Can't Play Fast Scales or Fast Music That Has Scale-Like Stuff In it?
Scale Obsession is an online course that will fix this problem for you in 7 lessons. You do it at your own pace.
The course will be $200 USD when it's released, but you can reserve your early bird price of $100 USD now.
If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you have a problem playing scales. Furthermore, I’m assuming you’re wanting to understand more about how I can help with that.
Great. I’m going to explain to you how I can help.
Based on my insights into mindfulness and acceptance, I invented a practice technique I call “the waterfall technique.” Teachers on Facebook hate it, which is how I know I’m onto something. While developing this technique, I spent a lot of time practicing scales. Fast scales (like 208 bpm). Hands together, parallel motion.
I got obsessed with scales and I want to share what I’ve learned.
First, let me explain how I got to a point where I said “I can help.”
In the beginning, I looked at scales (and scale-like music) the normal way: just practice more and try harder.
When I started playing the piano (at age 14), I sucked at scales. A couple of years later, my teacher assigned me the Mozart Sonata in C major (K. 545 for you nerds out there), which is quite a scaly piece. I hated playing it. My hands felt sluggish, especially going up the keyboard with my right hand (going down was easier).
The Mozart sonata is an easy piece, and I felt ashamed and embarrassed. Everyone else could play scales fast and easily…why couldn’t I?
I was a beginner and I assumed I’d get better over time. It didn’t happen. Instead, as I played harder and harder music, my scales felt just as awful in my hands as they ever did.
I used intellectual arguments to justify my hatred of scales.
Some years ago, inspired by the unconventional advice in C. C. Chang’s book Fundamentals of Piano Practice, I wrote an article about piano playing where I said:
“Myth: Practicing should begin by warming up. I don't know what "warming up" means. Perhaps, it involves playing scales over and over. Or maybe arpeggios, chords, or other nonsense. I see no physical reason why this form of "warming up" is necessary. Scales, arpeggios, and chords are elements of music theory, independent of the development of playing technique. Once a student is familiar with these elements, there should be no need to practice them on a regular basis, or warm up with them. On the other hand, it is possible students might find it helpful to begin a practice session with a simple exercise to help themselves enter a proper "state of mind" before reviewing more difficult music.”
This paragraph was an attempt at justifying my avoidance of scales. That’s how bad my shame was.
My scale problem followed me beyond Mozart...
A couple years after that, my teacher suggested I play some Chopin Etudes. Those were hard. I tried learning Op. 10, No. 8 (the F major one). I sucked at it. Same problem as with the Mozart sonata: my right hand felt sluggish while going up the keyboard.
Another teacher said to me: “Michael, that Chopin etude is like playing a scale.”
This blew my mind. I’d never thought of scales that way.
I mean, the Chopin etude wasn’t a scale…
...but yeah, it had the same problems:
Pianists love to obsess over the thumb issue. In fact, it’s one of the main points I remember from Chang’s book. He talked about “thumb under” vs. “thumb over”. I had no clue what he meant by that. I didn’t make sense until later.
In the meantime, my teacher was telling me to move my thumb under faster, but it wasn’t working.
Up until this point, I thought the only way to improve my scale playing was to practice more and try harder.
I was trapped in a conceptual box.
When I started my master’s degree in piano, I found myself practicing a lot more than before. I’d been working full-time and I was practicing maybe 1 hour per day. But, while in school, I figured I might as well try to get good at piano, and I increased my practice time to 4 hours per day.
By the end of the first semester, that extra time at the piano started to catch up to me. I was walking outside the library one day when I noticed my right forearm was hurting. I felt worried. That was the first time I’d felt pain away from the piano.
It wasn’t until I felt physical pain that I had an incentive to leave the conceptual box.
I was terrified of permanent injury,
...so I went to the library and embarked on a quest to figure out piano technique (that’s what we INTPs do when we have a question, as you Myers-Briggs nerds will know).
I checked out a big pile of books, but most of them were abstract and intellectual and obviously designed to impress the author’s peers rather than help pianists.
The one book that helped me...
...was 20 Lessons in Keyboard Choreography by Seymour Bernstein.
This book explained piano technique from the ground up. At the end of the book, he talks about playing scales. Fast scales. In one burst of energy.
That’s exactly what I was looking for.
I also learned about the Taubman Approach...
It reminded me of what Seymour talked about (lots of "forearm rotation"). It’s a bit cult-like, but whatever. I needed answers.
In the Taubman videos, Edna Golandsky demonstrates a C major scale. She breaks it down into fundamental movements. I’d never looked at it that way before.
It’s like a kata in martial arts. It’s not just “you gotta play scales over and over.”
I became obsessed. I knew I had to figure it out.
Here’s what I learned:
Scales aren't just some boring exercise you do like eating your broccoli “because it’s good for you.” Scales are serious business.
Scales are a simple, pure version of piano music. You’ve gotta master them. If you can’t play the piano fast, it will show up in your scale playing. When all the musical cruft is removed, what’s left will reveal the truth.
If you’re holding the pedal down so no one can hear how bad your scales are, you’ve got a problem. It’s not a musical problem. It’s a willingness problem: a fear of experiencing your inferiorities.
So, that’s where I’m coming from.
If you resonate with my journey, let’s talk.
Based on my experiences, I'm offering you:
It’s an online course.
You do it at your own pace. You go through one lesson at a time, and by the end you’ll have a different way of playing scales.
Play fast and easy.
You’ll be playing fast (208 beats per minute, 4 notes per beat), easy, and hands together in parallel motion.
You’ll be doing the Russian scale pattern.
You know, the one that goes up and down the keyboard in parallel and contrary motion. You’ll also play the Mozart C major sonata.
There are 7 lessons.
For each one, you’ll watch a short video and read the text blurb that goes along with it. In the video, I’ll demonstrate an exercise. Then, you’ll sit down at the piano and practice the exercise yourself. Once you’ve mastered it, you’ll go on to the next lesson.
Before you get too excited, I want to be upfront with you about something. This is new, experimental material. I don’t know if it will work for you. I’m curious to find out. If you’re looking for something established, this isn’t for you. It’s nontraditional. It’s weird. It’s designed for pianists who are on the verge of ripping their hair out from frustration. But, if it doesn’t get you playing fast scales and scale-like music, I’ll refund your money.
Let me be clear on who this is for.
That said, let me also be clear on who this is not for.
If you’re ready, click the button to get started.
The course will cost $200 USD when it’s officially released. I’ve spent more money than this on one single piano lesson.
You pay for this course once and you can go through it as many times as you want.
If you sign up now, you can reserve the early bird price of $100 USD.
Don’t waste another minute doing the same stuff that isn’t working.
It takes time to absorb new ways of playing.
Get yourself exposed to it now so that your brain can get to work on incorporating it into your playing.
Some concerns you might have about Scale Obsession:
What if I don’t like Scale Obsession or it doesn’t help me?
If it's not right for you, I’ll give you a full refund.
What if it’s too hard for me?
This isn’t for novice pianists, but you don’t have to be super-advanced. The technique is the same for any music you’re playing. The exercises I give are physical. If they’re too hard, practice them until they’re easy. That’s how you learn.
What if it’s too easy for me?
Then you’re a know-it-all.
Let yourself be a beginner. It’s good for you.
What if it messes up my playing?
The stuff I do is based on mindfulness and deliberate intention. You’ll still be able to play the old way if you want (but I don’t know why you’d want to).
What if it gives me bad habits that I won’t notice until later on down the road?
It will. You’ve got to come to terms with the fact that you’re constantly acquiring bad habits. Don’t let fear of future regret stop you from experimenting.