Piano scales are the building blocks so to speak on which piano chords are formed. For our studies we will concentrate on diatonic scales for the piano. A diatonic scale is composed of a series of five whole steps and two half-steps. A half-step consists of immediately adjacent keys on a keyboard and is also referred to as a semi-tone. A whole-step consists of 2 half-steps (2 semi-tones) in the same direction. A whole-step is a full-step. Both major scales and minor scales are diatonic. Below you will find a picture of a piano keyboard with the notes identified.
Before you begin learning how to form piano scales, it is important that you understand whole steps and half steps. If you start with the note C and progress up the keyboard to the piano key immediately adjacent to C you will be at C#/Db. This is a half step. Had you progressed up the keyboard and played the white tone (note) next to C, which would have been a D you would have taken a whole step.
If you were to begin on C#/Db and want to move a half step up the keyboard you would move to the D tone (note). If you wanted to move a whole step up from C#/Db you would play the D#/Eb tone (note). Now, you probably have noticed that there is no black tone (note) between E and F or B and C. So, from E to the adjacent F is a half step and from B to the adjacent C is a half step. A whole step up from E would be a F#/Gb. A whole step up from B would be C#/Db.
The # (sharp) symbol following a tone (note) means you raise that tone (note) one half step. So a C followed by a # (C#) means you have raised the C note one half step to the Black tone (note) C#. If a b (flat) symbol follows a tone (note) this means the note is lowered one half step. So a D followed by a b (Db) means you have lowered the D note one half step to the black tone (note) Db. Which as you see can also be correctly spelled C#.
On our piano graphic you will notice that all the black tones (notes) have two types of spelling C#/Db, F#/Gb, A#/Bb, etc. While it is important when forming scales that you know both spellings are correct, it is beyond the scope of these beginner piano lessons to get into theory. Right now, I want you to know the location of these tones (notes) so that if you see either spelling, you will know where they are on the piano keyboard.
Now that you know the theory behind constructing diatonic piano scales, you can use the virtual piano below to view these scales on the piano keyboard as well as there location on the treble and bass clef. You can also check out a variety of other types of scales and the note location on both the piano keyboard and the grand staff with our virtual piano. The links below will give a more detailed description of the different type of major and minor piano scales and the interval combinations used to construct them.
Major Scales – Rules for constructing major scales on the piano.
Natural Minor Scales – Rules for constructing natural minor scales on the piano.
Harmonic Minor Scales – Rules for constructing harmonic minor scales on the piano
Melodic Minor Scales – Rules for constructing melodic minor scales on the piano
Learning Scales on Piano or as a Saxophone beginner or basically any other instrument is all the same. The scales are universal but the sound differ depending on what tyoe of instrument you play. The Piano is a C-concert instrument while Alto Sax for instance is an E-flat instrument.