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How to Play Melodies in the Right Hand on the Piano or Keyboard

Playing Musical Scales on the Piano

In piano, perhaps more than any other instrument, you can use scales to do some great things — like play entire songs. Although not all scales are songs, all songs are created from scales, be it an entire scale or just a few notes from the scale. Remember the “Do-Re-Mi” song from The Sound of Music? The whole darn song is about scales, and those kids had fun!

Besides using scales to understand the notes in a song’s melody, you can use scales to beef up your finger power on the piano. Plus, the more scales you know, the easier it becomes to play the piano.

Put simply, a musical scale is a series of notes in a specific, consecutive order. Major and minor scales are the two most common types, and they have the following attributes:

  • They’re eight notes long.

  • The top and bottom notes are an octave apart, so they have the same name.

  • The series follows a stepwise pattern up and down, and the name of each note in the scale follows the alphabet up and down.

Each scale gets its own wacky-sounding name, like C major. A scale derives its name from the following two things:

  • The scale’s bottom note, or the tonic. For example, a C major scale starts on C.

  • The stepwise pattern used to create the scale. Music has two kinds of steps, half-steps and whole-steps, which are the building blocks of scales. The “major” part of C major means the third note of the scale is a major third above the tonic.

Note that on a keyboard some white keys have a black key in between and some white keys are side by side. On a piano keyboard:

  • Two keys side by side (whether black or white) are one half-step apart.

  • Two keys separated by one other key (black or white) are a whole-step apart.

  • Two half-steps equal one whole-step.

Knowing some basic facts about scales, you can build any scale starting on any root note simply by applying the correct scale pattern (or combination of whole- and half-steps).

Stepping out with whole and half steps.
Stepping out with whole and half steps.
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