Some piano students find scales and arpeggios (broken chords) annoying and tedious distractions from the joy of playing actual music. However, scales and chords are fundamental building stones in music and essential for both the playing and the understanding of music.
A little background info:
Closing the circle of 5ths in the late 1670s was a big revolution in music history. The natural 5th found in the overtone series was altered to create a closed system of 12 equal intervals. This enabled each of the 12 keys to be the starting point of scales and chords that would sound in tune, regardless of how many sharps or flats they use.
J.S. Bach wrote two volumes of preludes and fugues in each of the major and minor keys to prove this was possible and called them "The well tempered Clavier".
How you can benefit by playing scales and chords:
Having 12 different starting points for the same musical patterns opens up numerous possibilities for composing and improvising music. Each of these starting points has a different structure of white and black keys and has to be learned individually.
By playing the scales and chords in each of the keys, you are covering the ground and getting acquainted with many of the basic patterns found in music.
Following is a list of the gradual steps you can take in learning scales and chords, and how you will benefit by accomplishing each one. While working on the scales it is important not to tense or get cramped in any part of the body to avoid injuries. (See Yoga and Piano post)
1. Learn the pentascales ( the first 5 steps of the 8 note scale) in all 12 keys. When you play the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the pentascale you will get the major or minor chords in their basic form. Knowing the 12 major and minor chords will enable you to play lead sheets and start jamming with other musicians on a basic level.
2. Expand from the pentascale to the one octave scale. This involves learning some very common and useful fingering patterns. By playing the 12 major and minor scales with hands separately in one octave, you will understand a lot more about music theory and expand your improvisation tool kit.
3. Play the major and minor scales and arpeggios in all 12 keys with hands together through two octaves. This will enhance the hand coordination and dexterity.
4. Play the scales and arpeggios over 4 octaves at a higher speed. Once you have learned the notes and the exact fingering of each scale you can concentrate on getting an even and smooth touch.
5. Learn to play the major and minor arpeggios in their inversions. Being familiar with the different inversions expands the possibilities for song arrangements and improvisation as well as interpreting written music.
6. Get creative in how you practice your scales: you can vary the dynamics and articulation, apply different rhythmical patterns, play one hand louder than the other, and more.
7. Widen your horizons: There are many types of scales you can learn, major and minor are only two of a large range. Start with modes, whole tone and pentatonic scales. Likewise, there are many different sorts of chords to learn after the basic major and minor ones have been mastered.
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