Why play exercises and scales when we have interesting songs and pieces to play and sing??

Do you have memories from your childhood of taking lessons and being forced to play scales and exercises, and never really understanding why? Music can involve such a level of feeling that something which appears on its face to be so mechanical as a scale or a technical exercise, seems to be completely antithetical to real, living music.

Exercises help us to get comfortable with technical difficulties found in the pieces we play — outside of the context of those pieces.

So often a student wants to play something – whether a classical piece, or an arrangement of a song they like from the radio – but has a hard time because the music requires a certain facility at the keyboard (or the guitar, etc.).  The solution to that, is to play exercises!

Technical exercises help to develop finger strength and independence, develop specific skills in a focused way, and get us used to rhythmic and melodic patterns that we might encounter in our music  – all of which makes it possible to play the pieces we want to and to do so with more enjoyment, since our fingers are prepared for the challenge. Would you run a marathon without working up to it with shorter runs, and whatever else a runner does in preparation for that event? While playing your instrument isn’t exactly running a marathon, the better prepared you are for the challenges found in the music that you enjoy, the better time you will have learning and playing it!

And of course, exercises should be played mindfully.  You certainly don’t want to plug away robotically, while thinking of something else!

Exercises can be satisfying to play, if you see them as a challenge and remember why you play them!