The Importance of Scales and Arpeggios

It is no secret that for any pianist, amateur or professional, it is imperative that they commence with a solid warm up prior to launching into a playing session.  In fact, I prefer to think of the scales and arpeggios as part of the playing session. Why and how so?


The benefits of playing scales are all about an adequate warm up, and flexibility of the fingers, and hand. Whist I realise that for a beginner, the idea of incurring an injury at the piano may seem a far fetched idea, it is a definite reality for many people, who may not be adopting the right techniques to play the piano. However, far from wanting to put you off, I'd rather that it be an encouragement to simply follow the right techniques, and processes, to adequately tone your hand, arm, and finger muscles.


Playing the piano is not about just pushing the right keys in the right order. It is very much more than that, and certainly, a possibility to master as a skill, when approached the right way. 

To illustrate this example, you can start by playing scales, and then, moving up to arpeggios.


However, you can also start improvising, and turning the scales in to musical composition, as you progress. 


It is not an automatic thing, no, but certainly a way to move forward, when you need to.


As the Late Professor Lionel Bowman said, it is always a good idea to start to learn something new, with a new technique, rather than trying to play something you already know,as your mind has already programmed a certain method into your playing for a particular piece. However, what about if you decide to learn something completely new, following a new technique, like the Bowman method?


You will find that you develop greater strength in your fingers, as well as the ability to relax more in the hand and arm, thus allowing a greater degree of stress to remain out of the equation.

Tension and stress, mixed with the incorrect sitting posture can dramatically affect your likelyhood of having problems with tendonitis and also muscular aches in general.

However, getting back to my title earlier, the fact that you are playing scales and arpeggios is an important aspect of the warm up process.


I realise that it may take a combination of discipline, and sheer  creativity in time, but you will certainly see the result with less injury over the curse of your piano playing career. For that alone, the issue is a fait accompli.

The Classical Piano method- known as the Magic Touch, is available here.

Application of Basic Principles- Double Octaves and Chords

Application of Basic Principles- Double Octaves and Chords


Double Octaves and Chords



If the student has a thorough working knowledge of the principles outlined in Chapter 1 of the Magic Touch, he should have no difficulty in applying them to the following extracts from the standard repertoire.

The first chapter is available as a complimentary download on the right hand side of this page. Please enter your email and name, and it will be on its way to you.




♦ Double octave or chord passages should be learned first of all through the posture of the thumbs. Prepare and release firmness for each octave or chord. Release upward upon sound of black notes. Lower the wrists as far as they will go through sound of white notes. The follow through is essential. Slide hands and arms forwards to play the black notes, and back to play the white. Test wrists up and down often.


♦ Upon sound of every octave and chord, allow hands to rotate towards fifth fingers, and release notes other than those played by the fifth fingers which then support the hands and arms on the key bed. Test the lateral extension and contraction of the hands repeatedly. Employ a legato pedal.


♦ Double octave passages can be practiced as broken octaves, i.e. Thumbs alternate with fifth fingers.



Disjunct Movement



The fear of negotiating risky leaps in double octave passages may be overcome if, at first, one uses the practice of silent finger substitution. This, in effect, reduces the width of the interval and locks the hand into the movement. Later, when these practices have become automatic, one is able to ignore them and play with confidence at increasing speed. The group (a) exercises are devised as a kind of formula for simple interval practice. The derivation of the (b) group compound interval exercises is obvious.








The formulae may be practiced at gradually increasing pace, beginning on any notes, and the range of the (b) group can be extended. Although substitution is not possible beyond a moderate tempo, it will be found that, at speed, the technical advantages remain.

Introductory Basic Techniques for the Magic Touch for the piano





In most of the exercises in this book, the hands play two octaves apart, thus enabling the forearms to assume a natural, comfortable position parallel with one another, at right angles to the keyboard. To maintain this angle, the torso tilts to the left, centre, or right, according to the geography of the passage played. When the hands play in front of the body, one should lean back a little to accommodate the elbows. Commonsense and circumstances will determine when, and to what degree, the angle and the bodily movements must be modified. Where needed, reminders should be written on the score to 'sit left', 'sit right', 'sit back', 'sit forward', etc.

Of course, one will often lean forward or back for other than technical reasons: for example, a forward attitude is generally conducive to playing of a contemplative or introspective nature, whereas to 'sit back' is often associated with a feeling of breadth and expansiveness. The student will understand that there must always be freedom of movement at the hip joints.

We remind the student to be aware of unconsciously raised shoulders and fifth fingers.



The Thumbs



The thumbs have only two joints and are shorter than the other fingers, but, by way of compensation, they have a range of movement more than the other four fingers combined.

They have four main functions. With the palms facing you, they can move:


(a) directly towards you,

(b) away from the hand,

            1. ) right across the hand to the little fingers, and

            (d) rotarily, which is a combination of the above three movements.


            They have capabilities that the other fingers do not have and without their use, the fingers could not function properly because there would be an inadequate grasp.

            The thumbs, as the dominating fingers of the hands, play a major role in the positioning of the hands on the keyboard. They also have a remarkable melodic capability. Students will appreciate some of the essential functions of the thumbs as they progress from the playing of single thumb notes, to double octaves, and chords through the position of the octave, and other chords in which the thumbs have a guiding influence.

            Because of their fundamental importance,we begin our technical studies with the thumbs.




             Thumb Notes



            ♦ Place the limp hands palms down on the lap, as shown in Figure 1. Note that the gap between the thumb and index finger is about the extent of a major or minor third – a natural position. Note that the thumb is turned slightly outwards.


            More details and instructions are available from The Magic Touch by Wallace Tate, in association with Lionel Bowman