What Are Scales?
A scale goes from one key to the key that is an octave above that key. It consists of eight tones. There are different types of scales. Some of them are major scales and some of them are minor scales. Major scales have been described as sounding happy, while minor scales are said to sound sad or gloomy.
If you spend a part of your practice time playing scales, you build muscle memory in your hands. This means that, after much time practicing, your hands go more easily to notes in the scale you are playing at any given time. You only have to see the printed music or think of the melody and your hands know what to do.
To talk about scales, you must talk about keys. There are two kinds of keys when you are learning to play the piano. There are the physical blocks of ivory, or some look-alike material, and wood. There are also keys that scales or songs are played in.
Have you ever been to a lounge where a singer is giving an impromptu performance? She might lean down to the pianist and say something like, “In the key of C.” That tells the pianist where on the keyboard to begin. It also tells the pianist what physical keys to start with and what chords to use. The key of a piece of music is very important.
When you are learning scales, you can do it without learning all the key signatures. (Key signatures are the written notation of the keys, such as the key of C or the key of G.) You can begin by playing a C scale. A major C scale is all done on the white keys. Begin with your right hand in the Home Keys position. Remember that your fingers are numbered 1-5, with the thumb being 1.
Play 1-2-3 as usual. This is C-D-E on the keyboard. Then, instead of playing the next note with your ring finger, slip your thumb under the fingers and play F with your thumb. Reposition your hand so that your thumb is 1 on F and your pinkie is 5 on the C above middle C. Then, continue to play up the scale. So, you are playing 1-2-3-1-2-3-4-5, or C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. You have just played your first scale. Practice it a few times.
To play a C scale with your left hand, put your little finger on the C below middle C. Position your fingers from 1-5 coming up the keyboard from each key to the next. Play 5-4-3-2-1. Then, reach over the top with your middle finger and place it on the next key. Play 3-2-1 from this position. Therefore, you are playing 5-4-3-2-1-3-2-1, or C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C.
After you practice this for awhile, try to put the left hand and the right hand together. Play the C below middle C with your left pinkie at the same time as you play the middle C with your left thumb. Continue up the scale with both hands. It can be a little tricky at first because you are going over with your middle finger of your left hand and the under with the thumb of the right hand at different times. Practice awhile and it will come naturally.
Once you get the basic procedure down, it is easy to play other major scales. The only thing you have to remember is the sequence of steps and half steps in a major scale. The correct order up a major scale is: beginning note-step-step-half step-step-step-step-half step. You should be aware that, since there are no black keys between them, the intervals from B-C and from E-F are each half steps.
You can play a scale anywhere on the piano. Just pick a note to start on. It does not matter whether it is a white key or a black key. Use the given sequence of steps and half steps to go from there up an eight note scale. You can even start from the left of the keyboard and continue the scale all the way to the right. With a little practice, you will be proficient at playing major scales.