Learning any instrument, particularly the piano, is an enriching experience. People of all ages either take lessons from individual instructors or use the resources available on the internet.
When learning the piano, you may wonder how long you should practice piano scales.
Scales should be practiced for about 5 to 10 minutes of a typical 30-minute lesson period. For longer 1-hour lesson periods, scales might take up about 20-minutes of that time. However, the amount of time a student spends practicing piano scales will depend on their age, determination, and grade level.
This article will delve into how much time you should spend practicing your scales each day as well as tips on getting the most out of each lesson.
Reasons Why Practicing Scales Is Important
According to Stefan Joubert of the London Piano Institute, practicing scales every day will result in knowledge of technique, muscle memory, tones, a musical ear, rhythm and timing, and an ability to sight-read music — all vital for the beginner and professional alike (source).
Practicing scales will improve your technique and fingering as well as give your hands muscle memory. The more you practice, the less you will need to think about your hands.
Music is composed of different tones in a specific key, and practicing more than one key leads to greater versatility. You need to be able to move from one key to another using all twelve keys of the piano seamlessly.
Having a musical ear is the ability to differentiate the variances in musical sound as well as whether the music is of good quality and being played or sung correctly.
Knowledge of the scales enables you to progress as a student and will boost your confidence as well.
As you progress in your lessons, scales become more challenging, and your confidence will continue to grow, enabling you to tackle complicated melodies and scores, such as one by Mozart. You may even skip a grade or two.
Practicing various rhythms improves your sense of timing. To reach your potential in this area, using a metronome is helpful for you to gain a sense of rhythm, especially progressions such as triplets.
When playing the piano, or any instrument, you must be able to read music. The ability to read music on sight is not as daunting as it sounds. Knowing the keys and scales will quickly lead you to understand and recognize key signatures and musical structure.
Scales and Octaves
No matter the instrument you desire to learn, you will become familiar with octaves, an interval of semitones covering eight degrees of the diatonic scale.
As a beginner, you will practice one octave at a time to begin to familiarize yourself with the keyboard. Eventually, you will progress to two octaves, then three, and so on.
An octave consists of pitch, the chromatic scale, and semitones. Pitch refers to the individual note and, measured in Hertz, is the sound a note makes.
The chromatic scale contains twelve notes, including the half-steps, or semitones, which are the notes in between, such as sharps and flats.
An octave is twelve notes and related semitones (sharps and flats), played through to the thirteenth note. At this point, you have played an octave.
How Long Should You Practice Piano Scales?
When learning, whether something at school or a musical instrument, your learning style will determine what you practice and for how long (source). The length of time needed to practice is a debate piano and music teachers alike have had for years.
On average, you should aim to practice for approximately 1 to 2 hours per day, with five to 20 minutes spent on scales.
However, you would not expect a small child to practice for that long. Therefore, age and level should determine the length of practice time.
The general school of thought is if you take a 30-minute lesson, practice every day for 30 minutes, with 5 to 10 minutes spent on scales. If you receive an hour’s lesson, practice for an hour with up to 20 minutes spent on scales.
However, more teachers believe taking age, level, and motivation into account is a necessary component; therefore, times can be flexible.
|4-5||10 minutes per day; 2-3 minutes on short scales||Establish a daily routine and accountability|
|7-10||30 minutes per day; 10 minutes on scales||Establish a daily routine and accountability|
|Over 10 or intermediate level||45 minutes to 1 hour per day; 5-20 minutes spent on scales||Begin marking time; technical drills, including etudes, scales, and arpeggios|
|High School and adult||45 minutes to 1 hour; 5-20 minutes spent on scales||Learn new repertoire, skills; maintain technique; Learn new repertoire at a faster rate|
|High School, going to Music School such as Julliard||2-3 hours per day; 20-45 minutes spent on scales||Same as above to continually learn new and more difficult pieces|
|Advanced, generally college-age and up||3-6 hours per day; 45-60 minutes spent on scales||Studying to be professional pianists or teachers|
Teachers need to be mindful of not having their students practice too many hours in a row. Smaller practice sessions and those broken up into chunks will result in happier, motivated students.
How to Structure Practice Sessions
For the parent of a young student to an older student who has taken control of their learning, how to structure a practice session can be daunting. Many teachers give what to practice but often not how much or how often or even in what order.
