Piano Scale Patterns – Which Scale Pattern for Piano to Consider?

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in Scales

An interesting search revealed that “piano scale patterns” has been a hot search for new musicians. However, I haven’t been able to determine if this is in the context of finding out about finger patterns or mathematical patterns.

So I decided to write a post today on both subjects as they relate to piano scales patterns.

Scale Math Pattern

Each scale has a pattern that identifies it as a type of scale we refer to as major, minor, blues, gospel, whole tone, and so forth. This is my favorite way to look at learning scales because you have a set of half (H), whole (W), or minor third (m3) steps which define the scales.

Take the major scale for example. It is a pattern which is based on

W + W + H + W + W + W + H.

As seen on the keyboard it is typically represented in teaching as the C scale which starts on C and uses all the white keys as the scale pattern. So as you follow it you see that it is the notes of C D E F G A B and returns to C as a last half step. Here is a picture of the piano scale pattern. One scale from C to C in red.

scale-c-mjr-kb

Now you can build any major scale using that pattern starting on any key. That allows you to add all the sharps and flats that are appropriate for any key signature. Try it

Fingering Scale Pattern

The second pattern that one could be thinking of is which fingers are used to play a scale. It’s remarkable because what actually happens is that there is one basic pattern for each hand for the majority of scales one would play.

Given that with some starting points it makes sense to alter the pattern to make it easier to play. Our example here will be very generic for the scales.

Take the right hand: It uses a pattern of 3 fingers then 4 fingers to play a scale. The fifth or pinky finger can be used to end a scale going up.  However, if you are repeating the scale you use the 3 and 4 finger pattern to accomplish playing the scale.

Example of C major scale. Starting with the thumb as 1.

1, 2, 3 plays C D E, thumb under and 1, 2, 3, 4 plays F G A B, thumb under starts it all over again with C.

scale-finger-kb-rh-c-maj-2o

Left hand uses a 4 then 3 pattern to play the scale. However, you are starting with the 5 or pinky to start the scale then alternate to the 4 and 3 pattern as you play several repetitions of the scale.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 plays C D E F G; 3 goes over and 3, 2, 1,  plays A B C, then 4 goes over and starts it all over again with D.

scale-finger-left-hand

So what usually hangs people up is that the two hands are playing different patterns at the same time. The only way to overcome this is to start very slow and work them each separately several times. Then when you have the individual patterns down put them together and even start that at a slower pace until you begin to get the feel for them.

Resources for Getting It Down Cold

Two patterns that piano scales use, both math and physical playing technique. There are two good resources here at the Music Learning Workshop for learning these patterns and making them work for all scale types.

Key – Scale Workshop is good for learning the key signatures and the major and minor scales. How to build scales and the relationships between keys is covered, In addition several other types of scales are covered such as blues, pentatonic, diminished, whole tone and others.

Piano Scale Fingerings is a workbook designed to teach you the physical positioning of fingers for all the major and harmonic minor scales used with the key signatures. This is a visual aid to help you get over the  hurdle of positioning your fingers when you get into all those other scales using the black keys.

You can find some basic principles of scales here: Scale Theory.

Other finger exercises:

Amazon ImageHanon: The Virtuoso Pianist in 60 Exercises

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Filip December 28, 2013 at 9:06 am

This is great, but I wonder where can I find fingerings for scales that are not just ascending or descending (such as C-E-D-F-E-G-F-A-B-C etc)?

Brad Chidester January 22, 2014 at 7:24 am

Hanon exercises are will give they dexterity for working in runs similar to scales. I use it when I need to tune up my agility after being away from my piano for a long time. I’ve added a link at the end of the post.

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