• Dr. Guy Whatley

Why Scales Are Necessary

Is it necessary to learn scales to learn piano? The answer is actually no, many people don’t learn or teach scales. However, they are a very useful tool. I use them sparingly to teach the different keys and to develop great and even finger control. I also use various studies and the piano repertoire itself to teach all the techniques and textures of piano music.

The main value of learning scales with modern fingering is to get really good at turning your wrist over your thumb, and moving your thumb under your wrist. They are also really useful for giving you total control and evenness of all your fingers. I recommend playing scales legato and staccato and really listening to see if all of the notes are identical in sound, volume, timbre, etc.

Once you have some scales under your belt its a great idea to learn some music that uses them. For example the Mozart Piano Sonata in C Major (K454) has two passages of continuous scales and arpeggios. I think it’s a waste of time to learn a bunch of scales in isolation. I think its a great idea to learn some to improve your technique and to help in learning some really cool music.

Scales also help us navigate difficult and foreign keys. For example, most piano students eventually want to learn Claire de Lune by Claude Debussy, which is in the key of D-flat major. Its often the first time a student will have played a piece with that many flats. Its a great idea to learn the scales and arpeggios of D-Flat major and minor prior to starting this piece. It will make this key seem far less foreign and really speed up the learning of this difficult but beautiful piece.

So there’s no need to spend hours every day practicing scales up and down the piano. But rather like stretching before a hard workout they can be a very valuable addition to your piano toolkit.