Here is an interesting way to practice double octave scales in all the major keys. In "double octaves", each hand is playing an octave, and the thumbs are an octave apart. You'll need all 88 keys; in fact, the A-flat scale really needs 89.
Start on the lowest C. Play an ascending C Major scale in 8 triplet beats, ending on F. Without pause, maintaining the same tempo but with four notes per beat instead of six, reverse direction and play the descending C Major scale from the top F, ending back on the original C.
On the way up, hold the sostenuto pedal on the first note of every other beat, starting with the initial C. The sustained notes form a legato descending scale of C, B, A, G, F. On the way down, hold the sostenuto pedal on the first note of every beat, forming a descending circle of fifths on F, B, E, A, D, G, C. Hold the final C for one beat, then play another triplet beat consisting of D, E, F#, and end on (the lowest) G. (If you don't have a sostenuto pedal, hold the sustain pedal for a half-beat instead.)
Continuing immediately from G, play up and down the G Major scale as you just did in C. After holding the final low G for one beat, play another triplet beat consisting of G, F#, E, and end on (the lowest) D.
Repeat for each scale until you come back to C. As you make the transition to each new scale, always use the descending segue if possible so each scale begins on the lowest possible octave.
You can listen to this exercise
I wrote a program (in Java) to generate a MIDI file that plays this exercise, then I translated that into a QuickTime movie file, which you can play above. Get QuickTime 3.0, which is the first release that has the Roland Sound Canvas voices, so it sounds decent.
When I wrote this program I learned a lot about what makes something sound "musical" as opposed to robotic. This piece is an exercise, so you might think as I did that all of the notes should be equal intensity, or at least the inner notes of each beat. Wrong! The first version, written on that assumption, sounded like a very unmusical, clueless robot. It turns out that we human musicians subconsciously group notes into small units, accenting notes within the unit differently from each other.
In the ascending sextuplets in the final product, the first note is the highest intensity, then the 4th note, then the 6th, then the 3rd, followed by the 2nd and 5th, which are the same. In the descending quartuplets, the first note is the highest intensity, then the 3rd, followed by the 2nd and 4th, which are the same. I doubt you're surprised that the first notes need to be played with more intensity than the inner notes, but I was surprised at how the inner notes have to be punched to make it sound musical. I think the result sounds pretty much as I would play it if I didn't make mistakes (at least when it's played on a good synthesizer).
David Arthur Yost, Yost.com, All Rights Reserved.
Sheet music, MIDI file, QuickTime movie, and other media realizations of these instructions are also copyrighted by this author. Permission required for republication in any form.