Learn how to play all the 12 major scales on the piano, easily!
Print the scales for free (PDF's), and follow the study guide to learn how to play them in the simplest order!
What do all the major scales have in common?
They all share the same pattern of whole and half steps!
Actually, there is only one major scale pattern, but it can be transposed (moved) to start from any note.
Of course the scales do not look the same, since each piano scale has its own specific pattern of black and white keys.
You also need
to adjust the fingering for most piano scales so they are comfortable to play. But quite a few scales actually share the same fingering, and these are also the easiest to begin with.
The not-so-secret formula for a major scale is all about the distance (interval) from one note to the next.
From one note to the next there is either a whole step (tone) or a half step (semitone).
The specific pattern of steps for a major scale (ascending) is:
(any starting note)-whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half. That’s it!
Here is a study guide organized in the order I would advise you to learn the 12 major scales. Follow this step by step, and you’ll be the Major Scale Master in no time!
But start by printing your free major scales (the links open in a new window):
After printing the scales above, here is your step by step guide on how to use them! Make sure to keep the scales handy as you follow the guide.
The first seven of the 12 major scales all start on a white key. The first 5 of those use exactly the same piano fingering patterns:
Learning these first
and really setting the fingering patterns, makes it easier to learn the
rest of the scales.
1. C major scale
The C major scale is the only major scale without black keys, so it’s easy to begin with. The fingering you learn will be used in the next 4 scales as well. So take time to learn it, it really pays back later!
2. G major scale
The G major scale has one black key, F#.
3. D major scale
The D major scale has two, F# and C#.
4. A major scale
An A major scale has three black keys, F#, C# and G#.
5. E major scale
E major has four, F# ,C#,G#,D#.
6. F major scale
And now for something different! The F major scale has one black key too, but this time it is a flat key, Bb. This Bb makes it necessary to change fingering in the right hand. The left has the same fingering as before.
7. B major scale
The B major scale includes all the black keys! It is actually the easiest of all the 12 major scales to learn in the right hand, since it shapes your hand very nicely and makes it super easy to learn the fingering.
This is said to be the first scale Chopin gave to his students to learn. However, the left hand has to change fingering from before, starting on 4.
Here is a clever little exercise for the scales using all five black keys:
The only things you will add later are the 2 “missing” white keys that will be played with the thumb most of the time.
The second group of the 12 major scales are 5 scales that all start on a black key.
They could be called two names, since
the black keys have two names (for example C# or Db). The choice of the one over the other has to do
with how many sharps or flats they have in the key signature.
1. Bb major scale
Bb major has two black keys, Bb and Eb. Since it starts on a black key, the previous fingering has to be changed, as in all scales starting on a black key.
Well, for smooth playing you have seen that we avoid using the thumb, or first finger, on a black key when playing scales.
The thumb is short and is better used to tuck under your palm for smooth lateral movements.
Start with finger 4 on Bb, and immediately tuck under the thumb on C. After that the pattern is very easy, since the finger groups 1 2 3 and 1 2 3 4 each end on a black key.
The left hand will start directly with the finger groups 3 2 1 and 4 3 2 1 starting on a black key each time.
2. Eb major scale
Eb major has three black keys, Bb, Eb and Ab. The fingering changes again, but look for the finger groups and it is easier to see the pattern.
Eb major could also be called D# major, they are enharmonic.
3. Db/C# major scale
Db major has 4 black keys. Db major is enharmonic with C# major.
The two scales look, sound and are played exactly the same on the keyboard but are written differently with notes.
It’s easier to use Db since it has fewer flats, 5, instead of C# that has 7 sharps.
4. Ab/G# major scale
Ab is very similar to B major if you look at what keys to use. The only difference is the two white keys!
5. Gb/F# major scale
Gb has five black keys, as before. See how the last 2 scales have so much in common with B major!
All scales are better to practice without notes.
Playing by heart makes you more acquainted with each pattern on the keyboard, and makes the topography of the keyboard much more familiar.
But as a reference, no pianists library is complete without a scale book.
A good reference scale book with all common piano scales, fingering and more, is: Scales, Chords, Arpeggios and Cadences: Complete Book