Drills For Learning Piano Chords And Scales

Drills to help you learn scales and chords on the piano.

Chords, which are built on scales, are the basic building blocks of music. If you want to play the piano with freedom and enjoyment, you must first learn the basics so well that they come naturally, without thinking. To do this, you must drill, or repeat, the same pattern over and over, day after day. Eventually, your fingers will learn the patterns, and your ears will recognize the sounds. You will be able to identify the different chords associated with each scale, so that when you hear music, you will be able to play it "by ear," and when you see written music, you will be able to easily recognize the different chord structures, making it much easier to "sight read" the music.

First, you need to purchase a music book that has the major and minor scales written out with their correct fingering. This will be easy to find at any music store that carries piano music.

Begin with the key of C. With your right hand, play the C major scale from middle C to the next C up (to the right), making sure you are using the correct fingers. When you cross your thumb under the third finger, don't raise your hand up. Always keep your wrists level, and your fingers curved. You should be playing with your fingertips, not the flat of your fingers. Come back down to middle C. Again, when you cross your third finger over your thumb, don't raise your wrist. Start slowly, keeping each note an even length and volume. Do this one octave over and over until you can do it three times without making a mistake. Then do it faster. When you feel comfortable with it at a fairly quick speed, switch to your left hand and follow the same drill, except that you will begin with your little finger on the C below middle C. Go up one octave, ending on your thumb, and come back down. When you are comfortable with both hands, it is time to add another octave, meaning you will begin with your right thumb on middle C, and you will go up to the second C higher on the keyboard. When you get to the C where you stopped before, you will not use your little finger, rather, you will cross your thumb under your fourth finger to play the C. Again, don't raise your wrist. Play two octaves up and down until you are comfortable with it, then do the left hand. Remember to do it until you can play it three times with no mistakes.

Now comes the hard part. You need to learn to play the scale with both hands at the same time. This means that the crossing over and under of your fingers will happen at different times with different hands. Go very slowly at first, making sure that each finger is correct. Go up two octaves and come back down. Do it over and over until you can play it with both hands, without a mistake, three times. Go slowly enough to get it right, but keep pushing yourself to go faster. As you get faster, think of your fingers as pistons in an engine, going up and down with some force, and always at the same speed. You will find that some fingers, especially your ring fingers, are weaker than the others. Continual practicing of scales, especially with the piston idea, will strengthen these fingers, and will make your piano playing sound more full and confident.

Now that you have learned the C major scale, you need to know how chords are built on the scale. Each note in the scale is assigned a number. In the C major scale, C=1, D=2, E=3, and so on. Each note in the scale can have a chord built on that note by adding two more notes on top of it. The chords are then labeled with the number of the bottom note, but Roman numerals are used to denote chords, so that they are not confused with the numbers for the notes in the scale. For example, the "I" chord would have the notes C,E, and G, which are note numbers 1, 3 and 5 in the scale. We can call this chord by several names. It is called the "tonic" chord of the C major scale, or the "I" chord of the C major scale. It is also called a C major chord. You will see it notated in music (usually for guitar, above the written music) as simply "C". Here are all the chords based on the C major scale: I = C,E,G; II = D,F,A; III = E,G,B; IV = F,A,C; V = G,B,D; VI = A,C,E; VII = B,D,F.

In every scale, there are three chords that are the most important, and are considered to be basic. You will find many songs, especially folk songs and popular music, based on these three chords. They are the tonic, sub-dominant and dominant chords, or I, IV and V. In the key of C, they would be C major, F major and G major. Most often in popular and folk music, the G major chord is changed to a G7 chord. This means that the 7th note of the G scale (because it is a G chord) is added to the chord, making it G, B, D and F. Because four-note chords can be more difficult to play, the D is often left out of this chord; making it G, B, F.

With your right hand, play a C major chord - C, E, G. Now, keeping your thumb on C, play an F major chord in this order: C, F, A. The three notes in a chord can be switched around in any order - it is still an F major chord. Now, keeping your third finger on the F, play a G7 chord in this order: B, F, G. Now go back to the tonic (C major) chord. You have just played the most commonly used chords in the key of C. Repeat the pattern until you are comfortable with it. Now repeat it with your left hand, down one octave. Your little finger will be on the C to begin with. Here is the pattern: C, E, G. Next, keeping your little finger on C, play C, F, A. Keeping your second finger on F, play B,F,G. Go back to the tonic - C, E, and G. Repeat until it is comfortable.

Now we will play a pattern with the chord. In most simple music, you will play a bass note with your left hand, and a chord with your right hand, so that is what we will learn. The bass notes should be the note name of the chord. For our three chords, the bass notes will be C, F and G. Play the C below middle C with your left hand. Now play the C major (tonic) chord with your right hand twice. Now play an F (the next one lower than the C) with your left hand. Play the F major chord (sub-dominant) twice with your right hand. Now play a G (one note up from the F) with your left hand and play the G7 (dominant) twice with your right hand. Repeat the C (tonic) pattern. If you play this with each note and chord evenly spaced, you will play a waltz rhythm. It should be, without a break, bass-chord-chord, bass-chord-chord, bass-chord-chord, bass-chord-chord.

You will probably spend about a week mastering the C major scale and chords, depending on how much time you devote to it. When you are comfortable with it, it is time to move on to the key of G, which has one sharp, on F.

Follow your book for the fingering of the scale. The G major scale has the same fingering as the C major, but not every scale will be the same. When you play the sharp, be sure you are not contorting your hand. Keep your wrists level and your fingers curved. You can move your fingers further in, away from the ends of the piano keys, as needed to reach the correct keys. Repeat everything you did with the key of C major. Don't forget to always play an F# instead of an F. There is no F in the G major scale. If you listen carefully, you can hear that an F sounds wrong. It must be raised to the black key to sound right.

Don't stop playing the scales and chords that you have already learned! Every day, before working on your current scale, play the ones that you learned before. If you are having trouble, it is better to spend some time working on that one to get it right than to push on with the new one.

This is the order in which you should learn the major scales:

C major - no sharps or flats

G major - one sharp

F major - one flat

D major - two sharps

B flat major - two flats

A major - three sharps

E flat major - three flats

E major - four sharps

A flat major - four flats

B major - five sharps

D flat major - five flats

C sharp major - six sharps

G flat major - six flats

When you have mastered all of the major scales, you should move on to the minor scales, which will also be notated in your piano book. The basic are the same, but a minor scale has a sort of "sad" feeling. Each major scale has a "parallel minor" scale associated with it. The parallel minor has the same number of sharps or flats, and it based on the sixth note of the major scale. For example, the parallel minor to C major is A minor. A is the sixth note in the C major scale. The A minor scale also has no flats or sharps in it. Here are the parallel minor keys for each major key:

C major - A minor

G major - E minor

F major - D minor

D major - B minor

B flat major - G minor

A major - F sharp minor

E flat major - C minor

E major - C sharp minor

A flat major - F minor

B major - G sharp minor

D flat major - B flat minor

C sharp major - A sharp minor

G flat major - E flat minor

15-20 minutes each day with these drills will familiarize you with the feel and the sound of each key, so that playing the piano becomes easier and more fulfilling. Learning the basics always results in improved performance!

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