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Music Education

Let’s Get Psyched About Piano: Scales

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Scales may not always be the most exciting thing to learn about, most people would much rather just learn easy songs to start (that’s definitely my favorite way), but given how foundational they are to understanding an instrument and the basics of music theory, they’re a good place to go once you have the initial basics down. I did a blog post on ‘Learning the Basics’ a little while ago, it will be linked below for reference if you need it. 

What are scales? 

Scales are the ‘tonal base of music’ and are composed of ‘tones from which you can build melodies and harmonies’. Basically, they provide you with notes that sound good together. 

On a related note, a ‘Key’ is a group of pitches or a scale that are used in a composition of music. So while a key and a scale aren’t exactly the same thing, we do use scales for our keys, so when we see a piece of music and find it’s in, for example, ‘the key of C’ we already know what notes will likely be in the piece, because we know the scale of C. Knowing scales is also useful when you start composing or improvising.

Half steps and whole steps:

The distance between notes and keys on a piano are called ‘Steps’. Visually a whole step on a piano is when two notes have a key between them. If two keys are right next to each other it is a half step (as seen in the image below). 

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Major Scales are based on the pattern above. 

Whole, Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Whole, Half (commonly written: W W H W W W H)

The C Scale is the easiest to perform because it includes only white keys. Since the pattern just so happens to work that way. But other scales, such as the D Major Scale, will include black keys. It still follows the same system of whole and half steps, but starting at D. So, if we follow the D a whole step we get E, and another whole step, meaning two keys over, is an F#. Then the next key, our first half step, is a G.

All major scales follow this pattern.

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We play scales starting from the first note and down until we get to the same not in the next octave. So we go from C all the way down to C again, and then you play it backwards.

Now you know all the keys in a C major and D major scale, so you can improvise with these notes!

Next time we’ll look at minor scales,

Stay Psyched about learning piano,

– DJ Psyched

Learning the Basics blog post