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Piano Scales Made Super Easy

Updated on September 6, 2012
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JohnMello is a writer, composer, musician and the author of books for children and adults.

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Scales are everywhere in music, so it makes sense that you should know how to play them well. Here are some tips on how to conquer them.

Here's How To Play A Scale

  1. To play a C major scale, start with your thumb on C (picture 1 below) and play the first 3 notes with fingers 1, 2, and 3 (picture 2 below).
  2. Now pick up your hand and move it so that your thumb is resting on the F note above the C where you started playing (picture 3 below).
  3. Play the next 5 notes in a row one after the other using fingers 1 to 5 (picture 4 below).
  4. Congratulations! You've just played a C major scale. So what's next?

Playing Scales: All Thumbs!

  1. Now put the two parts together. Start with your thumb on middle C, then play the first 3 notes C, D and E.
  2. As you play, slide your thumb UNDER your other fingers, ready to play the note F.
  3. Make sure you thumb is ready on the note F after you've played the first 3 notes, and continue up the scale as before with notes F, G, A, B and C.
  4. Practice doing this slowly until it feels comfortable, and then try playing the whole thing in one smooth motion. You can do it!

G Scale Technique

To play a G major scale, do exactly the same thing but this time start on the note G.

Play the first three notes, G, A and B with fingers 1, 2 and 3. As you play, slide your thumb under your fingers so it's ready when you get to the fourth note, C. Then continue up the scale with the notes C, D, E, F and G.

The picture below shows you exactly which notes to play. The fingering is the same as for the C scale, so 1-2-3 followed by 1-2-3-4-5.

Practice this a few times, then try doing it in one smooth motion as before. Remember that your fourth finger will be playing the note F SHARP when you get to the top of the scale.

Playing Scales: Switching Hands

For the left hand, work in the SAME WAY but backwards -- i.e. start with fingers 5 through 1, move your hand, and finish with fingers 3, 2 and 1. OR if you prefer you can practice left hand scales descending (going down), so your fingers move in exactly the same way as for right hand scales.

Going Down The Scale

To go back down the scale, cross over the THIRD FINGER of your right hand in time to play the note E (C major) or B (G major) and continue with the last 3 notes of the scale.

For the left hand, work in the SAME WAY, crossing over your thumb at the appropriate point to make the whole thing smooth and easy.

Helpful Scales Playing Hints

And that’s all there is to it. Here are a few tips to keep in mind whenever you’re playing ANY scale:

  1. Go slowly!
  2. Practice each step as often as necessary.
  3. If anything hurts, stop!
  4. Try to stay as relaxed as possible at all times.

Below you'll see a picture of the complete C major scale in notation for both hands, followed by a video that sums up almost everything we've discussed.

C Scale in Action

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