A Beautiful Process for Scales

I was back at Steinway Hall in London recently, recording a new series of video demonstrations for Pianist Magazine. The first is on scales and arpeggios, and now that it has come out I am able add it at the end of this post. In this video, I demonstrate how the wrist, thumb and forearm accommodate the shifts in position in a scale or an arpeggio, using examples from the repertoire. So often I see players drop the arm down onto the thumb, forgetting that the arm needs to glide behind the hand smoothly. Apart from lumps and bumps, this will often cause a derailment.

I wish there had been time to demonstrate a beautiful process my friend and colleague, the late and much missed Nehama Patkin used to do with scales for her intermediate students. Fortunately, I can give it to you here. This is useful hands separately as well as together, and it is actually very good to do it with the metronome.

This is my take on what Nehama did (she suggested playing the scale as fast as possible as the final part, even if it comes out scrappily):

  • Play the scale one octave ascending and descending, very slowly and firmly with a full, rich tone – let’s say we play each note as a crotchet, MM = 60 (or wherever suits you). Raise each finger slightly before grasping each key firmly, making sure to switch off effort at the bottom of each key. This will be at a level of forte.
  • Next, without stopping, play two octaves in quavers. Keep the same pulse from the one-octave scale (the scale will now be twice as fast). Physically, instead of planting each finger into the key we now play lighter. Concentrate on the arm, feeling it glide serenely across the keyboard like a swan on the water. Perhaps mezzo piano.
  • Again without stopping, now play three octaves as triplets, more lightly. Activate the fingers again, this time using a leggiero touch (a very light finger staccato).
  • Finally, play four octaves as semiquavers. Bring together active fingers with the gliding arm.
  • If you wish, play the scale now as fast as possible. Don’t worry if it doesn’t quite work – you are starting to build the reflexes for eventual success somewhere down the line, and magic can happen here.
  • Remember to enjoy it!

Here is my video for Pianist Magazine:

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