An Introduction to the A Major Scale
If you’re learning the piano, one of the most important skills to master is how to play scales.
We take a look at what a scale is, and how to play the A major scale on the piano. We examine the best fingering to you use when playing this scale. We also learn about where in music you might find this common scale.
What Is a Scale?
Every musical key contains eight notes. Playing a scale simply involves playing these eight notes in a row, either going up the scale, down it or both.
Anyone can play a basic scale without too much difficulty. On a piano, the simplest scale is the C major scale. Start on the note C, and move right playing the next white note in turn until you have played eight white keys in total. You have just played the scale of C major ascending.
Come back down the same eight white keys again and you have just played C major descending. You may not have played it very fluently, but that is where the practice comes in.
What Is the Pattern of a Major Scale?
If you look at the eight notes of the C major scale that you played, you may notice something a little unusual.
The first two keys you play have a black key straight after them, but the third key, E, isn’t followed by a black key. It moves straight on the next white key, F. The same thing happens at the very end, with no black key between the B and the final C
This is because of the way that scales work in Western music. The gap between two keys on a piano is always half a note (from C to C sharp, which is the black key next to it, for example). So playing the first two notes of the C major scale, we skip the black key and play the next white key, meaning we are two half notes higher.
Two half notes make a whole note. So the gaps between notes in every major scale are as follows: whole, whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half. This pattern is what makes a scale so pleasing to the ear.
What Is the A Major Scale?
The C major scale was easy to play because, on a piano, the white keys upwards from C follow the exact pattern of whole, whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half.
The A major scale is a little more difficult to play because to make the same pattern starting from A, we need to play some of the black keys as well as the white.
The first two notes are simple enough: A, then B (a whole note). But as there is no black note following B on the piano, to go up a whole note we need to go past the white C key to the black C sharp key. Following the same pattern, we can work out that the A major scale must be:
A, B, C sharp, D, E, F sharp, G sharp, A.
How to Play the A Major Scale on the Piano
To play this scale on the piano, you need to start from the A note in the middle of the keyboard.
You will then play up the scale using the following pattern, starting with A: white note, white note, black note, white note, white note, black note, black note, white note. Playing back down the scale you would do the reverse: white note, black note, black note, white note, white note, black note, white note, white note.
You should find that this makes the same recognizable tune as the C major scale. If it doesn’t, you have made a mistake somewhere along the line. Find A once more and try again.
What Fingering Should I Use?
Using the following fingering will allow you to play up and down the scale very quickly, with practice. The notation is as follows: 1 is your thumb, 2 your index finger, 3 your middle finger, 4 your ring finger and 5 your little finger.
Firstly for the right hand, you should use the following fingers for each of the notes:
As you can see, after the third note, you need to swap back to your thumb again. This is done by bringing your thumb underneath your middle finger and onto the next note, which is a D. You will find that your hand then naturally moves up to be able to play the final five notes from thumb through to little finger.
Coming back down the scale, you reverse the fingering.
When you reach your thumb on the fifth note, bring your middle finger over the top of it onto the next note, which is a C sharp. This may seem a little strange at first but with practice, it will become second nature.
For the left hand, you should use the following fingering pattern:
Starting with your little finger, play a note for each finger until you reach your thumb. Then bring your third finger over the top as you did with your right hand and play the final three notes.
Playing back down the scale you will reverse the order. So it becomes:
Keep practicing each version until you have mastered both. Then see if you can play both hands at the same time, an octave apart.
Music That Uses the A Major Scale
Once you can play the A major scale, you may want to try some music that begins in this key.
Some of the most popular classical piano pieces in A major include Mozart’s Piano Sonata Number 7, Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas 2 and 28, Chopin’s Polish Dancer, and Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata Number 6.
The key of A major is also very popular in modern music. Of all the songs on Spotify, A major is the fourth most common key that is used. It used for songs such as Someone Like You by Adele and Billie Jean by Michael Jackson.
What Comes Next?
With practice, you will soon master the A major scale.
You then have a choice as to where to go next. You could try learning some of the other major scales or move on to learning the minor scales, which come in two different varieties: harmonic and melodic.
Or you could try learning some chords or arpeggios instead, both of which will make use of what you have learned about scales. Whatever you choose we wish you the best of luck with your piano learning journey.