Why bother practicing musical scales?

There are two main reasons for learning and practicing the musical scales. One is to practice finger dexterity; the other is to learn the keys.

Dexterity means finger swiftness and accuracy. Good musicians, whether pop, jazz or classical, practice playing up and down the notes of their instruments quickly and evenly so that they can play the notes they want when they want. Playing scales is one way of doing this.

But practicing scales has another benefit.

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Playing scales is part of learning the keys. Efficient, conscious scale practice accustoms the musician to the ‘look and feel’ of the advanced keys – and knowing the keys is essential if you want to be a ‘really useful musician'.

Practice Suggestion!

Watch the ABRSM exam curriculum scales being performed here.

Use with the Musicarta Key-specific keyboard diagrams, then see if you can play the Triad shapes drill in the key of your choice.

Musicarta can show you ways of learning and practicing scales efficiently, so you won’t spend hours slogging mechanically through the scales without getting what’s useful to you as a musician out of it from the word go.

If you are coming back to the piano later in life, Musicarta’s new and scientific approach will show what it was you were learning in your early lessons, and help you reap the benefit of the hours you invested.

If you’re a young(ish) Musicarta fan and either really hate scales or ‘just can’t see the point’, try letting Musicarta’s fresh approach persuade you to look again. Nearly every proficient musician, popular or classical, will admit, in the end, that scale work is an essential part of a rounded musical foundation.

About Musicarta

This is a web page.

Musicarta is a collection of creative online piano lessons for pianists and keyboard players of all ages and stages.

The principal aim of Musicarta is to teach 'music theory that works' and introduce you to the wonderful pastime of 'messing about at the keyboard'.

If you're new to Musicarta, visit the Musicarta home page for an introduction to the Musicarta way of doing things and an overview of what's available. Then use the the universal navbar on the left of your screen to access the home pages of the various sections and projects.

Musicarta recommends all keyboard beginners, improvers and adult continuers who are serious about making progress start with The Pyramid Variations, our flagship series of lessons, which builds up from an elementary 'Basic Music-making Position' to an impressive Concert Performance in just eight graded steps.

Click straight through to The Pyramids Variations home page if you want to jump-start your journey!

Your scales work should include elements of all the following skills areas.

    ‘Key’ and key signatures

The musical octave is made up of twelve semitone steps, but the major scale (and its associated key) comprises just seven different notes – not all the available notes are used. Key signatures – the collections of sharps or flats at the start of a line of piano music tell the pianist which keys to use and which to avoid in order to play in a given key.

New! Practical and useful ‘key keyboard’ diagrams!

The well-schooled musician sees the key signature in the keyboard and is pre-programmed to play the ‘right’ notes.

The new ‘Key-specific keyboards’ web page presents new and intuitive keyboard diagrams representing what the proficient musician sees in response to the twelve key signatures.

To de-mystify key signatures and give an overview of the logic behind them, the keyboards are arranged in working-through-the-sharps and working-through-the-flats order, with theory notes.

Link through to the new Key-specific keyboards page here. Read more about the page in the Dec 04, 2012 Musicarta blog entry.

    The scale fingering diagram and explanation

Classical piano pupils spend many hours learning scales for exams, and remembering the fingering of the scales is a large part of their workload.

What is not generally known or taught is that the twelve major scales fall into four distinct fingering groups. Once you understand this, you’re ‘oriented’, and working within a known bigger picture rather than learning fingering in a tedious, scale by scale, way. This is a far more efficient way of working – you end up knowing your scales more quickly and for less effort.

    Scale practice patterns: Fingering

Musicarta scale fingering practice patterns addresses known issues head on and short-circuit hours of trial-and-error frustration.

Teachers and self-directing pupils will both benefit from this focused solution. Try the Musicarta solution and see how quickly it improves your scale performance and knowledge of keys.

    Scale practice patterns: Contour and rhythm

Scales are often practiced and played without any rhythm at all, but a rhythm provides great motivation for the player to ‘keep the notes coming'. Practice patterns with specific up-and-down contours have the same effect.

Musicarta offers a collection of Contoured scale practice patterns in D, specifically for keyboard players working through the Musicarta Canon Project - though any learner wanting to get to grips with a good intermediate key signature will find the practice invaluable.

The Rhythmic scale practice patterns page is for the intermediate-on learner who has realised that immersion in conscious, musical scale practise will repay the effort a thousand-fold.

