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3. Intro to Piano Scales

Lesson 3 Module 1

Learn the correct fingering for all 12 major scales - FAST

The trickiest part of learning to play the scales is learning the proper fingering.  Usually I am not a draconian teacher when it comes to fingering, but the fingering for scales is very, very important.  Not only will you get docked points if you play them wrong in competitions or a keyboard harmony class, but like broccoli and spinach, they're simply good for you.  Learning the scales with the proper fingering helps a person gain mastery over the piano, helps the fingers move around the keyboard with ease without being limited by the distances their five-fingered-hands could cover without an opposing thumb.  The Major Scales Fingering Chart printable sheets will help you get started! 

I've created color-coded 1-octave fingering charts as a primer introduction to the scales.  Each of these fingerings are the fingering you would use to go up and down one octave.  In the C, G, D, A, and E printable that comes first, for example, the right hand ends on "5".  If you were going to keep going, you would cross your thumb under for an extended fingering of 123,1234,123,1234, (5).  Some of the printables, like the A-flat sheet pictured above, show the correct fingering for any number of octaves.  A simple google search or a trusty Hanon exercise book will give you the extended fingering for all of the scales.  But you've got to start somewhere, and one octave is a great place to start, especially for the earlier beginners.

How the Printables Work

These printables are a little different than other scale charts on the web.  They were designed for use with the movable-do piano insert.  The little piano(s) on the left show the Do-Re-Mi locations for each scale, and especially where to line the "Do" on your insert up on your keyboard.  The fingering is then color-coded on the printable to match the colors on the insert behind each key.  Pretty nifty, right?  No music reading skills required, no guess work remembering which note comes next, just the basics of color matching and knowing your finger numbers.

Understanding the "Why" behind fingerings

Why indeed?  Why not always use 123,1234,123,12345, or 123,123,12... or even 12,12,12,12?  The biggest deciding factor behind the given fingerings is that the thumb, for some reason, has an aversion to black notes.  Oh, he'll play them in octaves if the pinky is there to back him up, and sometimes in special circumstances if he doesn't have a choice, but you see, he'd really rather not play those black notes at all if he can help it.  It's just not ergonomic and he knows that the path of least resistance is sometimes the best path for greater efficiency.  The thumb is the strong man player, and the smaller fingers are better at all those quick little away-missions on the black keys.

With an understanding that the thumb is scared of black notes, all of the scale fingerings will make more sense.  They are built around letting the thumb stay on the white notes.

A Closer Look at the Printables

Let's take a look at these printables.  The first one shows 5 different pianos on the left, with "Do" placed on C, G, D, A, and E, respectively.  That's because the fingering for these 5 scales is the same!  The default- finginging for the right hand is, therefore, 123, 1234 (5), and for the left hand, (5)4321, 321.  Learn this fingering on the C-major scale first, and then practice playing them on in the other 4 positions.  Many songs are written in these 5 keys, so you're off to a good start.  Note too, that we are following the circle of 5ths.  C, G (1 sharp), D (2 sharps), A (3 sharps), and E (4 sharps).  We could keep going and do "B" next, but I'm saving it for later.  Let's pretend to go back to C, and follow the circle of 5ths backwards now.

The next printable is for F major (one flat).  And where is the flat?  The right hand can't play 123, 12345, or the thumb would be crossing under AND up on to the B-flat.  Yikes!  We need a new fingering.  1234, 123 (4).  You would cross the thumb under if you wanted to keep going up.  So the right hand gets a special fingering.  And the left hand?  Can the 2nd finger play a black note?  You bet it can!   The left hand fingering for F major is the standard (5)4321, 321.

The next scale is B-flat major.  Oooh, tricky!  We're starting out on a black note now, so the thumb can't be the first to play.  We'll start with our 2nd finger and let the thumb play the next note.  (2), 123, 1234.  If we were to keep going, it would be (2), 123, 1234, 123, 1234.  And down, 4321,321, 4321, 321, (2).  It would technically not be INcorrect to start and end on the 4th, but as a starting point, 2 is easier, so we get to use it.  And the left hand?  321, 4321, 3 just makes sense no matter how many octaves you are going to play.  No other fingering feels this good.

E-flat major also starts on a black note, and the fingering is the same no matter how many octaves you are playing, for either hand.  That's nice.  And no other fingering works so well when it comes to keeping our thumb in a safe place.

A-flat major scale.  Ditto.  It may seem strange to start out with "34" in the left hand, but when you look at the big picture, I think we can agree that it's for the best.

And then the special 3 at the end...

D-flat Major.  Or is that C# major?  They're one and the same, enharmonically.  That means that they sound the same, but would be spelled differently.  D-flat major is Db, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, C, Db.  5 flats.  C# major on the other hand, with it's 7 sharps is a bugger.  C#, D#, E#, F#, G#, A#, B# C#.  Yikes!  Luckily, we really don't have to thank about it that way at all in order to play it on the keyboard.  In fact, many people find that these last 3 scales are the EASIEST to play.  That's right, the easiest.  That's because ALL 5 black notes are played, and the thumb gets to play it's white note in between.  Right hand puts 2 and 3 and the sets of 2 black notes, and 2 3 4 on the sets of 3 black notes.  Every time.  The thumb simply plays the white note in between.  Left hand?  Same thing.  3 and 2 on the sets of 2 black notes, and 4 3 2 on the sets of white notes, with the thumb playing the white notes in between.  You can chunk it out by playing the two black notes together, thumb plays his solo, three black notes together, etc.

Next is G-flat major with it's 6 flats.  Or F# major with it's 6 sharps.  Take your pick.  Same thing, it's all black notes with the thumb taking his place on the white notes in between.

Finally we end on C-flat major with it's 7 flats.  Yikes!  Oh yeah, this is B major, the one we left back an the beginning when we started following the circle of 5ths up on our first printable with C, G, D, A, and E.  And look, this one starts on a white note too!  And the right hand fingering is even the same as our lovely scales at the first.  We're still chunking out the black notes with 23, and 234 with the thumb playing the white notes.  How cool that everything has all come together so nicely in the end.  At least for the right hand.  Left hand can't start on 5, it's got to chunk out those 5 black notes with 32, and 432.  Well, we'll start with 4 just to make things easier, then go up the scale as shown on the printable.  If we were to keep going, we would be putting our thumb on B as we went up and back down the scale.  End on 4.  Because it's easier and we're lazy when we can get away with it.

And that's it!  Have fun!

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