The things you most need to practice when learning how to play piano are piano chords and scales. Unfortunately, the thought of practicing chords and scales on piano does not usually inspire dizzying heights in motivation. Learning scales and chords, particularly scales is boring and considered more of a burden by budding pianists. Well I hate to say it, but if you want to get good at playing piano, you need to practice scales and chords. You need to practice them over and over until they’re as natural as breathing! Harsh words, but never hath a more true sentence been spoken!
Despite the obvious drudgery and tedium, it will be crucial to developing your own personal technique and way of playing the piano in the long run. Knowing the major scales and understanding how they relate to tunes and melody is the cornerstone of getting to know the rest of your instrument as well as playing well and knowing how to make music sound interesting.
Notes in a scales tend to be played in order, either going up or down in pitch. Most piano scales are eight notes long, with the first and last notes being of the same pitch an octave apart. The beginning of a piano scale is known as the “root note”, the root being the key of the scale and could be any of the twelve keys in an octave. Chordal and tonal relationships apply to each and every key you may wish to play in. While all keys may have their own unique mood, very often you will be required to transpose a song from one key to a more desired key so that the music that you play is aligned with the key that other band members are playing to, or to suit a signer’s vocal range. Knowing how to change key is a crucial skill as a top musician.
Scales are made up of a sequence of full steps and half steps. While some white keys are right next to one another, others are broken up by a black key. When two white keys are adjacent, the interval between them is a half step. Two whites separated by a black is a whole step. Two halves equals one whole, step-wise.
In any major scale (also called an Ionian scale), the pattern relationships is:
W, W, H, W, W, W, H
Where W = whole step, H = half step
By applying this pattern you will be able to figure out the major scale of any key you wish. In C-Major it is relatively straight forward to play the C-Major scale on the keyboard as this scale features only the white keys, but it can be derived from this pattern as follows:
- C to D (whole step)
- D to E (whole step)
- E to F (half step)
- F to G (whole step)
- G to A (wholestep)
- A to B (whole step)
- B to C (half step)
But not matter which of the twelve keys you work in, there is no bearing on which notes happen to be black or white, what matters is the step distance between keys, C-Major just happens to be all white.
There are many more scales in addition to C-Major, our aim here is simply to demonstrate to you what a scale actually is. For a more thorough account of this topic, visit our page on piano chords and scales, which addresses all of the major scales in turn.