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Video 3: Left Hand Movement: Why (and how) to Practice Scales

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I’m not an advocate of excessive (mindless) technical exercises. As I mentioned in the annotation to the first video in this module, I believe that strength will be developed naturally as you play more music.  I believe that really good technique has more to do with refinement, with how efficiently (and hence effortlessly) you do something rather than with developing brute strength and pushing your muscles to move blindingly fast. Hence the exercises in this course are mostly ones that help you to hone in on the finer points of playing things effortlessly and efficiently.

Although there are very few technical exercises I do regularly (unless there’s a specific technique I’m trying to build up for a specific piece of repertoire), scales are an exception. I use them to warm up. I also often use them to fill in the gaps in technique-building that my repertoire fails to fill adequately. They simply cover so much ground.

I find that the quickest way to get really good at scales (and arpeggios) is to

  1.  Spend time playing them slowly, gently, and paying attention to how efficiently I’m moving and to how that feels.
  2. Play them musically, allowing myself to feel a kind of visceral appreciation in my body for the emotional impact of each note, each phrase, each musical flavor, sensation of flow, direction, implication of harmony.
  3. Play them as lightly as possible when trying to increase speed and coordination and accuracy of shifts, continuing to focus on efficiency, but also noticing any feelings of tension, not only in the hands but in my body, as things get more and more difficult. When something is difficult, we often tense up in several places in our body, and this type of tension builds up and causes mistakes.
  4. Relaxing into each new level of difficulty by letting go of tension anywhere I notice it and letting the fingers sink naturally into their new sense of efficiency and speed.

There’s much more to mastering scales than I cover in this one video, and some of the essentials can be found in the next module, when I talk about coordinating the two hands.

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