Piano Scales For Beginners - Top 5 Every Student Should Learn
Updated: Jun 23
Even though it's a series of keys laid out in a straight line, horizontally, the piano is a rather complex instrument to learn how to play, and the music itself can be rather intricate also. For this reason, we need to take the notes inside of music and arrange them in a certain way that makes sense and can be understood by many. That way is by arranging the music in Scales or Keys. A scale is a series of eight notes, or scale degrees, where the first note and the last note are the same. The pattern can be repeated indefinitely and is very easily explained as there can typically only be one occurrence of a scale degree. So today we will discuss what are the five scales that you should know, as a beginner, in order to play the most music. There is an article on hook theory where songs on the Billboard 100 are analyzed to see what keys and chords are played most often. From this analysis, we and determine that the scales that every beginner should learn first are C major, A minor, G major, E minor and E flat major.
So first, let's talk about the C major key. C major is typically the key that everyone learns when they are learning to play music. Even though we don't specifically refer to C major by its name when students are first learning, this is, in fact, the key in which most students learn their songs when they take piano lessons. This is because there are no Sharps and no Flats in this key and students can simply play notes on the white keys sometimes even just by using colors or numbers. So, since this key is so Elementary to playing the piano, it is no wonder that the key of C is by far the most used key in popular music.
The relative minor key of C major is A minor. When we say relative key what we are saying is that the two keys share the same number of Sharps and Flats. The A minor key, like the key of C, has no Sharps and no Flats. However, since it is a minor key, it gives a certain sense of sadness or a darker tone that easily adds to the character of the song.
The next most popular key is the key of G. The key of G much like the key of C is mostly white keys, and this is typically the second key that most students learn to play music in. The key of G only has one sharp that sharp is F. Many students begin to learn the key of G by placing their bottom fingers, or Left most fingers, on the note G and playing the five notes above it. While in this position the student wouldn’t have to play any sharps or flats. When piano students begin to play all of the notes from the key of G, they soon encounter that they will play their very first sharp. The note, F sharp. Seeing that this key is also one of the first keys that students learn when they are playing music, it makes sense that this is the second most popular key for popular music to be in, as it is one of the easier keys to play.
When we spoke on the relative minor of C major, the same rule holds trust for G major. We start on G and count down by 3 half steps or semitones, which will take us to E minor. The key minor shares the same sharp as G major, which is the note F sharp. When playing E minor you will get the darker tone of the key while only having to play one sharp key. Playing in the key E minor may also give singers a lower register to sing than the key of C, which can be difficult for some men since the note C is around what singers call “the break”. The break is a series of notes in a singer's register where the vocal cords change position. If a singer is singing in the key of E, then the notes that may use more often will be in a lower position and allow them to sing easier further away from the break
E Flat Major
The fifth most popular key is E flat. The interesting thing about the key of E flat is that it has three flats. However, the nice part about the key of E flat is that if you were to play a very particular scale, called the minor pentatonic scale, the scale will allow you to simply play all of the black keys and sound intricate. The minor pentatonic scale is used in order to play emotional improvisational lines. We find that the pentatonic scale is used quite heavily with guitar players who are first learning to improvise. Conversely, a piano player can also use this same pentatonic scale to learn how to improvise and, luckily in the key of E flat, if you use the minor pentatonic scale you will find that you can very easily create very emotional improvisational lines with very little effort. So, it is for that reason we believe that E-flat is the fifth most popular key due to the simplicity in creating emotional improvisational licks and runs inside of your songs.
So, in review, the keys of C major, A minor, G major, E minor, and E flat major account for almost fifty percent of Billboard 100 songs. These keys can be used due to their simplicity and unique natures that allow musicians to play emotionally and with less difficulty in creating those sounds. So, we believe that the first scales that anyone should learn who wants to play quickly should be C Major, G major, E flat major, and in the minor modes, learn A minor and E minor.