What Do Scales And Improvising Have In Common? Piano Teachers

What Do Scales And Improvising Have In Common?

So, recently a student groaned loudly over having to play scales.  They’re hard.  You just play up and down, up and down, and again.  They don’t ever see a scale in a song… not yet, at least.  The big question is why we have to do these mind numbing silly drills.  The answer is very simple… improvisation!  Of course, this is simplified.  Scales serve several purposes, but the purpose that most students are interested in is improvisation.

Finger Control

Some of those other purposes may be finger control.  When playing a scale with a metronome, you have to play each note with the quarter note, which may sound easy, but as the rhythm gets faster, it gets harder.

Climbing Fingers

If you’ve ever watched your piano teacher or guitar teacher, you’ll notice that fingers don’t behave and stay in one position.  They constantly move around and play what they want all over the instrument.  This is because as music becomes harder we have to move out of one hand position per song.  A great introduction to this is playing scales, because they force us to move into other registers, or note sections, on our instruments.  It’s great practice.  Always remember to start slowly and build up speed.

Scales Are The Basis Of Improvisation

Scales are the basis for practically all forms of improvisation, whether you realize it or not.  Most people do not literally play the scale in order to improvise, however, remove some of the notes of the scale randomly and play it up and down.  If you do this, you will realize that it sounds a lot like improvisation.
Okay, so how can this information help you today?  One of the best things to do is to practice your scales with a metronome.  Pick a comfortable tempo, don’t go too fast.  Something around 70 beats per minute should be good.  Play the scale in triplets, play the scale out of order in a different rhythm.  The only thing is to stay on the right notes.  One way to make it very fun is if you have a keyboard and there are drum beats on the keyboard.  Pick a drum beat, and play a chord in the left hand while you play the scale in the right hand.  Switch your hands, playing a chord in the right hand, and the scale in the left.  This will get your mind used to playing different things as they come to your mind, training you in improvisation.

What Happens After We Play All The Scales?

So, we all know that there are only so many notes in music.  The musical alphabet only has 7 letters, and when you add in all the flats and sharps, there are only 12 tones from A to G sharp.  However, as you see below there are at least 9 scales for each of these 12 tones.  So, if you are doing multiplication, that means that there are at least 108 scales, and yes there are actually more scales than that, because not only are there scales, but there are arpeggios also.  There are tons and tons of scales and scale related activities to explore and ask your teacher about.  Here are a few:


Natural Minor

Harmonic Minor

Melodic Minor

Major Pentatonic

Minor Pentatonic

Blues Scale



…and that’s not all.  Ask your teacher about these and see what you can learn.  Scales have matching chords that sound great with them.  A great one to experiment with is the minor chord with the blues scale.  Play a minor chord in your left hand and play the blues scale with your right.  Give a try.
Have fun and keep practicing!

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