Why We Should Practice Scales, Chords and Arpeggios

A few of my students detest their technical exercises. In fact, I have a few students who really need to pull up their socks in this area if they're going to pass their piano exam next month. I hated them too. With a passion. That hatred was reflected in my poor technical skills mark on piano exams.

Since then, I've learned to like them. Elinor Lawson, my piano instructor at university, assigned me some songs from Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm by Béla Bartok. In it, I found several passages where chords progressed up in a scale (e.g. B chord, C chord, D chord, etc.). I started looking at music harmonically - from the chord progressions to how a melody would be stated in one key and then reappear in a closely related key. I learned that looking for patterns like this made memorizing easier.

In Chopin's Nocturne in e minor, op. 72 no. 1, which I'm currently working on, there are virtuosic scale passages that I've spent many an hour on.

As a listener at a concert, I've heard jazz and classical musicians play scale passages that move in parallel, contrary and zigzag motion.

As a teacher, I see chords, arpeggios and scales in my students' songs.

Scales, chords and arpeggios are often called the building blocks of music as I've illustrated above. They also are exercises in motor dexterity and strength. Those tricky passages in the Nocturne demand technical precision. The dramatic effect is lost if I stumble my way to the top.

It comes down to this: it doesn't matter how expressive a musician is, if he or she is weak technically, he or she can't convey the music convincingly. It's like trying to read an essay or a resume that's riddled with grammatical and typographical errors.

Here are a few more articles on the importance of practicing technique:

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