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Piano Scales - number of octaves


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#1 SparkysMagicPiano

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Posted 16 February 2021 - 10:55

A question prompted by having an adult pupil at about Grade 3 who quite likes working at scales:

 

The ABRSM syllabus only has 4-octave scales at Grade 6 and above. At lower grades fewer octaves are required. I appreciate that for some people scales are a nasty chore to be done only under duress, so they wouldn't dream of going beyond the requirements for the level at which they play. 

 

However, I view scales as a hugely beneficial aid to improving technique. Also, once a scale is known, it doesn't seem very difficult to me to extend it from, say, 2 octaves to 4 octaves - and in doing so you give the pupil twice the amount of technique practice. 

 

Wouldn't this be rather a good idea then, especially for an adult with a good level of concentration and interest?

 

Does anyone else set piano scales for their pupils that are more octaves than is required for their level? If you wouldn't consider doing this, why wouldn't you? (I fully understand why you wouldn't if achieving the required scales at the level is quite enough of a challenge for a pupil already - I'm interested for pupils who are fairly capable at scales.)

 

Thanks for your thoughts in advance.


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#2 HelenVJ

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Posted 16 February 2021 - 11:39

Rather than just increase the number of octaves, I prefer to introduce 'Russian'-style scales at around Grade 4 level, in many different keys. I'm sure there are examples and demos on YouTube, but the pattern is 2 octaves up (similar), then change to contrary, back into the middle and then back down. Hope that's clear  :) . Of course it can also be reversed, starting from the top. We do this in most keys, up to 5 sharps and flats and also work on chromatics, arpeggios, and diminished and dominant 7ths. 

We don't pay much attention to the exam syllabus and work way above and beyond the requirements. Then in the few weeks before an exam we can focus on the ones on the list. I changed to Trinity some time ago, so there are relatively few.

But there is soo much piano repertoire that I'd rather most of the practice schedule was spent on this. Musicality needs to be developed alongside technique, which is only a means to an end. 


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#3 zwhe

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Posted 16 February 2021 - 12:40

I don't increase the number of octaves, but once scales are well known, I use them to develop other technique, for example extending dynamic range, different types of staccato, each hand doing something different. I find most pupils really struggle with ppp/fff and keeping it completely even, especially if it is also staccato. I have one grade 8 pupil at the moment who prefers to flick towards him for pp, but away for ff, so he is now trying to do crescendo/decrescendo and change the staccato in the middle, and keep it even.

I have to say though, the majority of my advanced scale-learning pupils are teenagers and its a challenge to get them to spend ANY time on them at all!


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#4 SparkysMagicPiano

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Posted 16 February 2021 - 12:43

Thanks Helen. Yes, I know what you mean by 'Russian'-style scales and it's very much in line with my thinking about doing scales well beyond ABRSM syllabus requirements - where appropriate and where the pupil is capable and interested enough.

 

I think you've answered my question very well with "we don't pay much attention to the exam syllabus" - thanks! I'm certainly not very interested in which keys are set at which level - I think pupils ultimately need to understand and work on them all. 


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#5 HelenVJ

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Posted 16 February 2021 - 14:02

I don't increase the number of octaves, but once scales are well known, I use them to develop other technique, for example extending dynamic range, different types of staccato, each hand doing something different. I find most pupils really struggle with ppp/fff and keeping it completely even, especially if it is also staccato. I have one grade 8 pupil at the moment who prefers to flick towards him for pp, but away for ff, so he is now trying to do crescendo/decrescendo and change the staccato in the middle, and keep it even.

I have to say though, the majority of my advanced scale-learning pupils are teenagers and its a challenge to get them to spend ANY time on them at all!

Yes! Trinity requires fewer scales but with varied dynamics/articulations.
Even quite early on, once basic hands together scales are mastered, we experiment with one hand legato and the other staccato ( then reversed, of course) and different dynamics in each hand. All far more relevant to real musical playing than mindlessly zapping up and down for 4 octaves,  which never actually happens in real music. 


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#6 ten left thumbs

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Posted 16 February 2021 - 15:26

I suppose it all boils down to, what is the point of doing scales? Finger exercise? To understand tonality? Evenness? Finger discipline?

 

For me personally, I think 4 octave scales are an awful lot easier than 1 or 2 octaves (though students often disagree) because you actually get into the pattern of them. With one or two octaves, the pattern is frequently disrupted by stopping or turning around. For those scales where the pattern of blacks and whites really determines where you put 3 and where you put 4, multiple octaves (why stop at 4?) actually make life much easier. By this I mean Bb major, B major, Db maj, etc. So, if the point of the scale is to 'get into the finger pattern', then I think multiple octaves is very helpful. Though immediately before an exam I would definitely stick to exam requirements. 

 

I think all of us who really got into music and began to understand how keys work, have spent some kind of phase where we really enjoyed scales and enjoyed the power that scales give us, to play in different keys. It may be this student is going through this. But, yet, for a lot of people, a lot of the time, scales are a chore and time would more musically be spent, playing music!


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