Scales and arpeggios get a rather bad press – one of the things that are blamed for pupils giving up the piano (and other instruments) in the first few years. Partly, this has to do with people’s expectations of what learning the piano will involve, but mostly it’s due to a lack of understanding about why scales and arpeggios are important. And they really are important. Here are a few reasons why:
- They are a great way to exercise and tone your fingers. Instead of rushing through the scales, play them firmly and steadily. This will help to strengthen your fingers, which will give you greater control and confidence at the piano. Arpeggios will help to stretch your hands and develop your note accuracy.
- They teach you to think in ‘keys’. Imagine you’ve just sat down at the piano and you’ve been handed a piece or a song in F# minor. If you’re not familiar with that key, it’s going to be a struggle to ensure you remember play the three sharps in the key signature. The same is true of any key outside C major and A minor. Being able to think in the key the piece is written is a big step towards playing new music.
- They help you to transpose music. When playing in an ensemble, or even to ensure a song will match your vocal range, you’re going to come across pieces and songs that need transposing and you may find yourself on a keyboard without a transpose button! Being able to shift keys is a massive bonus in such situations. Try it out for yourself playing the opening notes of “Joy to the World” in C major, then transpose it to another key.
- They are the basis of all Western music. Whenever you play a piece of music, you’re playing a mixture of scales and arpeggios. What better way to prepare yourself than by including them as part of your daily piano exercise schedule.
- They show you how music works. It was the scales and arpeggios I had to play, sometimes for hours a day, during my early years of learning the piano, that enable me to play the way I do today. I didn’t realise (or appreciate) it at the time, but when I was studying music at university and was expected to improvise and take part in jamming sessions, I suddenly found that I had all the tools to playing chords, improvising melodies and working out the structure of music at my fingertips – all thanks to those scales and arpeggios.
For those starting out, I’ve put together a couple of PDFs of the first five scales to get to grips with on the piano. All the scales start on white keys (C, G, A, D and F), four are major scales and four share exactly the fingering. All the arpeggios share the same fingering.
You’ll note that these have a thumb as the lowest and highest notes (rather than using the fifth finger). I teach scales and arpeggios in this way so that, when pupils come to add further octaves, it’s just a case of doing exactly the same pattern again.
Here they are:
If you have any questions about scales and arpeggios, or if you are looking for piano lessons in Alton area, please contact me here. All the best