I am about a month and a half away from the grade 8 piano exam. I am 43 and have been playing since I was 16. I practice the scales every day in all of the ways recommended by my teacher and online but I am struggling with them. I know them, can do them perfectly some days, but most of the time my fingers slip off the keys or I hit the neighbouring note or get out of sync. It seems to get worse the more I practice. I have never really had an issue with scales before. My teacher thinks I am anxious but I don’t feel anxious about them. I do get frustrated but I don’t start practice frustrated. I used to be great at scales. Has anyone heard of this and does anyone have any suggestions. All I’ve heard is practice more. But I practice a lot. At least an hour on scales a day and more recently as I am worried. Tried slowing down, rhythmic variations, staccato, legato. Maybe I am just getting old and losing my skill!

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    I read about something called Dystonia in "Playing (less) hurt" by J. Horvath I wonder if that was a similar thing maybe you should google.
    – Emil
    Oct 13 at 14:03
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    Practice other things. Take a piece you know well and try playing it transposed to other keys. Make sure you take breaks while practicing. Oct 13 at 14:43
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    Do you sometimes do your scales with a metronome? Oct 13 at 15:47
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    If it helps, I'm 50 and practice multiple instruments and it is hard and I almost always make some mistake. It is possible for me to play things extremely slowly and not make a mistake, and that does seem to help me a little. But it takes a lot of time. Can you tell us if you have a teacher? I agree that more practice does not help. The correct practice helps. Oct 13 at 19:27
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    If you used to be great at scales, when did you notice any change and are there factors you didn't mention which helped you realise that? If for instance, this is about anxiety, did anything major in life change? Oct 16 at 20:30

3 Answers 3


Having tried everything playing wise, have you tried leaving them for a good few days? The brain's a funny thing. I've had students of whom I've commented 'you've worked hard this week', to receive the reply 'actually, I've had no time at all to practise'. Sometimes the brain needs a rest from constant repetition, in order to digest and assimilate what we feed it.

  • Agree: you're (Melanie) doing way too much daily work and your brain is "fighting back" . Personally, I like to do some scale/arpeggio studies in one key only on any given day. Oct 13 at 14:42

It's possible that you struggle with scales because you don't actually enjoy playing them. You say that you are practising them every day - which feels like too often.

Maybe write all the scales out on a pack of playing cards, shuffle them and only do one or two a day. If your brain is rejecting the regimented nature of scales than maybe move towards improv: just turn the TV or radio on and try to play the first piece of music you hear!

I passed my Grade 8 Clarinet whilst failing the scales section: So I can assure you that not fully grasping the width and breadth and majesty of scales does not totally hold you back!


Science says you have to review something the next day, and then 3 days later, and then once a week, then once a month. Feel free to verify this!

Also tend to your brain health, make sure you get good sleep, exercise increases bloodflow... try to cut down on sugar, don't be afraid of eating fat because it doesn't turn into fat in your body (unlike sugar) -- and also find a sound program for your phone or computer (like fruityloops) and a scale or chord pack and just listen to the different scales and mess around with them...

The brain will learn on its own. If you give it space... don't force it. You can't beat something into your head. 💗

  • The world don't want you to have good brain health... more smart people = more competition = have to work smarter.
    – Lost Ninja
    Oct 14 at 7:37
  • Based on your recommendation to download "fruityloops" and play with a chord pack, I suspect you probably are not an experienced pianist... For a grade 8 pianist who wants to hear notes and chords, using new software will definitely be more effort than just playing them on a piano.
    – Edward
    Oct 14 at 20:56
  • Piano school nearly killed all my creative urges... sounds like OP is at risk of the same problem. Don't you think that getting a feel for the ease with which it could be played, could give you the peace and motivation you need? I'm sure it would have for me.
    – Lost Ninja
    Nov 8 at 8:55

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