Trusted by hundreds of teachers since 2001, Scale Shapes is the popular, diagram-based way to learn piano scales using the Stocken Method. Designed by renowned pedagogue Frederick Stocken, the third edition of the series is now out, published by Chester Music and aligning with the latest ABRSM Piano syllabus requirements from Initial Grade through to Grade 5. Here, Frederick gives his insight into how to carve out the most effective pathway to perfect piano scales.
Scales – how can we convince ourselves or our students to practise them?
Probably none of us began to learn the piano because we wanted to play scales. But there can be very few accomplished pianists who have not benefitted, at one time or another, from practising them. As a teacher, when I started to think about why many students, especially children, find scales to be drudgery, I realised that, although the repetitive nature of the exercises is often cited as the main cause of boredom, I believe this is not often the root of the problem. Don’t forget that the student who complains of the tedium of repetition when practising scales might well be the same person who has a fitness programme that involves plenty of repetition and which is found to be most enjoyable.
The root cause of the problem
The mental block many students have with practising scales is not the repetitiousness as such, but the actual technical difficulties involved in reading musical notation and translating this into the physical shapes of the scales themselves. It is these difficulties that seem to prevent the satisfying rhythm of repetition and growing control that the student might find so rewarding when lifting weights or practising kicking a ball into a net.
The invention of Scale Shapes
The way the information about scales is represented in the Scale Shapes books came to me in a flash during a piano lesson I gave, where a student was struggling with a C-sharp minor harmonic scale. The idea of writing the fingering on two separate keyboards, one for the right hand and one for the left, seemed immediately to solve the problem.
Three editions later
Scale Shapes provides a system that allows the student to concentrate exclusively on the physical shapes of the technical exercise and, in consequence, to focus on the acquisition of good legato, even fingers, firm tone, and musical contour. In short, I have found that this method helps to make scales become fun – and much easier.
What about the value of learning to read scales using music notation?
Scale Shapes are not designed to be a substitute for the ability to read music notation. I have found that using this method, which so explicitly presents the physical shapes of different keys at the keyboard, helps fix these shapes in the student’s mind so that playing from musical notation in the context of a piece or sight-reading becomes easier.
One more way Scale Shapes saves time
However idealistic a teacher may be that a student will learn a scale from music notation, experience shows that the simplest method of introducing a new scale is often for the teacher physically to play the exercise demonstrating the new shape for the student to play. Not only is this stage of learning removed because Scale Shapes are so easy to read, but the teacher can be confident that the student has something they can rely on when they are practising alone.
Scale Shapes 3rd Edition
The updated 3rd edition of Scale Shapes is available now from Musicroom. Each book, covering Initial to Grade 5, is fully revised and updated to match the criteria set out in ABRSM‘s 2021 updated scales syllabus. Priced at just £7.50, Scales Shapes remains a go-to resource for piano teachers and students all over the world!