I don’t have time for scales

‘I find these passages difficult, I just can’t play them faster. Do you have any tips?’ I count to ten in my mind. Of course, I’ve explained a hundred times what you could do to play faster. This adult student seems to want a solution that doesn’t take time. It would be nice if you could download a program into your body and have all the technique at your disposal by double-clicking. But until this is invented, we still have to practice and train our muscles. I repeat my tips and tricks once again. ‘It would also help if you invest time in studying scales,’ I say casually. ‘I really don’t have time for that,’ my student replies…

We all know that studying scales can actually save you time. Eighty percent of the music consists of scales and chords. If you master this basic technique, it will save you time when studying pieces. The scale and chord patterns will already be in your fingers.

I see many teachers engaging in a battle with their students. I try to prevent that myself. Struggle creates negativity and the outcome remains the same: the student still doesn’t practice scales, with the difference that as a teacher, you’re now also frustrated about it. For the student, nothing changes, but the teacher is affected.

I try to motivate students by initially not putting any pressure on them. I avoid phrases like ‘it’s just part of it.’ With beginners, I make it something special, like ‘You’ve already come so far, now you get to do something really special.’ And in the next lesson, I challenge them by saying, ‘Wow, that sounds great! Could you also play it from memory?’ Furthermore, I let every student play a scale in every lesson and analyze the pieces we play with the student. ‘See that? This is the scale of F, it’s easy because you can already play it.’ For me, analysis starts with beginners. I immediately show them how music works, even with the simplest melody. Once they can play a scale, I point out scales in the pieces they’re learning. With advanced students, I analyze the studies together. We discuss the key and the I, IV, and V chords within that key. Those scales and chords need to be practiced that week, and I have them play them all. If I notice a student hasn’t practiced them, I have them play until they can do it flawlessly with a smile.

You can also motivate students to practice their technique by incorporating extended techniques. Have them play the scale using flutter tongue, wind sounds, tone bending, key clicks, singing and playing, pizzicato, and whistle sounds. It would be quite impressive if any student still finds it ‘boring’ and doesn’t want to make time for scales now 😉


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