The relationship between full-size compositions and basic piano scales is incredibly strong, for without the scale, we wouldn’t have the wonderful symphonies that we enjoy today. Knowing what this relationship is, there can be little question about how basic piano scales contribute to such masterpieces from the likes of Bach or Vivaldi. And being aware of how they contribute helps the beginning pianist appreciate existing masterworks in addition to the road that leads to them. This is because practicing them enhances the art of hearing – a skill that all professional pianists must strive to acquire.
Although each piece of classical music is as unique as the person who plays it, certain scales are readily apparent in every one of them.
On the piano, there are two basic eight-note scales: the major scale and the minor scale. Almost every song that you play on the piano or hear at the symphony is built upon one of the 15 major scales or the three minor scales. The C major scale begins at the C key and continues with every white key up to the next C. This particular sequence of keys produces the C Major’s diatonic scale which consists of five whole-step notes and two half-step notes. And that’s just a fancy way of saying there’s a half step between the third and fourth notes and between the seventh and eighth notes.
There are two different kinds of minor scales and they are the harmonic minor scale and the melodic minor scale. Most minor scales start on the sixth note of any one of the major scales and they continue in a pattern that’s similar to the major scales. But with the harmonic minor scale, the seventh note is raised a half step. With the melodic minor scale, both the sixth and seventh notes are raised half a step.
If all of this sounds confusing, you may find comfort in knowing that each scale — either major or minor — sounds like the warm up exercises that vocalists practice before singing. This exercise follows the first segments of the “Do-Ray-Mi” song where “Do, Ra, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do” is sung to the sound of a scale. If you ever get confused about which fingers should hit which key in a scale, just think of the ” Do-Ray-Mi” song and strike the key that matches the pattern of this song’s tone. With enough practice, you should be able to play a scale from any note on the piano.
Now to reiterate what we said earlier about the relationship between musical compositions and basic piano scales, we’d like to introduce Bach. Many of Bach’s works were written in accordance to a particular scale, and these works are often entitled, “in G Minor,” or “in E Major.” Two examples are the Sonata No. I in G Minor and Partita No. III in E Major. The Sonata No. I in G Minor is a song that was built around the G Minor scale and the Partita No. III in E Major song is that was built around the E Major scale. Most of the notes in each song are part of the scale that it was written for.