Teaching Minor Scales through Games

Have you seen our process on how to teach your students to play the major scales? One would assume that teaching minor scales would follow the same process, right? You teach them to sing, recognize errors, play by ear and so on. But there is one very important thing to remember. By the time you reach this stage, the students have already been learning for a while! They are now smarter, more intuitive and equipped to find patterns and tricks of their own. They are also not going to fall for the same games again. They’ll need some new ideas and new excitement.

Here’s how I start them with minor scales. Do I tell them we’re learning another type of scales called the minor scales? Of course not!

Aural Game: Happy or Sad?

An ear training game that I continually play with my beginner students is Happy or Sad? Trying to get them to identify if the piece/song/tune I am playing on the piano is happy or sad.

But is Minor really Sad?

Yes of course there is a big problem with this method. For example lets look at Pharell William’s Happy or Sound of Music’s great hit My Favorite things. There are both happy songs that are in a minor key! 

 

So it is true that based on the tempo, articulation and the general movement of the sound students often call a minor piece happy. In such situations, telling them that they are wrong would be wrong, right? How I tackle this is by telling them that they are absolutely correct! The song is jumpy or fast and is definitely happy. I then ask them to take a closer look at the sounds though. I play the same piece of music, using the same rhythm. This time though, I change the tempo or articulation of the music. They’d immediately recognize it as sad music. Then I’ll go ahead and play it as the original music and have a chat with them about it. Through some examples like these, they are easily able to understand the difference between the pitch and the movement of the music. They are also able to hear them separately. 

 

I have some students as young as 5 year old telling me that while the music was exciting, the music didn’t sound completely happy. It was a mix of both. The idea here is not only to get them to recognize happy and sad. To restrict them to major or minor. It is to get them to think more about the music they listen to and be able to criticize and observe different aspects of it.

They just don’t get it!


Of course, there will be students who are not able to recognize the mood of the piece even though every aspect of the music directs you to be completely happy or completely sad. Here a simple change will work. Just play the same piece, but just interchange the tonality. So if a piece is in A major, play it in A minor. Instead of asking them a multiple choice question, present it to them as a match the following question. Immediately they will understand the difference. Keep at it for a few weeks and you’ll see an improvement for sure!

Playing Game: Can you do it?

You start to do this with your students after they are pros at playing the major scales. If you have followed the process we used in the teaching major scales article, this is not going to be too  difficult. We have been teaching the major scales to the students in Solfege. They have been playing and thinking of it as:

Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do

Here enters our game. Can you do it? The students have been playing their scales from Do to Do. You simply ask them if they can play the same scales from La to La? Yes it is that easy! So now all they have to do is play:

La Ti Do Re Mi Fa So La

You make them do this for all the scales. So students get this very easily. For the others facing a challenge, we write each of the scales on paper (but this time 2 octaves instead of one) Then draw a square all the way from La to La. This way they can visually see what they have to play.

Of course! They sing along with this!!

Back to Aurals: What was that?

We are definitely going to tie up everything with ear training, aren’t we? So I play scales from Do to Do or La to La. Their task is to recognize which one it was. 

 

Once they are comfortable with the sounds, I go ahead and include the terminology Major and Minor. Tell students about the existence of different types of scales. Go ahead to tell them about the three types of Minor Scales, how they sound. Following these up with recognizing these minor scales as well.

Why go through all this trouble?

The great thing I feel about teaching minor scales like this is that it doesn’t feel like a task that needs to be completed. The students manage to do it in all fun and games. They also strengthen their ability to hear different tonalities through this process. Hearing music is the most important part of playing music, isn’t it?