Best Way To Learn Piano Scales

Many people may tell you that you must learn all twelve scales to be able to play the piano. Ultimately that would be the goal, not just for the piano but for any instrument. However, you can become an decent player only knowing a handful of scales. The most important thing is, becoming familiar with the most used scales. I will explain later but there are scales that are extremely common, and there are scales that are rarely used. Once you have a number of scales under your belt, it is much easier to learn new scales.

The first scale – C major

For the piano, in terms of theory and the physical position of the keys it is always best to start with the C major. The C major scale consists of the white keys only, therefore no memorization is required in terms of notes. It is also a good idea to practice the correct fingering on the right hand. A typical pattern with the thumb as No.1 would be 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 going up the scale. And then 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 3, 2, 1 going down the scale.

The matching chords

The next important things to memorize are the chords for each of the seven notes in the major scale. They are the same with all scales and are shown as below:

  1. Major (C maj)
  2. Minor (D min)
  3. Minor (E min)
  4. Major (F maj)
  5. Major (G maj)
  6. Minor (A min)
  7. Diminished (B dim)

For those who do not know how to construct chords, a basic chord is made up of a triad with every other note. Simply count 1, 3, 5 within the scale. Therefore the C major would be C, E and G. Same with D minor, counting from D makes D, F, A and so on.

The next scale to learn – F major

The F major scale is a very common scale to use which covers many songs. Also in terms of theory, it is easy is visualize. The F major scale is almost the same as the C major scale but with the B flattened. So it goes F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E. For the fingering, since the forth note is a black note, it is best to use the 4th finger to avoid using the thumb on black notes. The typical fingering would be 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3 going up the scale. going down would be 4, 3, 2, 1, 3, 2, 1.

The matching chords

  1. Major (F maj)
  2. Minor (G min)
  3. Minor (A min)
  4. Major (Bb maj)
  5. Major (C maj)
  6. Minor (D min)
  7. Diminished (E dim)

The third scale to learn – G major

The G major scale is another very popular scale and similar to the F scale there is only one black note, which is the F#. So again easy to remember and visualize. The notes in the scales are G, A, B, C, D, E, F# and the fingering on the right hand, the same as the C major scale. 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 4. The chords again are in the same order but this time starting with G.

The matching chords

  1. Major (G maj)
  2. Minor (A min)
  3. Minor (B min)
  4. Major (C maj)
  5. Major (D maj)
  6. Minor (Emin)
  7. Diminished (F# dim)

Familiarize yourself with just these three scales at first and you will be surprised at how many songs you can play. Guitarists tend to use the F major and G major keys a lot, which is why many songs are written in those keys. As you become familiar which these scales, they will become 2nd nature and you will want to expand your scale knowledge.

Typical chord progressions in these keys

I specialize in R&B / Neo Soul type progressions, however for learning purposes it is good to start with familiar chord progressions. The 1-5-6-4 is very common and you will instantly recognize it. Audio sample below of the 1-5-6-4 in C major

The above chord progression is C maj, G maj, A min and F maj.

The the above on other the other keys as mentioned above (F major and G major). Get familiar with these keys and the notes in the scale before moving on to other scales.

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