Always begin with a ten-minute warmup. If your teacher does not assign anything specific, you can find many warmups on YouTube (source).
For the next 20 minutes, practice scales and arpeggios. Choose at least two easy and one or two harder ones. It is better to begin learning harder scales early on and not allow them to become the elephant in the room, keeping you from advancing.
The next 20 minutes work on your assigned pieces. While always playing each piece you are learning from beginning to end is tempting, it is a waste of practice.
Use your practice time to work on sections you find challenging. Mastering these sections will also grow your confidence.
Assign ten minutes for each of the next three skills: sight-reading, aural, and viva voce. Sightreading is for fluency. Aural is the ability to assess your sound, rhythm, and ability to play along with others.
Viva voce is the skill to convey in speech, rather than playing, your knowledge for exams.
Professional Tips to Perfecting Scales
More goes into learning scales than just memorizing them. To perfect playing scales and, in turn, your level of ability, there are five areas to keep in mind (source).
First, purchase a metronome. A metronome is an instrument that makes clicking sounds as it swings back and forth to mark the beats per minute needed to play scales or any piece of music in time.
Next, where you place your fingers does make a difference. Some scales require exact fingering positions. If you choose to make up your own, you will run into situations where your fingers are in awkward positions, and playing is going to be difficult.
Use the concept of chunk learning, or not trying to learn everything all in one sitting. Choose two or three scales to practice at one time until you know them as well as the back of your hand.
Too often, we tend to leave the more challenging material for last, and this is no different when learning scales. Rather than go from easy to hard, mix the hard in with the easy.
The result of not procrastinating on the harder scales is confidence in your ability and making future material seem easier to learn.
Rather than play the scales the same boring way each time, switch it up. Add a bit of creative spark to your practice. Change the tempo up, change the emphasis of the notes, and whatever else that makes it fun for you.
Playing scales can be the most tedious part of practicing. Using some of the above techniques, you can begin to look forward to practice rather than keep putting it off.
Best Way to Practice Scales
There is much to be said for knowing what the other side is thinking. In this case, what is your piano teacher thinking?
Taking the time to understand what your teacher wants from you, why they want you to practice, and why they teach the way they teach, will lead you to a better understanding of how you learn and your motivation.
Understandably, not every music teacher will teach the same way, but most are teaching the same material. Across the board, there seem to be five basic and effective strategies teachers implement to enable you to become the pianist of your dreams.
Most piano lessons are thirty minutes with the first five to ten minutes warming up using scales.
The rest of the lesson is twenty minutes and, in that short amount of time, the teacher is attempting to teach new material and assess the student’s proficiency on previous material, all while keeping the student motivated to learn and practice at home.
The following are some strategies you can request of your teacher if they are not already implementing them that may help motivate you to continue lessons and practice at home (source).
One of the first is modeling. Your teacher should always model what they want you to do. Just telling you rather than showing you is not helpful to most students. Many people learn by watching and then doing.
Scales can be played side by side with the student at different octaves giving the visual learner a better understanding.
The teacher should begin your lesson by telling you what you should practice at home, such as scales or a specific set of pages in your book.
They then should relay how they want you to practice the skill, such as clapping out the rhythm, then begin playing slowly while counting.
Have your teacher tell you the reason they want you to practice at home. If you do nothing but play the entire lesson, without dialog with the teacher, chances are you will be highly unmotivated to do so. Knowing the why and how it pertains to you is motivating.
Another strategy your teacher could use is Practice Strategy Cards. These cards, used from beginner to professional, make practice relevant.
The cards have a skill you want the student to know, such as rhythmic playing. On the card is the way the student should practice, such as clap and tap. Make the cards into a game for small children.
If your teacher does not implement the above strategies, communicate your individual needs. Many times teachers can get stuck in a rut. You may be the student that inspires them to change things up.
Children often take lessons because their parents require it; therefore, lessons and practice sessions need to be fun and engaging, or they will quickly lose interest, especially as they enter middle school.
Using the strategies discussed in this article will help make practicing those pesky scales fun and may motivate the young student to continue their lessons into adulthood.
Whether a small child or an adult just beginning to play, scales must be learned and diligently practiced to gain any mastery of the piano.