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The Piano Scale Book: Learn Scales Better Than Ever Before

Do your pupils regularly rave about learning scales? If so, feel free to go and make a coffee: you’ve got this covered. But if, like many of us in the piano-teaching world, a good number of your students think scales are as fun as watching paint dry, then stick around! This blog is for you. As teachers, we know a solid grasp of scales is crucial for any budding musician; convincing our students of this fact is the key.

Scales and arpeggios are the DNA of music.  Us teachers know that a firm command of scales can help our students learn repertoire faster and more contextually. Knowing how to ‘think’ in a key while improvising or spotting a scale or arpeggio in a piece of music can transform their learning process from a slog to a breeze.

Why Scales Matter

Why, you ask, should scales get all this fanfare? Here’s the scoop:

  1. Finger Gymnastics: Scales are like yoga for the fingers. They strengthen and prepare them for the acrobatics of complex pieces. And hey, who doesn’t want fingers that can out-perform a Cirque du Soleil performer?
  1. The Musical Roadmap: Every piece of music is a land with its own geography, and scales are the GPS that guide you through. Mastering scales means never getting lost in the wilderness of sheet music again.
  1. Speed Demons and Zen Masters: Whether your student aspires to playing lightning-fast runs or serene, lyrical phrases, scales are the training ground for both.
  1. Striking a Chord: Understanding scales opens the door to the magical world of chords and harmony. A mastery of scales enables our students to craft their own harmonic landscapes.

Whether your student dreams of scoring a blockbuster film, rocking out in a band, improving their technique, acing a music exam, or just nailing their favourite repertoire, we all agree on one thing: mastering scales and arpeggios is key. As an experienced piano teacher, helping students find their ‘lightbulb’ moment is my raison d’être. But let’s be realistic, many students see the mountain of scales as a soul-sucking marathon. My mission? To turn those groans into grins and make scales something they actually enjoy and find useful.

My Personal Journey with Scales

My own journey with scales was, let’s say, unconventional. Maybe that’s why I love them so much! My “aha!” moment did not come from preparing for a music exam; it came from jamming in a band with my friends. With no sheet music, just chord charts, I quickly realised I needed to master my scales to boost my street cred and be able to successfully solo over chord progressions. Before this, scales were just dull exercises to me and something I had to endure to pass my next music exam. But that teenage lightbulb moment turned me into a scale enthusiast.

Once I understood the value of them from a musical standpoint, it fed back into my classical piano studies and composing work, whilst simultaneously having a transformative effect on my technique and understanding of harmony.  From years of teaching piano, I have fine-tuned and developed my approach to teaching scales to my pupils, and I always incorporate them into my lessons in some form.  Whether that be teaching my pupils to modulate through all scales or composing creative scale-based studies to help them with challenging sections in their repertoire. For me, I love the variety that comes with a career in music, and I use scales every day, whether that be composing music for film or TV or in my lessons at Stowe School, where I am Head of Keyboard.

The Time Crunch Conundrum

Young learners today are busier than ever.  Between school, social media, and a million extracurricular activities, finding quality practice time is a challenge. They face unique pressures and distractions that many of us didn’t have to deal with growing up. As teachers, we have a challenge: how to put scales at the top (or at least near the top!) of the agenda by making them fun, accessible, and as easy-to-learn as possible.

Enter the Piano Scale Book Series

Enter our protagonist, the wise piano teacher armed with The Piano Scale Book. This unique guide adds vibrant colour to a world of black and white – not only by making the scales look good but transforming them into the superstar of every piano lesson.

Piano Scale Books

There are loads of scale books out there, but few focus on how to practise them effectively and retain the skill of playing them consistently. That’s where The Piano Scale Book series comes in. With this new series of books, the process of practice lies at the very heart of each of them, and whilst the full-colour presentation of the books provides a much-needed aesthetic boost, the coloured diagrams are central to the method I have created, and they help the learner to see the shape of a scale like never before.

