How to Learn Scales (for the very first time.)

Posted: September 8, 2013 in Piano

Are you learning how to play scales on the piano for the very first time?

It isn’t easy to do. It is not impossible either. Let me give you a few tips.

1. Start on the easy key: Db. The fingers can find all the right notes easily.

2. Stop saying “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t”. When a lesson is too difficult, it is easy to give up. It is important to know WHAT to give up though. it is more accurate to say, “I am not learning this the correct way!” Don’t give up trying: give up trying the wrong way.

3. Let’s apply this to the Db scale. Forget the thumbs for a second. (Right Hand) Place the #2 and #3 fingers on Db and Eb. Play them at the same time. Now find the left hand notes an octave below. #3 plays Db; #2 plays Eb. Again, play both notes at the same time.

4. Okay, now in the right hand, play the next 3 black notes with fingers #2, #3, #4. In the left, it is #4, #3, #2. Play all 3 notes in both hands at the same time. Now we know where the fingers go. Two black notes, then three black notes.

5. Now let’s do the thumbs. The thumbs are going to go on the same notes (even though the fingers are reversed in each octave.) Those notes are F and C. Let’s learn this part in small steps. Proceed to 6.

6. Play the first two notes in each octave at the same time, then swing the thumb under and play the F. Swing the fingers over and play all 3 black notes at the same time. (Gb, Ab, Bb). then sneak that thumb under and play the C. The important part here is to always play the black notes in each group at the same time.

Play (Db, Eb) F (Gb, Ab, Bb) C…and repeat.

If this gives you trouble, play (Db, Eb) F (Gb, Ab, Bb) F (Db, Eb) F (Gb, Ab, Bb) F (Db, Eb) F (Gb, Ab, Bb) to get used to the placement of the thumb on F. Next, play (Gb, Ab, Bb) C (Db, Eb) C (Gb, Ab, Bb) etc. This helps learn the second placement of the thumb. When you learn this, go back to the first drill.

7. Play the drill slowly so you can feel the rhythm that occurs when you move the thumb to the F and then the C. The important thing here is to make sure that you are hitting the right notes. If you make a mistake – SLOW DOWN. After you do it correct a few times, SPEED UP, a little bit. If you make a mistake, SLOW DOWN AGAIN. What is happening is that your brain is memorizing where you want your fingers to go. It takes about ten repetitions for your brain to learn.

8. Okay, now you play the drill slowly up and down 5 or 6 octaves. Next it is time to separate the finger assignments.

9. Db, Eb, F (thumb). STOP. Repeat 10 times.

10. Eb, F, Gb. STOP. Repeat ten times.

11. Db, Eb, F, Gb. STOP. Repeat ten times.

12. Db, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, C. STOP. 10Xs.

13. Bb, C, Db, Eb etc.

14. As you feel more comfortable with each small unit of the scale, you will notice that your hand starts to move more easily. When this happens, add more notes, one at a time if that is what you need to do.

15. Remember to play slowly and carefully. You are just training your brain. If you get sloppy and train your brain the wrong way, you will have to repeat the exercise many more times.

Will the brain remember where you want your fingers to go?

Yes. Guaranteed!


  1. Kent, thank you so much for this lesson! I decided to have another go at learning how to play the piano better and the next day you posted this EXTREMELY HELPFUL blog post. I never thought about Db major like this before and I’m excited to be playing it with increasing ease. You are the first to introduce me to playing the black keys in groups of 2 and 3 with the thumb to link them together on the two natural notes in the key. I am experiencing the piano with new eyes, heart and ears.