improve your piano technique immensely.

Released on July 15, 2020

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Video Transcription

Welcome to I am Robert Estrin. Today, I'm going to give you three tips for practicing scales. I did quite a few videos about scales and it's a funny thing. Truth be known, I spend the minimal amount of time practicing scales in order to achieve the desired results, which is to have clean finger work, and to have mastered all the fingering of all major and minor scales and arpeggios. However, no matter how far you go with scales, you can always go further. It's endless what you can do with scales. Without overwhelming you, today, I'm just going to give you three tips. Maybe you've gotten in a rut. You've practiced your scales and you don't even know where to go next. Maybe you're not totally happy with your finger work and you're wondering, is there any other way to practice scales that might enlighten you and help to clean up your technique?

Well, here are three that you can try. First of all, most of us practice scale, just going up and down the piano in four octaves, an octave apart, as referenced in Hanon's 60 selected exercises for the virtuoso pianist. And that is a prerequisite for developing a good technique on the piano, particularly for playing classical styles or anything that's technically oriented. It's kind of like having a bag of tricks in your back pocket that's always there when you need it, because how often do you have scales in music? Pretty much all the time, in one way or another. So, what about practicing with different articulations or phrasings? Instead of playing all legato, you could play with detached fingers like this.

The reason why that's so incredibly important and helpful is that the evenness from note to note is not just the down strike of the key, it is the release of each key. In other words, if you were to slow down a sloppy scale performance, you might hear that the notes are striking together, but some notes are just holding longer than others. And you'll hear something like this.

Haphazard lengths of notes, more likely where the thumb or finger crossings happen. You might hear something like...

Something of that nature, by being precise with the duration of all the notes, making them all detached, and you could have different levels of detachment. What I did was kind of a staccato fingers, but the notes could actually have a little bit more length than that, and still be detached, something like this.

Not really staccato fingers, but not smooth and connected the way you might think of playing scales, usually.

In a recent video, I talked about how playing the hands two octaves apart and practicing scales can help you to hear things better. Well, here's another tip for you. Play one hand legato and one hand staccato from the fingers and wow, can you really hear things. Here, I'll show you what I mean.

In that example, I played the right hand legato and the left hand staccato from the fingers. Of course, this can be reversed.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Two-note slurs, four-note slurs, you know.

And that could be reversed.

Or four-note slurs.

And you could start on the second note doing the same thing.

The whole idea is, it helps you to identify where the hands play together. It solidifies your scales in a way that just playing them the same way over and over again, it's never going to really achieve for you. It could be a tremendous time-saver. So, what other ideas? That's just one of three tips we're giving you today. That could keep you busy for the next six months, right?

The trick is though not to necessarily do every articulation, every scale, it's to do what solves problems. If you find you have an unevenness in an F major scale descending, focus in on that and start working on various techniques that solve that problem on that scale. And then you'll find that this technique will translate from one scale to other scales. What about different volumes? We're all used to playing scales what? Loud, soft, medium. What about playing scales very, very loud?

Or perhaps very delicately.

And once again, you can play one hand loud and one hand soft, but it doesn't just have to be that. You could make a crescendo up, a crescendo down.

Or you could start at the bottom loud and make a decrescendo all the way up and all the way down. You see, the key is not to look at scales as an abstraction completely, but to put it into a musical context. And after all, when you play music, you're not playing everything straight. So, you can explore this with your scales and make them more interesting and more musical. Always strive for a beautiful sound at the piano. This is really important in your music, anyway. You can also do all these techniques or many of these techniques with your arpeggios. Of course, work at different speeds. I am a firm believer of metronome speeds with scales. Very important that you practice your scales slowly and progressively faster, using the metronome with one or two notches at a time. This is what assures really clean, even scales. There's no substitute for that sort of practice.

These are tips for those of you who already have scales kind of in your back pocket, but you want to take them to the next level. Here are some musical things you can do with scales at home to enhance your technique on the piano. Boy, I hope this is helpful for you. And there are so many more ideas on scales, I could come up with 5 more tips or 10 more tips for you. I know a lot of you have suggested these sorts of videos, which is why I'm giving it to you right now. And you can suggest more. I'm always happy to hear from all of you and welcome your presence here at, your online piano store. Thanks for joining me here. Robert Estrin.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Lynette Westendorf on July 17, 2020 @9:16 am PST
Another favorite of mine is to practice triplets for 3 octaves, which means that the accents DON'T fall on the octaves, and often negate changes of fingering. Thanks for LivingPianos!
Robert Estrin on July 17, 2020 @11:39 am PST
That sounds like a good idea!
Lynton Mcinnes * VSM MEMBER * on July 15, 2020 @8:44 pm PST
I used to have difficulty playing the black notes.
Then I started playing the first five semitones backwards and forwards repetitively until it became painless eventually.
Seems a minor exercise ,but the results are most satisfying.
Lynette Westendorf on July 15, 2020 @9:07 am PST
I'm a jazz pianist and teacher. My favorite phrasing is 3+4 and 4+3 in 10ths and 6ths. 7/4 is a common meter in jazz and modern music and after switching to the scale prep, it's as natural as duple or triple time.
Robert Estrin on July 16, 2020 @12:23 pm PST
One benefit of working on scales in this way is that the octaves will always fall on the beat.
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