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Building major scales is an excellent starting place for learning how to play the piano. It combines a little bit of music theory knowledge with a little bit of practical piano information. Here we’ll focus on the five-finger major scale, which uses the first 5 notes of a major scale. We’ll explain the music theory behind the five-finger major scale, including how to construct major scales in any key. We’ll also show you a helpful formula that is hidden inside of every major scale. And we’ll top it all off by giving you a couple practice exercises to help you improve your piano playing abilities.

Building Major Scales – Understanding the Theory

There are 12 major scales in music. That’s it, only 12. Each major scale contains 7 individual notes. You’ve probably heard these 7 notes if you’ve heard someone sing do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do, in which each syllable represents a different note in the major scale. We’re only going to concern ourselves with the first 5 notes of the scale because we’re going to assign one finger to each of the first five notes.

Major scales are constructed by using a combination of half-steps and whole-steps. A half-step occurs when moving from one note on the piano to the very next note, up or down. So moving from ‘F’ to the ‘E’ is a half-step (down). Moving from ‘F’ to ‘F#’ is a half-step (up).

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Moving up or down by two half-steps is a whole-step. Hidden inside every major scale is a half-step/whole-step formula that explains how to build a major scale in any key. So let’s crack that code now.

Start on ANY note. We call this starting note the root. Now move up a whole-step. This is the 2nd note of the scale. Next, move up another whole-step. This is the 3rd note of the scale. Now, move up a half-step. This is the 4th note of the scale. Lastly, move up a whole-step. This is the 5th note of the scale.

Let’s plug this into an actual scale. We’ll start on ‘C,’ which is the root. Moving up a whole-step brings us to the ‘D.’ Moving up another whole-step brings us to the ‘E.’ Moving up a half-step brings us to ‘F.’ Moving up another whole-step brings us to ‘G.’ That’s our five-finger major scale – C-D-E-F-G. And our formula for finding these first 5 notes of the major scale is: choose any starting note (root) and then move up “whole, whole, half, whole.” This formula works in ANY major key!

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Building Major Scales – How to Practice

Learning to build and play your 5-finger major scales in all 12 keys is an excellent practice exercise. Let’s take our 5-finger C major scale above. With your right hand put your 1st finger (thumb) on ‘C,’ and then one finger on each of the remaining notes (C = thumb, D = pointy finger, E = middle finger, F = ring finger, G = pinky). In the left hand, you’ll put your 5th finger (pinky) on ‘C’ (then D = ring, E = middle, F = pointy, G = thumb).

Practice playing up and down the scale, right hand and left hand separately, and then playing hands together. Once you get the hang of it, try playing along with your metronome.