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How Can I Practice ABRSM Grade 8 Scales and Arpeggios Effectively?

Updated on October 15, 2014

Grade 8 Scales and Arpeggios. Exactly how many are there?

The scales and arpeggio requirements for ABRSM grade 8 can be found on the Abrsm website, However, we can outline them briefly here with some techniques and pointers to give you that headstart before your exam.

SCALES: in the following keys: C, D, B, F#, F, Eb, Ab (G#) Db (C#)

These need to be performed either legato or staccato as directed by the examiner on the day. 4 octaves and at a minimal speed as shown in the ABRSM syllabus.(88) Each key can be either major or minor (both melodic AND harmonic) Already, we have a lot of scales (24) to cover.

SCALES IN THIRDS AND SIXTHS: All of the above named scales need to be performed both a third and a sixth apart, again 4 octaves, again legato and staccato, but the good news is that the metronome mark is slower (63) and you do NOT need to do the melodic minors, just major and harmonic minors. These need to be practiced very carefully to ensure the correct fingering patterns are engrained into your muscle memory from early on. It is once you are confident that you're doing these scales correctly that you can begin to speed up. Ensure that you keep the tempo the same throughout the scales and don't accentuate any particular notes over any others (e.g. heavy thumbs.)

LEGATO SCALES IN THIRDS HANDS SEPARATELY. In the key of C major and Bb major. (2 octaves, speed 52) These are a bundle of fun. Ensure that you practice them EVERY DAY with the fingering exact. The one in C is misleading as the fingering can fall into disarray very easily. It pays off to programme the fingering into your muscle memory early on, so it becomes second nature.

CHROMATIC SCALES a minor third apart. Beinning on ANY notes named by the examiner. That means practicing every possibility until you find one that's difficult!! (Don't fall into the trap of always starting in the same place. It's so easily done and lulls you into a false sense of security)

CHROMATIC SCALES in minor thirds hands separately (beginning on A# and C#). Again, this is just joyous to behold and must be practiced religiously. With the CORRECT fingering.

WHOLE TONE SCALE. (beginning on E) this is a funny little one, only 2 octaves and not particularly difficult to learn. Easy to neglect though...

ARPEGGIOS in the keys of C, D, B, F#, F, Eb, Ab, (G#) Db (C#) Hands together or separately.(four octaves, speed 66) Root position, first and second inversions. That already makes 24 possibilities and to top it all off, they have to be legato or staccato as directed by the examiner. Doubling it to 48. These require different fingering patterns depending on what position you're doing. I often found 1st inversion the most challenging, but root and second came easily. It's worth finding out your preferences early on, so you can practice out of your comfort zone.

DOMINANT SEVENTHS (Four octaves, speed 66) these are in the keys of C, D, B, F#, F, Eb, Ab and Db. Please note, these are not the starting notes, being the dominant, the starting note is a fifth up. I learnt these by ear, so I knew where the starting note began. If you struggle with this it might be worth the learning from memory where the dominant is for each key.

DIMINISHED SEVENTHS. (Four octaves, speed 66) starting on ANY note stated by the examiner. Hands together and separately. I used to just pick any note and then make my way up the keyboard jumping up a semitone each time until I'd completed every possibility. Not actually as hard as you might think, and quite theraputic! (although perhaps not for your neighbours)

Looking through these scales, it's probably dawned on you that you have one hell of a lot of possibilites to practice. Here follows my TWO most successful practicing strategies, of which you can decide what to try.

The Card Method.

Please note how MANY there are!
Please note how MANY there are!

The Plan Method.

Note Sunday acts as a revision day for the previous week. Particularly good for addressing week areas and making amendments to your plan.
Note Sunday acts as a revision day for the previous week. Particularly good for addressing week areas and making amendments to your plan.

Using the cards effectively.

Split the cards into 3 or more piles. With one as your exam standard pile. The goal is to get every card in that pile before your exam!
Split the cards into 3 or more piles. With one as your exam standard pile. The goal is to get every card in that pile before your exam!

The Card Method and the Plan Method.

There are two good ways of insuring you practice all your scales. One is to print out every single one on paper or card, and cut them up, going through them methodically everyday until you get through the lot, then start the process again.We'll call this the CARD METHOD.

Two is to create yourself a plan covering every scale over the course of about 4 weeks. This can be started again after you have completed it, but with amendments... We'll call this the PLAN METHOD...

CARD METHOD: pros and cons.

CONS The problem with this method is that it can take so long to get through the cards that you could end up wasting time practicing scales that you already know rather than studying the harder ones which may be at the end of your pile.

There are SO many cards that they could easily get lost.

PROS they are very good at mirroring an exam situation as the cards are picked at complete random which is exactly what happens in your exam. The 'caught off guard' strategy is a good one for checking if you really do know your scales properly.

A very useful technique when using these cards is to make yourself 3 little boxes to put piles of the cards as you practice them, the boxes can be labelled with. Exam standard, okay but need sharpening, and flippin terrible..or whatever you like. Essentially, you'll see a pattern developing in that most of your cards end up in the middle box, but you really need to practice the flippin terrible cards.

You'll feel pretty elated when you see more and more cards sitting in the exam standard box!


CONS. Easy to miss out scales when writing up the plan for the first time, so be extra careful! The printout will need to be stationed right beside your piano so you can refer to it each time you practice and amend it where necessary. The con is that you may find it an irritation having to make the amendments as you progress.

PROS. This is a very flexible method as it can be made to suit your lifestyle implicitly. using a diary format, map out exactly the scales and arpeggios etc you need to study. (I suggest including everything to begin with, you can always cross things out as they become exam standard)

Start with the one key say C and you need to ensure you cover EVERYTHING to do with that key over perhaps 1 or 2 days depending on how much time you have set aside for practice..(please note, there is a hell of a lot of stuff to cover even looking at just one key. I'd therefore look to cover a key over a few days.)

Example key C: Each exercise has to be practiced hands together & separately, and legato & staccato where stated.

C major scale 4 octaves

C minor melodic scale. 4 octaves

C minor harmonic scale. 4 octaves

C major scale thirds apart. 4 octaves

C major scale sixths apart. 4 octaves

C minor harmonic scale thirds apart 4 octaves

C minor harmonic scale sixths apart 4 octaves

C major arpeggio. Root position

C major arpeggio. First inversion

C major arpeggio. Second inversion

C minor arpeggio . Root position

C minor arpeggio. First inversion

C minor arpeggio. Second inversion.

C (in the key of) dominant sevenths 4 octaves

C (starting on) diminished sevenths 4 octaves.

C major legato scales in thirds. (hands separately)

C (starting on) chromatic scales a minor third apart. (hands together)

One key and 32 scales (more if you do hands separately too)

There's no harm in writing them all down, however its very time consuming and I've done it for you. You will need to edit the pdf to suit your lifestyle though. If you can't practice on Wednesday s for example, you'll need to space it out over the remaining six days.

Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments box below and I'll do my best to help you out! Finally, good luck with your impending exam. Keep positive and keep practicing and you will be fine!


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