12 Major Scales

The 12 Major Scales Tutorial

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.

Free Downloadable Lesson Supplement

Download this free PDF containing the major scales in all 12 keys.

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DOWNLOAD PDF 〉

  • 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: http://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

  • 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. http://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: http://www.pianogroove.com/jazz-piano-lessons/rootless-251-progression/

      – Major Scale Modes: http://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: http://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: http://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

  • Sarah Puppini-Zaft

    Hi Marc,
    Just signed up as Jazz pro member. Not a complete beginner to music as have been playing clarinet for years (but not jazz as never put in the effort to learn the theory) I now want to learn jazz piano:. I did first lesson on major scales. Before i progress on to the 2nd lesson minor scales and beyond……. how literally should i take your advice to know everything off by heart at this stage? ie, should I know absolutely all of the scales and circle of 5ths plus numbers of notes off by heart with fingers and mind before i move to lesson 2? Or can I still carry on and just make sure i work on this daily as well as the new lessons. Please be honest, Im willing to do what it takes. thanks

    • Hayden

      Hey Sarah, yes welcome to PianoGroove Pro!

      By all means carry on with other lessons but if you don’t know the major scales you should be practicing them every day until you have them memorised. Just allocate 1/4 of your practice time to major scales.

      Make sure you don’t start with C Major every time. Mix up the key you start on so that you are practicing the different keys equally. For example start on F# Major and then move around the circle from there.

      I will send you an email now with more information on the ‘essential theory’.

      Also spend time studying the jazz standard lesson – I’d say allocate half of your practice time to jazz standards. The theory may be over your head to begin with, but this is the best way to learn… it will make sense with time.

      Start with the following jazz standards:

      How to Read Lead Sheets: https://www.pianogroove.com/jazz-piano-lessons/how-to-read-lead-sheets/

      Tenderly Tutorial: https://www.pianogroove.com/jazz-piano-lessons/tenderly-jazz-standard/

      Misty Tutorial: https://www.pianogroove.com/jazz-piano-lessons/misty-tutorial-lesson/

      and then move onto others. I do always try to reference the theory lessons when i apply certain topics so listen out for these cues and then you can look up the relevant theory where applicable.

      Above anything else choose the jazz standards you like the sound of and that you want to play… This should be enjoyable after all!

      Look out for my email Sarah 🙂

      Cheers,
      Hayden

  • Ronny Aguirre

    Hello,
    This is a good intro to scales but it’s a bit lacking in exercises. I am a beginner and would like to improve my ability to play up and down the piano. It would be nice to see the scales played over 2 octaves, with fingerings. Also, exercises like contrary motion, separated by a third/six, and double thirds would be helpful.

    • Hayden

      Hi Ronny, thanks for getting in touch.

      Much of what you outline, such as contrary motion and playing scales in different intervals, is more of a classical piano exercise aimed at improving finger dexterity. If you would like to work on those areas, here are some other resources you can find on Google: http://bit.ly/2yzxcVD

      The main purpose of this lesson is to understand the relationship between scales and key signatures and furthermore, the importance of learning and memorising scales numerically to get a better understanding of major scale harmony.

      Once you have internalised this information, you will then have the foundations in place to explore extended harmony, altered harmony and modal harmony. You will find lessons on these topics on the website.

      In the future we may add lessons on the areas you highlight, but if that’s the kind of stuff you want to work on, I would recommend finding a classical piano teacher.

      Hope this helps.

      Cheers,
      Hayden

  • Angelo Mariani

    Hi,
    In your Dashboard there is a checkbox in front of every lesson. It says I watched it. Also there is a checkbox that says, “I’ve nailed it”.
    This second check box must refer to nailing the ‘understanding and comprehension” of the lesson and not the physical finger dexterity to play the actual lesson(s). Is that a correct assumption on my part ? Seeing that improvement and dexterity of fingers is a continuing process how can one ever fully arrive ?

    • Hayden

      Hi Angelo,

      Good question! 😄

      Yes you are correct that box refers to nailing the understanding and comprehension of the theoretical aspect of the lesson.

      As you quite rightly point out, one can always improve in terms of timing, accuracy, feel, and other nuances of the performance.

      Any other questions just let me know.

      Cheers,
      Hayden