Now comes the exciting part!

I knew it was hard to make scales exciting, but trying to find a good tutorial on YouTube tells me it may be impossible.  There are some high quality demonstrations of individual scales on pianolessons.com, but the introduction is missing some key information.  Go ahead and watch it, then come back.

Here’s what you missed:

  1. All major scales are made of the same sequence of whole steps (W) and half steps (H).  A half-step, sometimes referred to as a semitone, is the interval between any two adjacent keys on the piano.  A whole step equals two half-steps.  The sequence is: W-W-H, W-W-W-H.Starting from C, it is a whole step to D, another to E, then a half step to F.  Then there are three whole steps in a row: F to G, G to A, and A to B.  The half-step from B to C completes the scale.  Got it?  Whole -Whole-Half, Whole-Whole-Whole-Half.  Now play that sequence starting anywhere on the piano, and you know all your major scales.
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  2. Fingering: the proper fingering for the C major scale (and many others) is to start with the thumb of your right hand on C. Your index finger plays D, middle finger plays E, then cross your thumb under to strike the F key and continue up the scale. You will end with your little finger on C. Reverse the procedure to come back down the scale.There are 8 notes in the scale, so on the way up, remember 3 + 5 = 8.  On the way down: 5 + 3 = 8. The left hand uses the same sequence, just upside-down.  Try it, you’ll see.  Start with your little finger on the C, and it’s 5 +3 on the way up, and 3 + 5 on the way down.

Now you are ready to tackle all the variations from the intro page.  But don’t try to learn them in alphabetical order, or even in the order suggested by the lessons.  Instead, learn the Circle of Fifths by watching the video below.

Starting from C, you will see that circle can be traced up or down.  Going up, you add one sharp (#) to each key for its major scale.  The key of C Major has no sharps, G has one (F#), D has two (F# and C#) and so on.

Going down from C, you add one flat (b) to each key.  The F major scale has one flat (Bb), Bb major has two (Bb and Eb), and so on.  Just remember the sequence: W-W-H, W-W-W-H to find the right notes.

Start by learning the major scale for the first five keys of the Circle of Fifths in both directions:

Going up: C-G-D-A-E

Going down: C-F-Bb-Eb-Ab

These scales cover most popular music written in major keys.  From there, learn the minor scales for the same keys, and whatever you need to know for the pieces you want to play.  To brush up on the theory behind all of this, visit Ricci Adam’s musictheory.net.  If you play guitar (or just about any instrument for that matter), you really should learn some piano too.  But don’t worry, we have plenty of scale excitement coming up for you pickers out there.