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I made a little piano exercise for descending scales in the left hand. It is in a minor key. When the scale leads into the tonic chord I use the natural minor scale, when the scale leads to the dominant I use the harmonic minor scale.

It sounds ok to me, but is this use of minor scales proper, authentic classical style? A historic reference to actual repertoire would be great. I don't want to spend time practicing this if I have created a bad example of classical style.

"Classical" style for me in this case would be Haydn/Mozart time period. But, other examples which are musically similar would of course be helpful.

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  • This isn't exactly what you're asking about, but your fourth-from-last measure is simply an E-flat major scale with a G in the right hand. It seems a bit strange to me to outline a C minor chord in the next measure instead of an E-flat major, which I think would be more consistent with the rest of your chord choices. The last two measures are also a bit odd--any particular reason to end on the dominant? – Kyle Strand Jun 1 '17 at 21:13
  • In general, for something like this, I would pick a chord for each pair of measures and determine what scale is the most appropriate for that chord. I think the penultimate measure should probably use the raised seventh, because it looks like either a ii-dim chord or a vii-dim7 chord, despite the fact that the last 16th in the measure is the tonic. – Kyle Strand Jun 1 '17 at 21:17
  • @Kyle Strand, thanks for your comments. I've been trying the harmonic minor in both m. 7 (iv) and m. 11 (vii6) along the lines of Richard's advice. M. 7 to m. 10 is just iv to i6. I decided to end on a half cadence, because I intend to keep playing. Either repeat the drill, play it in another key, or extend it with another pattern. – Michael Curtis Jun 7 '17 at 3:44
  • The iv to i6 transition would make sense, but I don't actually think that's what's happening in m. 9, which, as I said, is pretty clearly an E-flat major (III). For m. 11, do you mean vii-dim 6? – Kyle Strand Jun 7 '17 at 4:48
  • Yes, I meant viidim6. Mm. 9 to 10 are just i6 - g, c, e flat, g arpeggiated in the treble and a two octave scale e flat to e flat in the bass. If 'g' in the treble of m.9 is ambiguous, I could just make it 'c.' But, I thought it clear enough to move the 'a' in m. 7 down to 'g' in m. 9. – Michael Curtis Jun 7 '17 at 17:33
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I think it depends on how you define both "classical" and "historic reference," but when one thinks of scales in piano music Chopin is certainly high atop the list. (I'm thinking here in terms of actual repertoire, not in exercises like those from Czerny or Hanon.)

And since you're in C minor, we may as well have a look at Chopin's Op. 10, No. 12. It begins with a V7 chord, around which a harmonic-minor scale (in broken thirds) is played. So here you already have strong justification for your use of the harmonic minor in your m. 3.

(Note also that, in the third measure from the end, Chopin approaches the IV chord with the F harmonic-minor scale as a means of tonicizing that F triad. In other words, the F harmonic minor functions as a secondary dominant of this IV chord. Thus your m. 7 could also use the F harmonic-minor scale if you so desire.)

As for the scales that take place over tonic, Chopin is less consistent. Op. 10, No. 4, in C♯ minor, typically uses harmonic minor over tonic, as well. Op. 28, No. 16 (B♭ minor), however, often uses the melodic-minor scale, with the expected adjustments for the ascending and descending forms.

The point being that, for those "tonic" scales, it's really your preference. Two questions you should ask yourself are:

  • As the "composer" of this etude, which scale do I like better?
  • Do I want this exercise to include as many different forms of the scale as possible (at which point you'd want to use a natural-minor scale here, a melodic-minor scale there, etc.), or would I prefer to emphasize just one form (in which case you may want to stick with harmonic minor the whole time)?

With "historic reference" you may have been looking for a treatise of some kind, but I'm not sure such a thing exists. And even if it did, it would most likely be based off of the repertoire anyway!

In any event, your current scale usage in no way suggests "a bad example of classical style" to me.

  • I edited my question to clarify two points. – Michael Curtis Jun 1 '17 at 21:01
  • Thanks for the detailed reply! It's taking me some time to work through this, because the music's really hard to play! I can only play short bits... and very badly played. I think the music around mm.7-8 and 18 in op.10, no. 12 gets to my concern. It changes quickly from a lowered to raised seventh. It helps me see the 'fluid' treatment of the minor scale. Will be moving on to no. 4. – Michael Curtis Jun 1 '17 at 21:09
  • I think Czerny/Hanon are much more relevant here, since this is clearly just a practice-etude rather than a concert-etude. – Kyle Strand Jun 1 '17 at 21:14
  • @Kyle Strand, I have some Czerny books and know many are available at IMSLP. Do any example stick out in your mind? There are relatively few example for minor key compared with major. – Michael Curtis Jun 2 '17 at 15:48
  • @MichaelCurtis Tragically, I never actually worked on Czerny or Hanon! I'm sorry. I'm surprised there aren't more minor-key exercises, though, especially since harmonic minor scales are a bit trickier to play than major scales and are an important technique for much of the repertoire. – Kyle Strand Jun 2 '17 at 17:03

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