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I'm learning to play the minor versions of each scale. What BPM should I aim for, before I move onto the next scale?

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  • 2
    It's probably just as hard to play a scale well slowly and in time as to play it as fast as you can! We seem programmed to feel that fast (or loud) represents good. There's obviously a speed at which scales will sound like you're struggling to ffind the next note,quite slow, but instead, try playing at a sensible speed (whatever that is!) legato, staccato, piano, fortissimo, and their combinations, instead of trying to play as fast as possible. I know this doesn't answer the question, so it's a comment, hopefully constructive. However - if it's for exam purposes, there will be a guide ...
    – Tim
    Apr 16 at 8:56
  • ...tempo for each grade posted on the exam board's site. Check there.
    – Tim
    Apr 16 at 8:57
  • Yeah, there's pace and there's quality: Do you play all the notes equally loud? Or possibly play the leading tones (2nd, 4th, 7th up, 6th down) louder and the finals (1st, 3rd, 5th) softer -- that's also useful. In precise tempo, or in natural tempo (leading tones longer, finals shorter with a tiny pause to the next leading notes)? Also, what is the goal of playing the scales? If you want to learn to play musical pieces fast, just go to these pieces directly. I'm tempted to say that your question doesn't have a definite answer :)
    – yo'
    Apr 16 at 9:21
  • If you actually want a figure, it's straightforward. The same bpm as you can play the major scales well at.
    – Tim
    Apr 16 at 10:37
  • Are you learning all three versions of the minor scales?
    – Tim
    Apr 16 at 15:18
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You should play whatever speed you can with completely (completely, though!) relaxed hands. Except for the base of the finger being played, there should be no more muscular tension than if the hand was just sitting on a desk.

When you start to speed up, there's a tendency to "try-hard," which interferes with the passing of the thumb and makes scales sound bumpy. As the hand tires through extended practice, this can potentially even be dangerous-- leading to "tendinitis claw"

Rather than artificially focusing on bumping up the speed X bpm each week or whatever, I'd focus on how the hand FEELS. As you bump up each level, you'll have a little tension at first, and you'll know you're ready for the next level when that tension is totally gone.

Relaxation checklist:

  • neck is relaxed
  • shoulders are relaxed (specifically, not drawn up toward the neck)
  • elbows are completely loose (check this by moving your body toward / away from the keyboard while playing)
  • wrist is completely loose (check this by raising or lowering the wrist while playing)
  • muscles on backs of fingers are not activated in any way
  • the palm muscles are not being used at all.
  • the webbing between the fingers has little muscles-- they should not be tired or stressed at all
  • Also: once a note has been pressed, there should be very minimal pressure to sustain it. There's no reason to keep pushing down hard.

You should have total finger independence-- pushing with one finger shouldn't involve effort from any part of the hand or arm other than the finger itself.

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The ABRSM 2021–2022 Piano Syllabus applies the following scale speeds for each exam grade, with all scales played in eighth-notes.1

ABRSM piano scale speeds by grade
Image source (PDF page 16)

Initial: quarter-note = 54
Grade 1: quarter-note = 60
Grade 2: quarter-note = 66
Grade 3: quarter-note = 80
Grade 4: quarter-note = 100
Grade 5: half-note = 60
Grade 6: half-note = 72
Grade 7: half-note = 80
Grade 8: half-note = 88

For minor scales, the progression is

Minor scales required by ABRSM.
Each grade requires the scales from the previous grade.

Initial: D; 1 octave; hands separately
Grade 1: A, D; 2 octaves; hands separately
Grade 2: A, D; 2 octaves; hands together
Grade 3: E, G; 2 octaves; hands together
         B, C; 2 octaves; hands separately
Grade 4: B, C; 2 octaves; hands together
         F, F#; 2 octaves; hands together
Grade 5: F#, C#, G#, Eb, Bb; 2 octaves; hands together
Grades 6-8: All; 4 octaves; hands together

When practicing scales, the most important element is relaxed, accurate movement. When both of these are achieved, speed generally takes care of itself. Practice slowly for efficiency rather than practicing for speed. The speed will come on its own.


1 ABRSM = Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music is an internationally standard series of graded music exams. All information in this post comes from the Piano Syllabus for 2021-2022.

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I think your goal should not be to practice toward a certain speed. The goal should be about controlling the touch of each finger.

You want the scales to have a nice even sound. A slight emphasis on the first note of each beat, or strong beats is a good way to get an even sound.

You can practice scale in various ways to train your touch: straight eighths or sixteenths, dotted eighth with sixteenth, sixteenth with dotted eighth, shifting the accent to the upbeat eighth note of each beat. Also switch to playing triplet divisions of the beat with similar variations of long/short, short/long, and off beat accents.

Playing the scale in broken third or repeated note patterns is another good way to get the fingers trained. And it's a nice change from just up and down in steps.

Of course be sure to always practice scales in both ascending and descending directions and in both LH and RH. Playing both hands in octaves is a very common exercise, but I think playing each hand separately (the other hand can accompany with simple tonic/dominant harmony) will allow you to focus on the fine detail of touch. I think playing both hands in octaves can sort of even out the sound making it harder to hear if bad touch in one hand is covered over by the other hand's playing.

When various rhythms and accents like those can be played correctly at a moderate tempo you should gain a lot of finger independence and control. Then when playing something like scales in sixteenth notes the first sixteenth of each beat should get a subtle accent while the following 3 sixteenths are played lighter, evenly, and seem to fall into place without a lot of finger struggling. At that point speed starts to come naturally. Sometimes you even need to deliberately slow down the tempo to concentrate on the fine detail of touch in each exercise.

I goes without saying that you should practice scale with good fingerings!

I'm learning to play the minor versions of each scale. What BPM should I aim for, before I move onto the next scale?

Don't linger on one scale for too long before moving on to the next one. In fact the challenge of switching your fingering to the next scale should help improve your finger control and help make each transition to the next scale easier. Progress to the next scale chromatically, C, C#, D, etc. When I woodshedded minor scales, I spent about 3 days on each scale and then moved on, one session in the morning a second in the evening. Each session was probably 30-60 minutes.

Regarding specific tempos these two method books give specific metronome settings:

Settings range from 60 or 72 BPM for beginning, and then when a certain level of skill is obtained - like being able to play two octave scales in contrary motion - then the settings progress to 96, 120 and faster. But the basic instruction is first play at a moderate tempo, one where you can play correctly. Mason advocates a mix of slow and fast play in the text, but I think you need to read it closely. I think he means to have students periodically reach a bit further than their grasp, but then return to a moderate speed that's under control.

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