Teaching Major Scales made Super Fun!

Teaching Scales to students and getting them to practice these scales has always been a task! The first step to this is teaching major scales. When we start, to students, it generally feels like a chore. There is always the question ‘WHY?’. Why do we have to learn scales? While the answer is simple, explainable & logical, students may not be open to understanding it. I remember when I was a student, I always learned scales at the last minute, to clear the examination or when I was scared of my teacher! Every other time, I had a ready reply to why I hadn’t practiced them that week.

While experimenting with different ways to teach major scales, I finally stumbled upon a way that really works! The trick is to start early and sneak them into their aural work rather than technique or theory. From the first lesson itself, I start students with a lot of singing and aural games. For the younger ones, almost half the class is dedicated to this section. Here’s how playing these aural games translates into them becoming pros as playing the major scales.

AURAL GAMES TO TEACH MAJOR SCALES

I play the following aural games over a few weeks till the students are good at them and get quick in answering.

1. Sing the Major Scale:

Make them sing the major scale in Solfege starting on any comfortable note. You can start by accompanying them in singing. Then shift to accompanying them on your instrument. Finally ask them to sing by themselves. Play this game till they are comfortable and can securely sing the pitches correctly.

2. Sing with the Moving Doh:

Show the students that doh can move to any note by playing/singing different major scales. Try to get them to sing along. With some of them. Once they are able to sing these correctly with the instrument, assign them a Doh anywhere on the instrument. Then ask them to sing the major stale starting on the Doh of your choice.

3. Spot the Errors:

This is the last and final game I play with my students before they are ready to start playing these on the piano. Play ascending one octave major scales on the piano. These may or may not contain errors. They have to tell you if you played it correctly or incorrectly. Take this one step forward by telling them the number of errors you made and asking them to spot where these errors were.

TEACH MAJOR SCALES ON THE PIANO

By now, the students have heard you play these major scales over and over. They are very used to the sound. Further, since you introduced them as games in the classroom, chances are major scales excite them. They make them think of something fun. So when you mention that we are going to play these on the piano, they are going to be happy about it. 

Here is what you do.

1. C Major Scales:

Ask the students to play C and then sing the C major scale. Now ask them to play all the white keys (or natural notes, if trying this on any other instrument) from that C to the next. They should now identify if those white keys formed the major scale or if there was an error. If they have been playing the aural games above, the will easily be able to recognize that this was in fact the major scale played correctly.

2. Other major scales starting on natural notes.

That was a neat little trick the students learnt above. Play the white keys and you’re able to play a major scale. The students are definitely going to want to try the next one. Now tell the student to try the same thing starting on any other key. Remember to start it on the white key/natural note at this stage. Say they chose A. They can go ahead and play all the white keys from A to A. They should easily be able to tell that this trick did not work for A. What they played was definitely not the Major Scale!

Now ask the students to identify the errors in the scale. They can do this by singing along as they play. When they reach an error, they can replace the white key with a black key near beside it. This way they can figure out all the major scales starting on the white keys!

(read till the end to get a free downloadable resource to help you teach this)

What one must remember white teaching this way is to not overburden the student. This is an aural game. At this stage, we do not want to impress points on theory and technique. Yes, after they have figured out the correct notes, go ahead and teach them the right fingering for the scales. How the thumb moves under, the fingers remain curved or how you phrase the scales and play them like music rather than a drill!

For the next few lessons I get them to play all the scales, one after the other. I gradually increase the difficulty level by making them play in the following ways:

  1. Ascending, hands separately
  2. Descending, hands together
  3. Ascending & descending, hands separately
  4. Ascending & descending, hands together
  5. Descending & ascending, hands separately
  6. Descending & Ascending, hands together

Once they are comfortably able to play these in order (ie C maj, D maj, E maj, …, B maj) mix it up by asking them to play the scales in a random order and add different articulations and dynamics. This of course depends on the level of the students.

WHAT ABOUT THE REMAINING 5 SCALES?

You can obviously use the same approach as above to teach the scales starting on the black keys. But by the time the students are comfortable playing the above, I generally teach them about tones and semitones and proceed with teaching the remaining scales through the major scale pattern:

T T S T T T S

I do, however, ask them to recheck if they have the right notes after they apply this pattern. This is done by playing the scale fluently and singing along. Remember, it is all an aural game after all! 

As you’ve come to the end of this, HERE is the promised resource to teach this. This worksheet has 7 rows for the 7 scales. Each row has 8 consecutive musical letters, starting and ending on the same letter. As the students figure out the major scales, they color the natural notes yellow, the sharp notes orange and the flat notes green. You can simply explain to them that if the correct key is a white key, color it yellow. If the correct key is a black key after the mentioned white key, color it orange and if it is before the white key, color it green!