Both these modules coax the learner away from written-out scales by presenting contoured patterns as simple line diagrams to be 'realized' (in any key) by a more conscious and creative, self-directing musician.

Click through and see how Musicarta’s collection of new and challenging scale practice techniques will liven up your practice and double the benefit of time spent on scales.

    Scale-tone practice patterns for improvisation

Pure scale passages almost never appear in popular music. Repeated, overlapping scale fragments are, however, a major component of soloing. Musicarta’s collection of scale practice patterns offers the improvising musician a new approach to dexterity and an introduction to the vital matter of ‘improvisation fingering’.

    Pentatonic scales

Pentatonic scales are extremely useful, both for creating melodies and for improvising. Practising pentatonic scales is almost like practising music – blues and heavy metal riffs are drawn almost note for note from the pentatonic minor scale, while the pentatonic major is the rock music jamming scale par excellence.

See the separate ‘PENTATONICS’ navigation bar tab for the Musicarta Pentatonic Scales covering page.

    Minor scales

Minor scales (and keys) present distinct challenges. In Western classical music, there are two minor scales, melodic and harmonic, the first used principally in the melody and the second to generate the chords of a minor key. A great deal of minor-feel popular music, however, is modal (you can access Musicarta’s extensive coverage of modal music via the MODES tab on the navbar, left), or is blues-oriented and built on the minor pentatonic scale (see PENTATONICS, left).

We hope you have found your visit to Musicarta's Scales home page interesting.

Scales are underestimated (particularly by pupils!) as a creative building block. If you do no other practice in any one day other than playing scales for a few minutes - consciously, with attention, and in a creative way, you will have kept the spirit alive and banked some 'musical merit' which is sure to mature at a later date.

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Musicarta HOME-STUDY Publications

The Musicarta

Popular music has a strong rhythmic component – and the modern-styles keyboard player needs well-developed beat and rhythm skills just as much as any other instrumentalist.

The Musicarta Beat and Rhythm Workbook includes three full lesson series that will give you absolutely the best chance to get over the hump and master pro two-handed syncopation!

Beat and Rhythm Workbook

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Browse the
Click through to the Mister Musicarta YouTube B & R playlist here


Blues, boogie-woogie, rock’n’roll – twelve-bar music comes in many forms, and a working knowledge of the basics is essential for the modern keyboard player. The Musicarta Twelve-bar Piano Styles workbook puts dozens of real 12-bar riffs and grooves into your repertoire and walks you through the rhythmic, harmonic and melodic building blocks of the 12-bar style.

12-bar Styles Workbook

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Browse the
Click through to the Mister Musicarta YouTube 12-BAR PLAYLIST here


The Musicarta Easy Piano Style shows you how to get your hands on the keys and start making music right away! With lots of graphics, full audio and MIDI support and all the solos on Mister Musicarta YouTube MEPS playlist, you’re sure to get some beautiful pieces into your repertoire quickly – and learn how to find the music in the keyboard for yourself.

Key Chords Vol.1
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Click through to the MEPS YouTube playlist here


The modes are known as scales for improvisation – and for generating intriguing chord sequences not available in the conventional major/minor key system. Here is methodical, ‘lean’ approach to building a sound and productive knowledge of modes for the modern-styles keyboard player, packed with riffs which will expand your chord vocabulary and your repertoire of rhythmic keyboard skills.

Modes Workbook
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Click through to the MODES YouTube or Soundcloud playlists here


The Musicarta Pyramids Variations aims to exceed expectations by coaching beginners and re-starters to an impressive ‘Concert Performance’ in just eight lessons. After that, you learn a set of variations which model all the contemporary keyboard player’s knowledge and skills.

Pyramids Variations cover
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Now available from Amazon Books
Click through to the Pyramids Variations YouTube playlist here


Pachelbel’s Canon in D is perhaps the most famous chord sequence of all time, and the basis of dozens of popular hits. If you can play and understand the Canon chord sequence, there isn’t much in popular music harmony you won’t be able to figure out! Its regular structure also makes it a great springboard for improvising and composition.

Canon Project cover
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Click through to the Canon Project YouTube playlist here


Musicarta Key Chords builds your chord vocabulary by introducing the chords you are most likely to come across in any song. You practice the chord changes in contemporary riffs (drum backing tracks are included), with easy step-by-step rhythmic build-up of impressive keyboard syncopation.

Key Chords Vol.1
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Now available from Amazon Books
Click through to the Key Chords Vol.1 YouTube playlist here

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