12 Major Scales

Lesson Overview

Scales provide the foundation for understanding harmony and learning the 12 major scales is a fundamental step in learning jazz piano.

When we play a piece of music using the notes of a particular scale, we say that we are playing in that key. For example, if we are playing a piece of music using just the notes from the C major scale, we are playing in the key of C.

All of the major scales contain 7 notes. However, you will also come across scales that contain 5, 6 and even 8 notes – more on these in other lessons.

The most effective way to learn the 12 major scales is through using the circle of fifths. The circle of fifths is a handy diagram that shows which keys are most closely related to each other on the piano.

Resources

Download the 12 Major Scales PDF worksheet

  • marc

    Hello
    I am a beginner. For practicing the scales, can you put the fingerings in the resource (pdf file) ? Must I practice the scales with the two hands ?
    Sincerely yours.

    • Hayden

      Hi Marc, sure thing leave it with me. Start by learning them in 1 hand.

      Each major and minor scale has 7 notes and you should try to learn these numerically.

      So for example, C Major:

      C(1) D(2) E(3) F(4) G(5) A(6) B(7)

      This is important and will help you when you come to build chords. Also understand that…

      the 2 is the 9
      the 4 is the 11
      and the 6 is the 13.

      So in C major, D is the 2nd note of the scale, but it is also the 9. Does this make sense?

      Check out this lesson for more information: https://www.pianogroove.com/jazz-piano-lessons/chord-extensions-9ths-11ths-13ths/

      If you wanted to find the 9 of C major, it’s much easier to count up to the 2nd degree of the scale than it is to count up to the 9th degree – the same applies to the 11(4) and the 13(6).

      You can also practice it away from the piano by asking yourself, “what’s the 5th of Ab Major” or “what’s the 13th of C Major” etc.

      I would recommend quizzing yourself on this as much as you can so that you become familiar with the scale degrees and extensions in all 12 major and minor keys.

      All the best,
      Hayden

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  • marc

    Hi hayden
    When I work the scales, I put the metronome on speed = 60 bpm. And I start with quarter notes ,eight notes, triplets and sixteenth notes.Is it correct to practice like that ?
    I would like to add chords with the left hands to work independance of the hands.
    what can I do ?
    Sicerely yours.
    Marc

    • Hayden

      Hi Marc,

      That can be a good exercise to familiarise yourself with the scales and the notes they contain. However, simply playing up and down scales is a very ‘classical’ approach.

      You could also harmonise the scales using different intervals. For example, play the scale in 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths, 7ths. You could also play the diatonic triads of the scale and next the diatonic 7th chords. https://www.pianogroove.com/resources/jazz-piano-chords/major-scale-diatonic-7th-chords-pdf/

      Remember to play musically… simply running up and down the scale is not very musical…. Make sure you are listening to your favourite jazz musicians every day. Take any rhythm that they play and apply it to the notes in your scale.

      If you would like to add chords in your left hand, you can play left hand voicings under each scale. Also try to play the chord scales in a 251 with the voicings underneath.

      Check out these lessons:

      – Rootless 251 Progression: https://www.pianogroove.com/jazz-piano-lessons/rootless-251-progression/

      – Major Scale Modes: https://www.pianogroove.com/jazz-piano-lessons/modes-major-scale-tutorial/

      Cheers,
      Hayden

      • marc

        Hi hayden
        Thank you for your answer.
        When you say : play the scale with 3rds : you say that I must play C and E at the same time then D and F at the same time or separetely C then E then D then F….?
        Can you show me with the scale of C major with the right hand , how to play the II V I with the left hand ?
        I am a beginner in jazz and I search the best method for a BEGINNER to practise ear training ( reproduce what I listen at the piano) . It is very difficult for me. Do you know a CD of jazz music with little examples very easy to reproduce at the piano ?
        Cheers.
        Marc

        • Hayden

          Hi Marc, yes that is correct, you can play them at the same time, or you could also play broken thirds where you play them separately.

          Check out this lesson on creating a practice schedule, I talk about how to practice 251s with a lick in the right hand: https://www.pianogroove.com/exclusive-practice-tips/

          Ear training is very difficult to begin with, but it gets much easier. Watch my lesson on Transcription for more information on how to transcribe lines. You should pick something that you personally like the sound of by your favourite jazz players: https://www.pianogroove.com/jazz-piano-lessons/transcription-introduction/ – Try listening to some Bill Evans or Chet Baker and reproduce what you like 🙂

          Hope this helps,
          Hayden