The ScaleBlocks Method

Just as one might remember a phone number by separating the digits into groups or chunks, The Piano Scale Book breaks scales into logical blocks of notes, which I call ScaleBlocks. For example, red keys are always played with the 1st finger, blue keys with fingers 2 and 3 as a chord, and yellow keys represent those one-off fingerings found either at the top or bottom of a scale.

ScaleBlocks

Instead of a seemingly endless stream of notes, the ScaleBlocks method helps students see patterns and hand positions clearly. For instance, F major can be broken down into simple, memorable blocks that make playing with both hands a doddle.  I love setting my students the “F-major challenge” to see how quickly they can master it. They’re often amazed at how easy it is when they visualise it this way. Each scale and arpeggio is displayed within a large, colour-coded keyboard diagram. This explicitly presents the physical shapes of the scale pattern, allowing the student a simple method by which to learn patterns away from notational representation.

Grouping and Similarities

F Major Scale Diagram

Every scale and arpeggio in The Piano Scale Book has been assigned one of three groups, linking it to others with similar fingerings or shapes. Group 1 scales, for example, use the same finger patterns as C major, while Group 2 scales like F major have identical right- and left-hand shapes. Assigning each scale into groups helps learners make vital connections, speeding up the learning process dramatically.

F Major scale 1

Knowing that scales like F-sharp, C-sharp, and G-sharp minor arpeggios feel the same under the fingers as each other, or that B major, F-sharp major, and C-sharp major scales share finger patterns, makes a world of difference.  The first finger plays a pivotal role (quite literally) in each scale and arpeggio. Isolating these from the other parts of the scale can be a really useful learning tool. Playing ScaleBlocks non-legato for those with smaller hands may be necessary in order to avoid the elbows springing outwards.

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Scale-Hero Videos

Visual-learning tools are absolutely engrained into the educational experience of today’s students. The Piano Scale Book series not only addresses this through presenting scales via large, colour keyboard diagrams, it also comes with guitar-hero style learning videos for every scale. Using a unique code found in the book, pupils can download or stream these videos. They can hear the scale being played and watch as the relevant ScaleBlock colours drop onto a piano keyboard. This allows learners another medium through which to experience scales, making learning more effective than ever before. The Piano Scale Book really does engage visually, kinaesthetically, and aurally.

Strike a Pose and Self-Reflect

Each scale is paired with a fun emoji system, encouraging students to reflect on their progress and stay motivated.

Emojis

For notation fans, there’s a downloadable, fully-notated version of each scale, with coloured noteheads that align with the book’s piano keyboard diagrams.

My Library

Fully compatible with both ABRSM and Trinity exam boards, these books go beyond the traditional scales. Dive into enchanting scales like the Bhairav raga (a.k.a. double-harmonic), groove with blues scales, and explore the versatility of pentatonic scales.

As a teacher who recognises the immense value of scales, I crafted The Piano Scale Books to ignite that same appreciation in my students. Once they understand that scales and arpeggios are the building blocks of their favourite pieces, they see the value in learning them and can use them creatively in compositions and improvisations. My goal is very much to turn scale practice from a necessary evil into a musical adventure and I really hope these books bring a sense of inspiration and fun to your teaching toolkit.

About the Author

Ben Andrew

Ben Andrew is a composer, teacher, pianist, graphic designer and app creator. He studied at Trinity College of Music, London, under renowned British concert pianist and pupil of Heinrich Neuhaus, John Bingham, and at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest where he studied under Jenõ Jandó.

He has vast experience working as both a composer and performer. He has composed music for blockbuster films as well as for television.  His music has also been featured in both Trinity and ABRSM music exam syllabi.  From writing and orchestrating pop songs to performing concerti by composers such as Beethoven and Rachmaninov, Ben enjoys a career working across many facets in the music industry, giving him a unique edge with his composition. He is in demand as an adjudicator and music educator, and has judged competitions around the UK and abroad, including East Asia.

Ben is Head of Keyboard at Stowe School, Buckingham.

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