Major scales are composed of a series of five whole and two half steps in this sequence: whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step. So, based upon this sequence the C scale would be comprised of the following tones: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C (octave).
Lets refer back to our piano graphic and count the steps. C to D is a whole step, D to E whole step, E to F half step (notice no black note between), F to G whole step, G to A whole step, A to B whole step and we finish with B to octave C half step (again notice no black note between).
Let’s try a few more for practice. The D scale would contain the scale tones of: D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D (octave). D to E is a whole step, E to F# whole step, F# to G half step (notice we “stepped” down from a black tone to a white one), G to A whole step, A to B whole step, B to C# whole step, (from white key to black key) and we finish with C# to octave D half step (again black tone to white tone).
One more, this time we will begin with F#. The piano scale tones would be F#, G#, A#, B, C#, D#, F, F# (octave). Again, this follows our rules of whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, and half step. Based upon this sequence of whole steps and half steps, you can now build major scales upon any key on the piano.
A music term you need to become familiar with is interval. An interval is simply the distance from one piano scale tone to another. So beginning with the note C (called “tonic”), C to D is a Second, C to E is a Third, C to F is a Fourth, C to G is a Fifth, C to A is a Sixth, C to B is a Seventh, and C to C is an Octave. This is the interval order ascending (going up) the piano keyboard.
What you need to do now is, by using these rules for building scales construct the major scales for all 12 keys. To help you with this “task” we have provided a link to a cool tool which will show you the tones (notes) of the major scales in all 12 keys. Just click on a note for example “A” and scale “Major” and the notes for an “A” major scale will be spelled out on our “virtual piano keyboard”.
Go to major scales now and click on a few to see how they look on the piano keyboard. You may have noticed on this application a multitude of scales we have not covered. For now, the study of major and minor scales will be sufficient for these lessons.
After you learn the notes of the scales, practice all 12 with both hands. As you become more proficient at playing, gradually increase the tempo (speed) at which you practice your scales. At first you may practice each hand individually. But as soon as possible, practice using both hands simultaneously (at the same time).
I cannot stress enough how important it is to master this part of your piano training. Scale passages appear in many popular recordings. When you practice your scales, I want you to use the fingering technique I have outlined here, scale fingering technique. This technique works with major and minor scales and will help with your finger dexterity and control. Now…Go Practice!
Natural Minor Scales – Rules for constructing natural minor scales for the piano.
Harmonic Minor Scales – Rules for constructing harmonic minor scales for the piano.
Melodic Minor Scales – Rules for constructing melodic minor scales for the piano.