Tips on practicing scales and arpeggios on the piano

Whether you’re a child (or the parent of a musical child) or an adult not entirely enamoured at the prospect of cracking a load of scales and arpeggios, here are some hints and tips to help ease the pain and get you gliding up and down B flat major before you know it.

Firstly if you’re working towards a piano exam, remember that this part of the test is only a small part of the overall picture. In an ABRSM exam, scales and arpeggios account for 21 out of 150 marks, whereas pieces are worth 30 marks each. Don’t get too stressed about this bit but make sure you’ve covered the basics and can play most reasonably well.

Secondly….scales and arpeggio technique….

  1. Little & often – like almost anything else in life, if you take on too much at once, it will overwhelm you and you’re more likely to give up early. For beginners and early-grade pianists, set aside 10-15 mins a day or every other day to focus on 1, max. 2 scales/arpeggios or ‘exercises’. Nail it, don’t move on until you’ve played it through well 5 times
  2. Get familiar with the ‘shape’ of the exercises. Notice how D minor scale has two black notes at the top, then learn G minor – this is similar at the top of the scale and has an added B flat. Anticipate the black notes and shapes, and you’re fingers will be familiar with where to go next.
  3. Finger patterns – for many of the major & minor ‘white note’ scales, the finger patterns are the same. For C, D, E, G and A scales, notice how the thumbs play together on the middle key note and the third fingers play together. If you go on to play Mozart, Clementi and other similar composers, you’ll be glad you’ve put in this sort of ground work!
  4. Make it fun – if you’re working towards an exam, practice everything in a random order. The examiner chooses the order and practicing this way should help you to listen and focus on what you’re playing. Don’t stick to going through a scales book, try
  • Lucky dips – we write ALL scales & arpeggios on the backs of cereal boxes in rectangles, cut them out and put them in a ‘lucky dip bag’ (any suitably-sized receptacle will do!); either alone or with a friend, pick out one rectangle at a time and give it your best shot
  • If you don’t have cereal boxes, write the exercises on lolly sticks or anything small, reasonable substantial and small enough – I had a pupil do this and she had a great time each night (she did call them the lolly sticks of doom though!)
  • Bingo – write out a ‘bingo card’ and then pick out your rectangles – finish practice once you’ve got a line!
  • Roll a dice and pick out that number of exercises – repeat 3 times. You might end up doing 18 or 3 exercises but over the long run, you’ll cover them all.


Keep at it, don’t give up and make sure you’re playing plenty of fun music in the meantime – it’s not all about scales but they do help.

Thanks for reading!

ps I teach piano to beginners and early grade pupils in Worcestershire so please get in touch if I can help with your piano queries –