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Piano Scales Made Easy

December 26, 2010 / by Michael Kinney

Learning scales on the piano is an essential part of becoming a good piano player. Unfortunately, it is also something that many students dread. After all, how much fun can it be playing the same notes up and down, over and over again? Although I can?t promise to make scales the most exciting part of playing the piano, I hope to give you some pointers to make the most of this practicing and to learn it quickly and easily.

Learn the Spacing between the Notes of Each Scale

The easiest way to learn the notes of each scale is to start by understanding the spacing between each note in the scale. If you learn it this way, you can understand the scale as a collection of notes with a particular spacing instead of having to learn each note individually. Let?s first consider learning your major scales. There are 7 unique notes in each major scale. There are 12 keys to learn those 7 unique notes in.

So, if you thought of it as learning each note individually, you would have to learn 84 unique notes just to complete the major scales! To me this sounds like a lot of work. If instead you just learned what the spacing was for major scales, you could apply it to all 12 keys making your life much easier. To understand what I mean, let?s apply this to learn a C Major Scale. First, we need to ask ourselves: what is the spacing pattern for major scales?

Major Scale Spacing: W-W-H-W-W-W-H

W = Whole Step (skip one note)
H = Half Step (do not skip any notes)
-3 = Minor Third (skip two notes)

So, to play the C Major Scale, you start on the note of the scale (in this case we start on C). Next, move upwards (to the right) using the spacing pattern above until you reach the next C bringing you to the top of the scale. Let?s walk through each note and the space between:

C->D (Whole Step)
D->E (Whole Step)
E->F (Half Step)
F->G (Whole Step)
G->A (Whole Step)
A->B (Whole Step)
B->C (Half Step)

Using the pattern we now know the notes of the C Major Scale: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. Easy as pie! Now that you?ve figured this out, you now have the tools to learn EVERY major scale on the piano. To learn another, just start on another note and apply the same whole step/half step pattern. Using this approach you?ll be able to sit down and practice all of your major scales without any music in front of you.

Spacing Patterns for More Piano Scales

If you?re with me up to this point, I can now give you the keys to open the door to EVERY SCALE on the piano. Using the steps I outlined above, you can use the spacing patterns below to understand every scale in every key on the piano. Practice learning them one at a time. You?ll start to notice patterns between the way the scales feel under your fingers. If you can force yourself to identify these patterns you?ll further accelerate the learning process. Once you get really good, you?ll be able to do it with your eyes closed since your muscles will remember the pattern of the scale. Happy practicing!

Major Scale

Minor Scale

Natural Minor Scale

Harmonic Minor Scale

Melodic Minor Scale (ascending)

Diminished Scale

1/2 Diminished Scale

Dominant 7th Scale

Blues Scale

Major Pentatonic Scale

Minor Pentatonic Scale

Major Pentatonic Scale

Phrygian Scale

About the Author: Michael Kinney

I have played piano since I was 5 years old. I started in classical and then quickly moved to blues and jazz. I studied at the collegiate level and have played professionally since I was 16. My favorite piano players (if I had to pick 3) include Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and Herbie Hancock). I own several keyboards but always prefer to play on a Steinway if one is available! I live to perform as much as I like to teach.

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