I am playing on an electric piano keyboard and I have the MIDI output connected to my computer and visualizing the notes that I press. I want to write code to give me a score as I practice my scales. I have the time of key-press and key-release to the hundredth of a second.

It's been years since I took piano lessons and I'm not sure I ever asked my teacher this question anyway:

When I'm playing scales on a piano, is the goal to: a) release the previous note at the same time that I press the next note b) let go BEFORE I press the next note OR c) let go AFTER i press the note (but not so much that it bleeds together)?

  • 2
    A "score" ... Oh, you mean a numerical representation of how well you did! LOL I was about to recommend "Scoring at Half-Time" by George Best, a book about the art of writing rhythmic divisions. Commented Oct 13, 2019 at 13:02
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    I think if you really wanted to write this technique-evaluator script, the most useful approach would be to measure the gaps between the end of one note and the beginning of the other, because in legato playing there shouldn't be any space there. Maybe also check for extra smearing between notes, because there shouldn't be much/any overlap either. But in general there are contexts where each of your A/B/C scenarios would be appropriate, so this seems a bit like a solution in search of a problem. (Assuming it's not just a fun excuse for a programming project, in which case carry on!)
    – user63785
    Commented Oct 15, 2019 at 17:57
  • Seriously speaking, the playing is right if and only if it sounds right. How the sound starts and stops is important, and MIDI note-ons and note-offs do not tell you what it sounds like. MIDI velocity does not tell you what it sounds like. If you're playing scales and you don't even know what your goal is ... stop playing scales and start playing music. Who cares how long a key is held down? Does it sound the way you want, or not? If you don't know what you want it to sound like, there is no way you could program a computer to teach you that. Commented Oct 15, 2019 at 19:38
  • I've seen a professional pianist recommending using music production software to record yourself playing a scale and look at the graph showing the velocity and length of each note you played, how much of overlap or separation were between each note, etc. and then fix it accordingly.
    – Divide1918
    Commented May 5, 2021 at 4:52

4 Answers 4


Practising scales is about warming up, learning which notes go with which, diatonically, and for playing in exams!

How you play them, as Heather suggests, can and should vary- a lot! Play them piano; forte;slowly;fast;staccato;legato;with crescendo/diminuendo;combinations of all the above!

It's a different situation for exams - they need to be played legato, wth each note a separate entity - rather like the words we speak in a sentence - although very regular. being good at playing scales isn't really an entity in itself, it's a pathway to better playing, so be able to play them in a myriad of different ways/styles. However, bleeding one note into the next is something that rarely gets asked for in most styles of playing, so don't concentrate on that.

So, (a) seems the best option.If exams are looming... Thanks, Heather S!

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    a is only the "best" option if the goal is playing for an exam or audition that requires legato playing. That is why I said below that the practicing is dependent upon goals.
    – Heather S.
    Commented Oct 13, 2019 at 11:47
  • @HeatherS. - edited accordingly.
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 13, 2019 at 11:56
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    At some levels, scales may be requested in exams to be played either legato or staccato; don't assume legato is the only option. If I were writing such a program (which sounds a great idea!), I'd probably be looking to score the similarities of a) the note velocities, b) the note lengths, and c) the times between consecutive notes. (And of course whether the pitches form a recognised scale.) That way it'll work whether you play legato or staccato, fast or slow, loud or soft — as long as you play evenly, which is the most important thing after getting the correct notes.
    – gidds
    Commented Oct 13, 2019 at 21:31

a) release the previous note at the same time that I press the next note

b) let go BEFORE I press the next note OR

c) let go AFTER i press the note (but not so much that it bleeds together)?

This is a question of articulation:

a) called portato, non legato

b) staccato -> Staccato Signifies a note of shortened duration or detached (not legato)

C) legato -> Legato Indicates musical notes are to be played or sung smoothly and connected

mind that the first line (non legato) has no additional sign of articulation

the red ties are concerning the second example: legato

enter image description here

as you can see below there are even more different articulations like tenuto, marcato, non legato. And it is also said that some of them can be replace by pauses (indeed it is the opposite: pauses are replaced by "staccato":

As others are saying it makes also sense to practice scales combining ariculation with different dynamics, tempi and also rhythms.

Articulation (Wiki)

You have to practice all of them as they are asked and notated by composers in their writing to be able to perform them like the composers want. It does no harm to play a scale in different ways.

To give in notes by keyboard it is better you don't play them legato, but you can adjust probably the note length by asking the program to normalize the values or to reduce respectively augment the limits of lengths for pauses.


Practicing scales is about notes and fingering. You can use whatever articulation you would like, and it is helpful to mix it up. Sometimes play separated, sometimes slurred. Maybe an alternation of two notes slurred, two notes staccato. The options are endless, and what you choose is based on what goals you have.


There are many reasons to play scales, but they all come under one general purpose: To prepare you to play actual music. So you should play them in the manner that best prepares you.

If you are about to perform a piece that contains mostly staccato passages, it might serve you best to play your scales staccato. If you find you are having trouble with legato, play it that way. If you are working on a crosshand piece, you could even play your scales crosshand. Whatever works. You're training. There's always something you can work on.

Regardless of what you choose, you should strive to play them with perfect consistency: with a tempo that is even, articulation and fingering smooth, and keep your dynamics under control. Those things are universal.

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