Rhythmic Scale Practice Patterns

Rhythmic stress (emphasis) makes your playing interesting. In addition, rhythmic stress in scale practice patterns helps you learn your scales by making you want to ‘keep the notes coming’ until you get to a satisfactory ending note.

For example, if you stress every second note, your scales will 'come out' at two octaves. That is, they will finish well, on a stressed tonic, after two octaves. This example plays both up and down.

If you stress every third note, your scales will come out at three octaves:


The three octaves don’t have to go straight up or down. This pattern in threes goes up one octave then down two, making a total of three.

If you accent every fourth note, your scales will naturally end after four octaves:

The pattern in fours goes up one octave, down two, then back up one octave to make up the four. As an exercise, try turning it upside down.

Here's the pattern in threes inverted (turned upside down):

Playing stressed scales to a ‘contour’ pattern

It’s a great idea to practice two (or more!) things at once.

While you are practising stressed scales, you can also be practising your ability to see and follow patterns – and transpose them.

The following written-out scale practice patterns have an accompanying line diagram which shows their shape (‘contour’). In the diagrams, R stands for ‘root’ – the name-note of the scale and key. The vertical distance R to R is one octave.

These are four-octave patterns – count the root-to-root (R-to-R) stretches – so they’re stressed in fours. The stress cuts across the octaves – that’s what drives you to keep going until the very last note of the pattern.

Once you can play the practice patterns fluently in C…

… and you can see how the contour diagram gives the shape of the practice pattern

… try playing scales in other keys according to the contour diagrams.

Note that the fingering for all Group One scales (G, D, A and E major) is the same as for C. Other keys present a bigger challenge.

Patterns with contrary motion

Contrary motion fingering for Group One scales is simple – both hands put thumbs under and fingers over at the same time.

Here’s a three octave pattern stressed in threes.




Here’s a four octave pattern stressed in fours – only the audio and the contour diagram.

Scales in threes with contrary motion

Once you’ve got your contrary motion going, you can start mixing it into your scale practice patterns.

This little ‘suite’ in threes plays the original, plays it backwards (its reverse), upside down (its inverse) and repeats the original for symmetry:

The fingering isn't given in these scale practice patterns. Remembering the fingering is part of the exercise. Here are the contour diagrams for the last exercise. Play from just the contour diagram.

Scales in fours with contrary motion

Here are some mixed contrary motion patterns in fours.

Here's a pattern in fours that has both a reversed and inverted versions. Study it, then play from the contour diagrams below.

Scale practice is often incredibly mechanical. Mechanical practice makes for a mechanical musician! Rhythmic scale practice – including contrary motion, from the contour diagrams, perhaps in other keys – really forces you to pay attention. Paying attention as you practice makes you a better musician!

Contrary motion pattern in sixes

This pattern covers a total of six octaves, so stressing in sixes makes it 'come out right'. It's a long time to 'keep going'!

Here's the inversion:

Here is the contour diagram for the two versions so far:

This is the reverse of the original - the notes played backwards, in effect.


You see how much this is about concentration!

Scale practice is often incredibly mechanical. Mechanical practice makes for a mechanical musician! Rhythmic scale practice – including contrary motion, from the contour diagrams, in other keys perhaps – really forces you to pay attention. Paying attention as you practice makes you a better musician!

That's why it’s worth making rhythmic stressed scale practice patterns like these your ‘default’ scale practice mode. It’s not really about scales – that’s just a bonus. Once you know the keys, you’re actually practicing ‘being good at the piano’ without being distracted thinking about what notes you’re playing. “Bake two desserts in one oven!” – rehearse your keys and your musicality at the same time!

Here’s another contour pattern for a scale in contrary motion stressed in sixes. The hands individually only cover a span (height) of two octaves, but cover six octaves in length – that’s why the stress in sixes brings the pattern out right in the end.

No audio – this is one for you to work out on your own! Count yourself in six-eight - "ONE-and-a two-and-a ONE-and-a two-and-a" to keep the rhythm steady and the notes coming.

Going on from here

As soon as you can, start playing scales in thirds or tenths (or sixths!). You really have to know your keys on the keyboard – which black and white keys to play – for your hands to play ‘in two places at once’ successfully.

Go back to the preparatory one-octave scale exercise patterns on the Scale Practice Patterns page to get things going. Example:

Played in thirds (in C), this pattern gives:

You might find it a bit easier to play the pattern in tenths first:

Then start playing the contrary motion scale practice patterns on this page in thirds. You ignore the ‘R’ (for root) for the upper line and start the right hand off on the third.

Here is this pattern:

…played in thirds:

You might want to go back to the beginning of the contrary motion section and build up with these patterns:

Here’s its sister in fours:

Here are some more of the rhythmic scale patterns in thirds or tenths.

In threes:

In fours:

In sixes:

Is fingering important?

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