Music Scales for Pianists

Learning about and practicing different music scales is an important part of learning how to play the piano and music theory.

Since most music is created from some kind of a musical scale, they are part of the basic “tools” for understanding how a piece of music is constructed.

Why Study Scales?

By learning and practicing scales you will become more confident playing all over the keyboard. By studying piano scales you will also learn:

  • Fingering
  • Key signatures
  • Finger flexibility
  • How to read notes easier by recognizing scale patterns

Now the good news is there are actually not so many different commonly used scales for the piano, and it doesn’t take very long to learn them either.

TIP: It is always best to practice scales by heart. In this way you will see the actual patterns on the keyboard, and this will help you to become more secure in finding your way on the piano keyboard. This is another reason that the piano is so great for learning about music theory!

How Many Music Scales Are There?

Piano Music Scales

There are innumerable scales all over the world. However, for playing the piano there are not so many that can be used since the pianos smallest interval is a half-step, or a semitone.

In Jazz and Blues piano, you need to study many, many different scales to create a «bank» of sound-tools to use in improvisations etc.

In Classical piano music there are not so many different scales used, but if you look in any piano scale book, it seems that there are unlimited amounts of musical scales...
In reality however, there are much fewer than it seems!

This is because each scale pattern can be transposed to (moved to) any of the 12 different keys on the keyboard. And in the scale books they write every single key tonality of just one type of scale, so it’s easy to get intimidated.

Let’s take a closer look at the most common scales used for pianists:

Scales Can Be Organized In Two Main Groups

1. Diatonic Scales

The diatonic scales are made from whole and half steps. In this group there are the 7 modal scales (or church modes) where the major and the natural minor scale are included, plus the melodic minor:

  • Ionian (major)
  • Dorian
  • Lydian
  • Frygian
  • Mixolydian
  • Aeolian (natural minor)
  • Locrian
  • The melodic minor scale.

2. Non-Diatonic Scales

Non-diatonic scales are those that have either only whole steps (whole tone) only half steps (Chromatic), or that contain intervals bigger than a whole step. In this group we find the:

  • Harmonic minor
  • Pentatonic
  • Whole tone
  • Chromatic (Half tone)
  • Blues

So, in essence the most common piano music scales are 13 different piano patterns. These can all start from any of the 12 keys on the piano, which makes it seem that there are many more…

Good news again! They are all easy to learn! Just follow each of the links, and you will become a “Master Piano Scale Player” in no time!


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Piano Quotes

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