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Practicing Scales - 2

This page is part of the Musicarta Patreon 'Scale City' offering. If you have not already done so, browse the series home page for orientation, and work methodically for maximum benefit.

You should already have worked through the previous (one-octave scales) page.

Two-octave scales - hands separately

First, build up to two-octave scales one hand at a time.

Now go on to tackle two-octave scales, hands together.

Two-octave scales - hands together

Many pupils go wrong half-way through two-octave scales, where the fingering pattern starts again. Pupils try to get over this by trial and error – ‘taking a run at it’ and hoping for the best. This is not an efficient way to learn.

Musicarta tackles the problem head on with a scale practice pattern for Group One scales (C, G, D, A, and E) called ‘From Middle Thumbs’. You learn the two-octave scales from the spot where things usually go wrong – the middle of the two-octave scale where the thumbs play together – so you know the hardest part best of all.

Here's the teaching video.

Optionally, work through the old audio build-up.

'From middle thumbs' method - audio recap

Here is a two-octave C major scale with the ‘middle thumbs’ area highlighted.

This is where we start our ‘from middle thumbs’ build-up.

1. Put your thumbs on ‘the middle C’s’. When you play two-octave Group One scales, the fingers either side of those middle thumbs are fingers 2 and 4. Rotate around the middle thumbs playing ‘true scale fingering’ fingers 2 and 4, where they are supposed be – although ‘you don’t really need to’.

Watch your hands carefully to make sure you are actually using fingers 2 and 4 and not some other fingers that feel a little easier.

2. Next, add the third finger either side of that. The finger threes always play at the same time in Group One scales.

Repeat this over and over to get your hands used to the feeling. Keep watching carefully to check you’re still putting finger 4 over the thumb.

3. The next note to add – both up and down – is the ‘thumb under’. When one hand is playing the ‘thumb under’, the other is using finger two – check visually that is happening.

You’re now playing up and down four scale degrees. Note that it helps to play the notes in groups of three.

4. Add one more note to complete a fifth above and a fifth below and repeat.

5. Add the last three notes in one go. The third finger comes over to play the last three notes of the octave. Play the full two octave scale up and down and back to the middle again.

Play your two-octave C major scale from the bottom in the conventional way. Notice how your confidence in the tricky middle thumbs area has improved.

Here is the ‘From Middle Thumbs’ build-up straight through, with the conventional two-octave scale pattern at the end.

(This PDF misses the seven-notes-either-side step which is present in the video method.)

You can download the pdf of this file using this link.

‘From Middle Thumbs’ in other Group One scales

The pattern above is written in C, but the fingering is identical for all Group One scales (G, D, A and E).

Try building up the other Group One scales from the middle outwards using the all-in-one-go build-up pattern above, without having the pattern written out in the other keys. (This is ‘transposing’.)

You do this by putting your thumbs on the new name-note (tonic G, D, A or E) and following the zig-zag shape and the fingering of the C major pattern you have just played, adding black keys according to the key signature.

For example, here is the first line of the build-up pattern in C:

If you put your thumbs on G’s and follow the pattern (and remember the F sharp in the key signature) you will play and hear this:

Or, in D (using both F and C sharps), this:

If you can’t transpose like this after a few attempts, open the music for the G major pattern here and play from that. Then, open the music for the D major pattern here and play the build-up in D. You can print both sheets for reference.

Next, read on and see about playing this useful ‘From Middle Thumbs’ pattern for the rest of the Group One scales from a unique ‘transposing clef’.

Introducing the 'transposing C clef'


You don’t have to understand every single word of this text to be able to ‘do the thing’!!

Carry on reading regardless, at least as far as the FMT pattern in the transposing clef notation and the five audio performances.

Then see if you can play the FMT build-up pattern in various Group One keys from the transposing music.

That’s the important thing to get out of this page. Just ‘going through the motions’ can be very useful too!

Rather than play the other Group One scale ‘From Middle Thumbs’ patterns from written-out music, Musicarta invites you to flex your musical muscles and play from a ‘transposing C clef’.

The ‘transposing C clef’ is a Musicarta invention, and requires a little explaining.

Clefs are signs which tell you which real musical notes (pitches) the lines and spaces of the five-line stave represent. The treble clef (which you probably already know) is sometimes called the G clef - because the sign is derived from a very old-style letter 'G'.

The line which runs through the middle of the central spiral part of the clef represents the note G above middle C.

The bass clef is sometimes called the F clef. Like the treble clef, it is derived from a fancy hand-written letter F, but it doesn’t have so obvious a central bit, so two dots sit either side of the line which represents the note ‘F’.

The C clef doesn’t look like a C at all, but it has an obvious middle, and the line that passes through the middle represents note middle C on the piano. The C clef is the normal clef for instruments like the viola and the trombone, which play mainly mid-range and lower notes.

So this left hand music, from the first line of the FMT build-up:

… written in the C clef, will look like this:

… and will sound exactly the same.

Using the C clef as a transposing clef

What Musicarta proposes, is to use the C clef a different way. That is:


Using this ‘transposing C clef’, the middle line of the five lines of the stave always represents the tonic – the ‘middle thumbs’ name-note of whatever scale is being played.

There will be no need for key signatures – you will bring the black keys from the key signature ‘to the party’ yourself. And, there will only be one line of music to indicate both hands. The fingering for the right hand will be above the music, and the fingering for the left hand will be below.

So we only have to tell ourselves “play it in G” for this ‘transposing C-clef’ music:

    to mean this:

Thinking ‘in D’, the same ‘transposing clef’ music will make us play this:

Here is the whole ‘From Middle Thumbs’ build-up in the ‘transposing C-clef’ notation, where the middle line represents the tonic (name-note) of the scale, whether you are playing in C, G, D, A or E major.

For convenience, you can download this pattern as a pdf file using this link.

Remember, the middle line of the stave always represents the tonic – the ‘middle thumbs’ name-note of whatever scale is being played.

The fingering given is for Group One scales, and how far above and below the tonic the pattern goes (2nd, 3rd, etc.).

'From Middle Thumbs' - Group One scales

Here are audio performance files of the ‘From Middle Thumbs’ pattern in the five Group One keys – C, G, D, A and E – together with the 'key-specific keyboards'. The lozenge shape on the keyboards represents the tonic – one of them will be the ‘middle thumb’ note in each hand.

C major

G major

From here on, you have to remember which black keys to use.

D major

A major

E major

This is the end of the Musicarta Practicing Scales 2 ('From Middle Thumbs') page. (Practicing Scales 1 presented the ‘Three Times Five’ pattern for one-octave hands-together scales.)

With these two patterns, you can quickly get on top of the Group One (sharp key) scales. Simply playing scales these five two-octave scales on a daily basis (even if the fingering isn’t always perfect!) will give you an invaluable overview of ‘key’. You see the sharps adding up, one by one, to guarantee a major scale starting on notes C, G, D, A and E.

This is a great improvement on conventional ‘noses to the grindstone’ scale practice, and will give you a head start when it comes to chord work and riffing in general.

Visit the Musicarta Patreon Scales home page regularly for additions to Musicarta’s collection of ways to make scale practice less painful and more useful!

Thanks for learning with Musicarta! Come again soon!

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