The Best way to Practice Your Scales

notes on a piano

Piano Keys

Though teachers and players would almost all agree that knowing your scales is important, 10 different players might have 10 different views on the “right way” to practice scales. For me, the first question is what do we intend to glean from the practice and study of scales?

In no particular order, we probably hope to achieve all or some of the following:

  1. Manual Dexterity.
  2. Familiarity with tonal centers (keys) and modalities.
  3. Manual and Aural fluidity (within keys).
  4. An understanding of harmony.
  5. Improvement of passage playing.
  6. Improvement of or foundation for improvising skills.
  7. Probably other things!

We can also think of what we are going to be playing and how scale practice might help:

  1. Classical Music (Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven)
  2. Jazz
  3. Rock
  4. Blues
  5. Improvising in any of the above styles
  6. Boogie

Whether you’re a teacher, a student or a parent, you should spend a little bit of time thinking about this before going on.

Let’s revisit the first list and try to define the terms on it. As we go through it, watch some footage of piano players (or whatever your instrument is) and think about how the idea applies to what your seeing.  Youtube or any other video page may be your best source.

1. Manual Dexterity-The fine muscle movement of your fingers, hands, wrists, and arms, specifically with regards to playing your instrument. Think of the arch in the fingers as they strike and leave the keys. Be aware of the movement up and down the keyboard, fretboard or what-have-you.

2. Familiarity with tonal centers-What sharps or flats do you find in the key of F major? B major? D minor? E lydian dominant? Knowing the keys that you’re playing in and what accidentals they consists of is crucial for your conception, if you are to learn the piece deeper than by rote.

3. Manual and Aural Fluidity-Being able to hear, play, improvise and compose within a given key without hesitation.

4. An Understanding of Harmony-Harmony refers to two notes or more sounded together musically. In other words, chords! Since chords and scales are closely related you would need to know your scales well, before you can really learn your chords. Watch Bill Evans playing Autumn Leaves. Right from the beginning, you can hear how he must have a deep understanding of harmony:

After you watch this video, please go on to The Best way to Practice Your Scales-Part 2.


  1. nice post. thanks.

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  2. xela ellingsworth says:

    my goal is to be able to play River Flows in You – Yiruma, and Debussy-Clair de lune, because they are my favorite two songs on piano

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  3. Dan Percle says:

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  5. excellent post

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  6. Nice article! It was a pleasure to read it :)

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  8. Jason Bernstein says:

    Thanks for leaving a comment. Good luck achieving your goals. If I can help in any way, just let me know!

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  9. Only a simple understanding օf music theory іs necessary tto discover how to strum chords and
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