Scales are an essential part of a piano lesson, more so if the student has a learning difficulty or a special educational need. There are always a lot of benefits gained from starting them early on and practicing them regularly.
After I started to include them in every lesson, I started to see these wonderful changes in my students:
I began to see quick improvement in finger strength, technical ability, and dexterity, which is usually one of the main challenges I face with my students.
Before we know it, and without too much effort, the student builds a solid knowledge of the piano geography and key names.
My students seem to be always prepared for later when we start playing pieces from regular method books with a focus on keys and patterns, structures, and harmonies. Developing their musical ear, easily and confidently recognizing minor and major keys.
I saw an improvement in the students' sense of timing and rhythm.
My students slowly build the foundation for composing and improvising, giving our lessons more variety and creativity.
When and How to Start?
The first month is a good time to start, we include them in our lessons from the beginning, introducing them slowly one by one using the following steps:
1. I teach the major and minor 5-finger scales:
We play the scales starting on the white keys only, and the open chords (playing the first and fifth notes of the scales at the same time). We play one at a time until mastered and memorized before moving to the next one. Together we sing the names of the notes loudly while playing them, I insist on the student using all his/her fingers to play and playing steadily to a beat as well.
You will be surprised when you start teaching these scales how unnatural and complicated to some of the students to play and control each and every finger, and how the improvement in playing these seemingly very easy scales carries to other pieces and songs. I suggest learning all the 5 finger scales starting on the white keys only because of the complexity of the fingerings of the scales starting on the black keys. Once all of these scales are mastered I move on to the next step.
My student Mathew is a good example:
Mathew signed up for piano lessons when he was around 7 years old. He had very poor finger dexterity, and it was extremely difficult for him to play using all his fingers, in order to be able to use his fourth finger he would have to press it down with the third, that’s if he remembered to play it in the first place. During the first 2 months, he would insist on starting the scale with the lefthand finger 3 then 2, and finish it with the right hand using fingers 1, 2, and 3. I would correct him and we would restart, it took us many tries during one lesson to get it right, and many months to go through all the scales. But once Mathew mastered them, playing the pieces from his books became a lot less challenging.
2. The second step is playing octave scales and triads:
It might be a year or longer before we are able to move to this second step. It is important not to rush this. Some of my students zoom through them and some find them extremely challenging. I like to take my time and make sure the scale is completely memorized before moving to the next one. When we play the scale, we end it by playing its triad in root position.
3. We make the scales relevant:
Before starting a new piece we talk about the key and play the scale, we look for different triads, name them, and play them.
In addition to that, we use them in our creativity part of the lesson to improvise and compose tunes with different moods; sad, happy, angry…
If you have more ideas on teaching and playing piano scales with your students, I would love to hear them. If you need a book to guide your students through their scales you can find it here: