Initially, I don't advocate buying scale manuals or lists even for exams (sorry ABRSM and Trinity Guildhall). This is not to say that manuals don't have a role to play - they are an important point of reference. Scale learning should never be a rote exercise for the sake of a syllabus anyway. My pupils start with five finger and thumb passing exercises to build scales from the earliest stages of learning. We look, listen, sing, compare positions. No printed material is used unless it is a laminated keyboard alongside buttons for 'key' sharps, flats, intervals etc. when discussing the theory of scales later on.
So, first steps... We explore different five finger starting positions, starting with C and G. We play up and down these positions and sing them too, to find the 'melody sound' of the mini scale. Other starting notes are explored, such as D and A, to see what happens to the sound and which notes have to be adjusted. Once hand position is well established and the pupil moves beyond a five-finger position, we begin 'thumb under' exercises in readiness for the octave scale. I will ask the pupil what finger patterns they notice in C major first, then ask them to play an octave from G. At this point, hopefully they identify that it doesn't sound 'quite right' unless they sharpen the 7th. From this we can identify the TTS TTTS sound pattern and begin to apply it from any starting note. There's usually a good deal of excitement in younger pupils at this point, especially when starting from black keys. In this way the theory begins to be covered.
I will ask them about what finger rules they can make from the scales - e.g. 1231234, 3rd fingers together on which notes when starting from C, G, D, A, E ?, how F major and B major are 'different'. I will ask which major white note scales are the most 'comfortable' to play - B major usually comes top as it sits comfortably under the fingers. From then on we can introduce two octaves with separate hands, one octave both hands together and then both hands over two octaves to reinforce 3rd and 4th fingers over. We begin to learn the 4th finger rules for each scale. All of this is done with reminders being written in the all-important practice diaries mentioned in a previous post - no extra expense required!
I think it's important to encourage playing scales in different ways from early stages too. Once syllabus practice is under way, different rhythms can be explored for variation. We might try one hand quieter than the other, or one hand staccato and one legato, gradually building up the number of octaves from the bottom of the keyboard upwards, eyes open/eyes shut. The famous Russian School method of similar and contrary motions always causes excitement as does the request to start on another note within the key scale, such as starting on G in the key of C etc. Later on, I will ask pupils to 'play me the major scale that has two sharps' etc.
By varying our approach to playing and practising scales, we encourage listening, memory and firm theoretical knowledge, as well as improvement in technique.
Next time: Going underground to find the minor miners...