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Scales. What?

person_question webI remember trying to learn scales hands together. Four in one hand then 3 in the other my teacher said. F is like C except there is a 4 on Bb. B doesn’t use 5 in the right hand. Aarghhh! I was not good at scales. I learned them but never got any kind of real fluency—the kind where your fingers just do it.

As I started my teaching career, I found that some students just got scales and for others, like for me, scales were a battle. As hard as I tried to help them, I was once forced to tell a student that if she didn’t work harder on her fingerings, she would need to get her fingers surgically untangled at the hospital.

Then, one day, I met N. Jane Tan at a workshop and everything changed. She taught hands together scale fingerings by groups of fingers. It was a revelation. The beauty of it is that the groupings are the same no matter the direction (ascending or descending). Another plus is that students don’t need to look at the book at all once they figure each scale out. It’s about keyboard geography and a coordinated feel. Over the years, the concept of grouped fingerings has helped both myself and many, many students to stop fighting and make peace with their scales.

This week on @pianoaddictblog, we started an #askdrgailpno for questions relating to piano and piano teaching. It was a high school student’s idea and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it long ago. She said she wished she could take me with her into the practice room. I said, “Well, you kind of can…” Never underestimate the magic of Twitter.

The first question was from an adult student who wanted to know about major and minor scale fingerings. After I answered, Ajay tweeted:

 

I felt a blog post coming on.

Here is a chart I made for all the major scales. Please note, that on many scales, there are slight modifications for ease of crossings at the beginnings as well as at the turn arounds. Once you start looking for and feeling these types of grouped finger patterns, you can find them for yourself in the minor forms of the scale that don’t follow the majors as well as for jazz scales.  For some scales, there are multiple ways to think of the groupings. It’s up to you to find what works best for your particular brain and fingers.

I also recommend having a good scale book with scales written in at least 2 octaves so the link between octaves and turnarounds are clear. Just fill in the fingerings for every note (usually just important fingers are written in by the editor) and mark the groups. You only have to write in the fingerings on the ascending half since going down is exactly the same. I like to use erasable colored pencils but you can use regular pencil and rectangles and ovals.  I would avoid permanent pens or highlighters in case you decide to think of the groupings differently in the future.

 #1 Keys C, G, D, A, E Major plus all minor forms Four plays only next to tonic/key-note. Threes together twice in middle of scale separated by 1-2 pairs.

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#2 Keys Gb/F#, Db/C#, B, F Major Some (like Chopin) advocate beginning with these scales because the 2-3-4s play on the 3 black keys and the 2-3s play on the 2 black keys (except for F). Fingers are grouped 2-3-4 & 2-3 separated by thumbs (1) together. Minor forms keep fingering or not depending on configuration of black keys.

For example: Gb/F# Major: (2-3 on groups of 2 black keys / 2-3-4 on groups of 3 black keys / 1 on white keys)

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#3 Keys: Bb, Eb  Major 1-2 & 3-4 finger groups separated by 3s together. Minor forms keep fingering or not depending on configuration of black keys.

For example: Eb Major

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#4 Rogue Key: Ab Major (there’s always one) Very similar to #1 keys. Threes together twice in middle of scale separated by 1-2 pairs. Four does not play next to Tonic/Key-note. Natural & Harmonic minors keep fingering. Melodic follows rule for #2 Keys.

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I also have a grouped fingering chart of the Isidore Phillip fingerings for scales in double thirds if anybody is interested. I guess that makes me a piano nerd as well as an addict doesn’t it?

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8 comments to Scales. What?

  • It’s wonderful how differnt traditions have left us with many fingering options isn’t it? Thanks for the link.

  • Interesting post. I’ve categorised the scales in a very
    similar way myself. I don’t see A flat as any “rogue” scale though.
    It’s one of the simplest. Just treat the C as being equivalent to a
    tonic and it’s the same as C major fingering. It doesn’t matter
    which note you start on- it’s just a matter of knowing which key
    serves as the anchor- with 4s directly on each side. You didn’t
    include all the minors, but C sharp minor needs the same approach-
    with E functioning as the anchor for 4th fingers. Personally I also
    re-finger F sharp minor to fit 4s around the A. For me, B flat and
    E flat are the rogue scales. In traditional B flat fingering, the
    threes are not normally together. Are you advising A re-fingering?
    I’m not clear where 3s might come together in B flat major. Surely
    the concept you write applies solely to E flat? I use a very
    different premise for those- see below:
    http://pianoscience.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/scale-fingering-made-easy.html

  • Thank you for this post! I would love to have the fingering for the double thirds as well :)

  • […] have also been working as a group using the matched pattern fingerings (featured here in a recent PA post) to learn hands together scales.  This is also something that everyone can do […]

  • I will dig them out, reformat, and post them. Since next week is a holiday week,it will probably be in December. Thanks for asking and thanks to everyone for reading!

  • Thanks Brian. I like the combination you suggest and have done similar things. The dominant up to the tonic is the Adams Family theme and we’ve had some fun with that over the years.

  • JP

    Please post the double-thirds fingering. Thanks!

  • Hi Gail, great post! I really like the idea of grouping the keys together based on fingerings. I’ve always thought there should be an easier way to teach scales, but I never put them together like that.

    Something that has helped me teach scales is to have them play hands together only up to the first crossover in each hand, and then repeat that until they feel comfortable. Then they would start where they stopped and do the second half, and then combine the two.

    I think grouping the scales the way you mentioned would help in the approach I already use. Thanks!

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