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Why Scales?

As I was growing up, I had many piano teachers (we moved quite often).  None of my teachers insisted scales be a part of my curriculum, and I was perfectly fine with that!  Scales were boring, you had to use specific fingering and quite frankly, I didn’t understand the importance.  As I went off to college and was accepted into the school of music, I learned that my previous teachers had done me a great disservice.  I was going to have to play catch-up and this was not going to be fun.

Learning scales is an intricate part of music education.  The process allows a student to understand the composition of a key and how best to finger passages.  Although students can learn to play the piano without this knowledge, it is an uphill battle as they become more advanced.

Because of my background, all of my students begin learning scales within the first 3 months of lessons.  We begin with 5-finger major scales.  They learn the proper name of each pattern, along with the respective sharps and flats.  I have found that as they progress, expanding their knowledge, they can easily decipher scale patterns in their pieces, playing them with ease.

So “why scales”?  If you put it into the context of the English language (because music is a language), scales are similar to learning how to spell (words).  Once you learn how to read the words, you can understand what the story is all about.

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What do you what your students to know?

I love this question!  It is so wide open, yet every day, piano teachers grapple with the enormity of what they want to offer their students.  There are so many ways to go with this, but I want to share my philosophy.

I have always said that if I have three to five years with a student (any additional years is like gravy), it is my job to teach them how to read music, how to count and express emotions, understand terminology,  and hopefully impart the love of not only the piano, but music.  Now, you may think that is quite a long time to spend on these basic concepts, but in reality, it is not.  Oh sure, an average aged beginning student (6-7 years old) can grasp reading on the staff and counting simple rhythms, but that is not enough.  I generally takes about three years, before a student is confident and able to internalize reading and counting skills.  Regardless of what the end result is, as a teacher, I want my students to leave my studio and be able to pick up a piece of sheet music, hymnal, lead line and be able to play until their heart is content.  So, what do YOU want your students to know?