The piano is a versatile instrument used to play different music. From classical sonatas to popular hits, the piano has something to offer everyone. One of the things that makes the piano so versatile is that it can be played in multiple keys.

Each key has its unique sound, and by learning different types of piano scales, musicians can create an endless variety of melodies. Major scales are the most common type of scale, and they are used in many popular songs.

However, minor scales also have different sounds and are often used in classical music.

There are also Pentatonic scales, which are used in jazz and blues music. By learning different piano scales, musicians can open up a new world of possibilities.

This blog post will discuss the main types of piano scales and how they are used.

As you know, Piano scales are precious tools for any pianist, from beginners dabbling in piano to the most seasoned professionals. Piano scales provide the technical and theoretical foundation that helps an individual understand the patterns that comprise any Western music style.

Practicing scales drastically improves a person's knowledge and technique on the piano and renders them with the essential toolkit, streamlining the entire learning methodology. Most importantly, piano scales are pivotal in the understanding of key signatures. Now that we have touched upon the basics of piano scales, let us get into the nitty-gritty of the topic.

Piano Scales: Definition

Piano scales are a collection of notes in alphabetical order, played in succession on a standard 88-key piano. Scales are a specific distance apart from one another. Scales can be major or minor, utilizing any combination of white and black keys on the piano keyboard. For instance, a significant scale entails seven notes - c d e f g a b, whereas a minor scale includes six notes - c d be f g ab.

Furthermore, it is critical to mention that 12 major and 12 natural types of minor scales can be played on a piano. Each major scale comprises its unique sequence of intervals between each note of the musical scales. For instance, the interval between c and d is one semitone (or half steps), while the interval between c and e is two semitones.

Before we get into the crux of the types of piano scales, let us first briefly delve into the two pertinent aspects of a scale: Half Steps and Whole steps.

What Are Half Steps and Whole Steps?

Half Step

It is the smallest distance on the piano. It occurs between any key and its immediate nearest key. By immediate, we do not mean a jump from white to black or from white to white; instead, it means the adjacent note above or below.

Whole Step

It is two-half steps in either direction. It would help if you remembered that two halves make a whole, and two half steps make a whole step.

Types of Piano Major Scales

The major scale is the most common of all scales. The key signature is based on major scales and keys. The major piano scales include - C major scale, D major scale, E major scale, F major scale, G major scale, A major scale, and the B major scale.

Each of these major scales has its unique sound that we can use in different musical situations. For example, the C major scale is primarily used in classical music, whereas the G major is typical of country music. Therefore, learning the different types of piano scales increases the ability to create more diverse and exciting sounds.

Tips to Build a Major Scale

There are easy tricks to build a major scale. As we already know, a major scale has eight notes arranged in a pattern of whole and half steps. To construct a major scale, you can follow the steps given below -

  • You have to start it with the name of the scale (also called the root)
  • Follow the root by a whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, and half step pattern.
  • Thus, the formula for building major scales, irrespective of the key signatures - W-W-H-W-W-W-H

Types of Piano Minor Scales

The different minor scales include:

  • The E natural minor scale.
  • G harmonic minor scale.
  • Melodic minor scale.
  • Dorian mode.

Each minor scale has its own unique sound, and you can use them in diverse scenarios to produce music of the desired effect. For example, the melodic minor scales are atypical of jazz music, as they give a composition a more romantic feel. On the contrary, the harmonic minor scale is a frequent element of classical music. Lastly, we can find the Dorian scale to be commonly co-opted in blues and rock music.

How to Form a Minor Scale

To begin with, each major key has its subsequent minor key. The relative minor scale is premised upon the sixth tone of the major scale. For example, the sixth tone in the C major scale is A. Thus, the relative minor of C is A minor. Therefore, C major and A minor have identical key signatures. And here, the major and the minor scales have the same tones. There are three variants of minor scales, and let us learn how to build these separately.

Forming a Natural or Pure Minor Scale

It is a scale that begins on the sixth degree of its relative major scale. It increases or decreases for one octave using the signature of the major scale. The formula for forming a natural minor scale is- W-H-W-W-W-W-W.

Forming a Harmonic Minor Scale

The harmonic minor scale begins on the sixth degree of its subsequent major scale. It increases or decreases for one octave using the major scale's key signature, except the 7th tone raised a half step. The formula for building a harmonic minor scale is W-H-W-W-W-W 1/2 - H.

Forming a Melodic Minor Scale

Like the above two scales, the melodic minor also begins at the sixth degree of the relative major scale. It ascends or descends for one octave by utilizing the major scale's key signature. However, the 6th and 7th tones are raised half a step when ascending. On the other hand, when descending, the player has to use the tones of nature or pure minor scale. The formula you can use for a melodic minor scale is W-H-W-W-W-W-H.

Other Types of Piano Scales

Apart from the major and minor scales, we also have other scales, such as the tone, whole, pentatonic, and chromatic scales:

  1. Tone scales are simplistic piano scales with only seven notes.
  2. Chromatic scales have twelve notes, and whole-tone scales have six notes.
  3. The pentatonic scale has five notes.

Although these ancillary scales are less common than their major and minor counterparts, we can use them to add variety and diverse flavors to our composition.

Importance of Learning Piano Scales

Let us wrap up this blog post by briefly outlining some significant benefits of learning piano scales. To begin with, scales help pianists within different ends of the learning spectrum to develop robust techniques. Knowing about scales allows individuals to improvise and build their music. Second, scales also help pianists understand how to build chords and melodies. Lastly, sales also help a person buy the right kind of piano. If you have been trying to learn piano scales, then you can follow the tips given below -

  • Try playing piano in different octaves with both your hands.
  • You can also use an online metronome.
  • Try different keys each week, as it will help you learn the keys and key signatures better.
  • Keep a practicing diary to record your practice sessions.
  • Use different rhythms. Also, playing at different speeds using different rhythms is a great strengthening exercise for your fingers.

Now that we've gone over the different types of piano scales, you will better understand how to use them. Scales are a great way to improve your technique and maintain muscle memory.

They can also be used to create exciting and unique-sounding compositions. So whether you're just starting or a seasoned pro, don't be afraid to experiment with different scales and see what sounds you can create. Who knows, you might just come up with the next big hit!

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Harlan Kilstein began playing piano during covid with no piano background at all. He taught himself how to play learning what to do and what not to do.
Today he's an advanced intermediate player and can help you grow in your skills because he learned all this on his own.