Introduction: How to Play Major Scales on the Piano

Notes are the alphabet for musical language. All music is a type of structural organization of notes which are grouped according to sound (key signature) and rhythm (time signature).

When notes are organized according to sound, this means they all are in the same Musical Key, such as C Major.

We learn the different key signatures found in our piano music by learning our scales.

Scales can be played in Major and Minor Key signatures and contain a total of 8 notes.

A scale will start on one note and then succeed up note by note 8 steps up, until you land on the same note that you started out on, just an octave higher.

Let's learn what a major scale is and the unique finger pattern that is common to all Major scales.

Step 1: What Is a Major Scale?

The major scale is composed of 8 notes.

For example, the C major scale will start on Middle C, and then continue up note by note until the next C, which is an octave higher. Notice that the first and last notes are the same. This is true for all of your Major scales.

  • Before we go on, let's review an important part of learning our notes that we need to know before playing our scales.
  • If you look at the piano keyboard, you'll notice that some of the white keys have no black keys in between them, while others are right next to a black key.
  • Are you familiar with the terms whole steps and half steps? We always define our note successions in terms of whether the next note is a whole or 1/2 step away. All scales are built upon specific patterns of whole and 1/2 steps.

Major scales have 1/2 steps between the 3rd and 4th notes and between the 7th and 8th notes. All Major scales follow this same finger pattern! You can think of this like a math formula almost.

Major scales are the easiest to learn because of this great fact. This isn't true with our Minor scales, which is probably why we learn the Major scales first.

Next, let's talk about how this looks on your piano keyboard.

Step 2: How Do You Play a Major Scale on the Piano?

Remember the finger pattern formula for all Major scales.

There will be two 1/2 steps in your major scales, and all of the rest of the notes will be whole steps apart.

The 1/2 steps come between the 3rd & 4th notes and the 7th & 8th notes.

In the C major scale above, you can see this. The 1/2 steps are between E & G, and then B & C.

Notice that in between your whole step notes there is always a black key; but between your 1/2 notes, there isn't.

If you memorize this finger pattern formula, you will be able to apply it to any Major scale in music and play it correctly, even if you don't know what the exact notes of the scale are.

Now it's time to practice major scales on your piano!

Step 3: Come Practice With Me!

It's important to be able to apply what you learn about playing the piano to the actual keyboard and incorporate it into your practicing.

This video tutorial will take you step by step on the keyboard through the Major scale finger patterns and we will practice several different Major scales together.

So memorize this pattern: W W H W W W W H - which stands for your whole & half steps...and then come and practice with me for a few minutes to increase your experience with playing major scales on your piano.