Major Scales: A Simple Piano Pattern For Beginners

Beginner Major Scales On the Piano

We think of Western music as having a melody and chords. And, this IS true. But, what makes the melody? Scales! In the first part of this series, I’ll be covering beginner Major scales on the piano.

If you’ve missed the start of this beginner piano series, I highly recommend If you are just clicking on this article and have never played piano before, I recommend reading about putting Major and minor chords together (part 1 and part 2) so you have a better understanding of what is covered here. Specifically the parts about half and whole steps.

The Downside of Scales

A lot of piano students aren’t fans of scales. And, as much as this might make me a “bad” teacher to admit … I didn’t like them either.

On the one hand, they are the foundation of playing effortlessly and seamlessly. On the other hand, no one wants to play the same notes going up and down the keyboard over and over. It’s a bit like watching the pot of water come to a boil. On an old stovetop. (Something I am very familiar with.)

Thank goodness we can learn Major scales and practice them in fun and interesting ways!

Reminder: Half And Whole Steps

As you learn piano you begin to realize that music has a major crush on patterns. You can see them everywhere! The great news is that we can use this to help quickly learn new concepts. Like Major scales.

If you are unfamiliar with half and whole steps on the piano, be sure to read “The Theory Behind Creating Major and Minor Chords“.

The quick version is, half and whole steps help us understand where note are in relation to each other. Some might say the distance between two notes.

  • Half step: The very next key (white or black)
  • Whole step: Two half steps

Major Scales Pattern

The piano can be an instrument that demands a lot of dexterity and fine motor movement at higher levels. Thankfully, we can start that process with 5-note Major scales. Also know as Major pentascales (penta = five)!

The pattern is …

Whole step – Whole step – Half step – Whole step

You may see this written as W – W- H – W.

To see exactly what this looks like, I recommend watching the video below or clicking here.

How To Practice Major Scales

Before getting to the fun ways of practicing scales, you need to master the basic pattern. Using gems, Legos or small blocks (anything that won’t fall between the keys) figure out what the notes of the scale are using the pattern above.

For example, a C Major scale would have C, D, E, F, G.

Play the scale going up, to the right. Then, play the scale going down, to the left.

Repeat this for each hand. Then, challenge yourself to play both hands together!

This series of practice steps is really important. Learning to play piano means strengthening the dexterity and abilities of your fingers in both hands. Typically you will have one hand that is stronger or finds these activities easier than the other. That’s okay and completely normal! It will improve over time with focused practice.

Remember, you can practice Major scales starting on ANY note so long as you follow the W-W-H-W pattern!

A Fun Way To Play Major Scales

One of the easiest ways to make practicing scales more fun is to make them into a mini song!

My students have played scales in many ways and have quickly realized how much more difficult it gets when you add rhythm or other things. Having said that, they also tend to realize that they know those scales much better once they can do that. And, it’s much easier to recognize and play scales in their music.

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know I am a huge fan of improvising. Improvising is creating music in the moment. And, it can be a low stress way to explore new patterns or concepts on the piano.

Idea 1:

Most melodies have elements of scales in them. You just might not realize it because they repeat notes or switch directions often as they go up/down the scale.

Play your Major scales:

  • Add some repeated notes,
  • Go up a few notes, change direction, play a few notes, switch again
  • Repeat until you have played all the notes of the scale going up and down.

Idea 2:

Once you can change directions, add rhythm!

Rhythm is as simple as adding longer and shorter notes to make your piece more interesting.

To see what each of these ideas looks like in action, watch the video above or click here.

Quick Review of Major Scales On The Piano

By memorizing the specific pattern on half and whole steps, even a beginner piano player can figure out the 5-note Major scales on the piano. Playing some of them may be a bit more of a challenge.

The pattern for Major scales is “Whole step – Whole step – Half step – Whole step” or W – W- H – W.

One of the best ways to practice and master your Major scales is to create a melody with repeating notes and rhythms.

What was the most challenging part of learning Major scales?

If you like this approach to learning piano, click to set up FREE meeting with me to join our online piano studio!

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