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How to make practising piano or keyboard scales more fun

Master The Keyboard
(Image credit: Future)

While useful for improving your piano or keyboard skills, scales aren’t that interesting to play, but there are ways to make them a more musically rewarding experience. Here's an exercise that will do precisely that...

Master The Keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

Step 1: Let’s start with the C major scale, which as we know contains C, D, E, F, G, A and B. This is a palette of notes from which you can create music, so let’s do just that. 

Master The Keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

Step 2: We’ll play a normal C major scale in the right hand, but accompany it with a left hand part to make it a bit more interesting. As you play the scale, hold down an A key with your left hand – using any finger you like. Notice how the tone of the scale has changed: that A in the bass has made it sound cooler and less like a nursery rhyme.

Master The Keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

Step 3: Let’s try another bass note. After playing the scale around a couple of times with the A in the left hand, continue the scale but switch to F in the left hand. Sounds different again right? What we’re doing is forming a chord progression under the scale (even though we’re not using any actual chords yet).

Master The Keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

Step 4: Those new bass notes are suggesting chords to our ears that are based on the notes the left hand is playing. Let’s add another note to the progression – try C this time. C is the normal bass note for the scale, so we’re used to hearing it, and because of this the scale sounds normal again.

Master The Keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

Step 5: For a fourth and final bass note, play the scale over a G note. So now we’ve played the scale over four different bass notes – A, F, C and G – ie, the sixth note of the scale, the fourth note of the scale, the root note and the fifth. This suggests a progression of vi-IV-I-V. and we can use those left hand notes as root notes for diatonic chords.

Master The Keyboard

(Image credit: Future)

Step 6: So if we build diatonic chords from those root notes using only notes that occur in the C major scale, we get Am-F-C-G – a common pop progression. Play these chords in the left hand and the scale in the right, and suddenly it sounds like music. Try some variations, such as only the first five notes of the scale, a descending scale, or alternate notes.