Piano Scales
Why And How To Learn Them

"Please understand, I just want to play piano. Why do I have to learn piano scales?"

Oh, as a piano teacher, if I had a dime for every time I heard something like that over the years, I'd be rich. The fact is that virtually everything in music is derived from, or built on, scales.

Technically, scales are an organized series of notes in stepwise motion. Some will gravitate, naturally, to one of the notes. Different structure qualities will create different sound feels, which may generate different feelings in the listener. All that means that the popular and well known 'doh ray mi fah soh la ti doh' gravitates to the doh, is a major feel, and usually generates a bright feeling in the listener.

Now, there are plenty of charts, scale players, and written explanations of scales and their fingerings out there; particularly on the internet. Let's understand something about that. For those of us who wish to play piano, learning scales and how to play them properly is absolutely vital. As usual, I say the best way to do this is with a piano teacher in a private lesson setting.

  • Learn the notes
  • Learn the fingering
  • Keep the proper poise for the hands
  • Listen for even tone
  • Maintain finger and thumb action
  • Know when to do hands separately
  • Know when and how to adjust the speed

There is simply too much going on for someone to do it all properly on their own. It's enough that a student needs to practice on their own. The basic learning part needs energizing and prompt verification. Otherwise things will feel uncertain; and that will hamper nearly everything that follows for the would be pianist.

So How Do You Learn Piano Scales?

First and foremost, very slowly and carefully. Always build on clarity and certainty. If your goal is to learn a certain scale hands together, two octaves, ascending and descending, at good speed; then start with hands separately, one octave, ascending and descending, very slowly and clearly. I can not stress this enough. All too often, a student wants to create an effect by playing too quickly too soon; all full of stumbles. I don't know about you, but if my memories are full of stumbles, I wouldn't feel too sure of myself.

Lastly, for now, know that even simple tunes will involve more than one key or scale. So, we do need to learn at least a few different major and minor piano scales to play the piano. Of course, I would suggest learning at least all the majors and all the basic minors.

Major Scales and Minor Scales have short sound clips that will give you some ideas.

In case you haven't seen it yet, the Music Scales page is useful. It will also lead to some good scale charts, and more.

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