Since 2019 all of my students have been having a bit more scale focus in their lessons. That’s not to say we’ve done more… even in a first lesson I try and encourage warming up using scale based shapes. (I’m sure you don’t need reminding why scales are important, but if you do why not read up on why you should love your scales with this blog post.)
So – no. Not *more* scales during lessons. But actually being more focused on them by using a bit of randomness (so I don’t get the blame for giving mean scales) and giving students the tools to help them figure out their majors as well as all of their relative minor scales.
I’ve been road-testing my great new product (and aptly named) Scale Flashcards on my students of all ages and have had brilliant success with them!
They allow students to cover a great range of scales, more than they perhaps might do if they were just concentrating on those included with their exams. And also by making sure I don’t keep picking the same five nice ones. By getting students to select a card at random they then have to figure out what they need, but with having a visual aid.
The Scale Flashcard pack includes scales with the label on, and those that don’t. For my students I also write just the accidentals on the back of the card, so they get to think about the same scale in a variety of different ways – depending on how they select the card. Extra scale fun!
There’ll soon be a tuition video going up on our Roo Records Music YouTube channel to help but here’s our (simple) guide to figuring out your scales by figuring out your keys and relative minors.
It might seem more long winded than just learning your scales as F major has a Bb and remembering it – but actually. If you spend a bit of time figuring them out then they mean something more. So you’ll be more likely to retain it.
These are easy when you remember these simple rules:
To figure out your key (and your scale):
Look at the last sharp written down on the page.
Go up one note
It’s that easy.
If you have F#,C# then the key is D
If you have F#,C#, G# then the key is A
If you have F#,C#, G#, D#, A# then the key is B
Last sharp then up one note. The last sharp functions as the 7th note and 7th’s always need to go up to the root.
This is almost as straight forward.
You look at the second flat back.
That’s what key it is
If you have:
Bb, Eb …. Bb is the second one back so that’s your key
Bb, Eb, Ab …. Eb is the second one back so that’s your key
Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb …. Db is the second one back so that’s your key
Second flat back. Done.
Flats back one
There’s always pesky things that don’t fit
C major doesn’t have any sharps or flats… so you can’t use any of the rules above
F major – one Bb…. doesn’t fit into the flat key rule as there aren’t enough of them
Ok here’s where things go a bit more complicated.
MINORS DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE FLATS
MINORS DO NOT MEAN FLATS
(But I am aware a lot of minors do actually have flats…..)
Right – so here we’ll be looking at harmonic minors. They’re the most common minor while you’re learning and are ‘easier’. We’ll come to melodic and natural minors at a later date.
The most important thing to remember is we’re looking for the relative minor when we look at a key signature.
If you just need D minor without seeing a key signature then this won’t work – see the next section for how to figure out those…
Relative minors. These will not have the same scale name as the major. C major and C minor are not related, they just happen to have the same note.
1. Figure out your major key signature using the method above
2. Now we need to figure out what the relative minor is. A minor is lower than the major… it’s three semitones (half steps) away.
3. Count down three semitones from your major. That will give you the scale.
4. You now need to change one note to make it a minor scale, rather than a major scale where you’re starting on the wrong note. It’s all about the 7th. Sharpen the seventh note (see told you minors weren’t about flats only).
5. Starting on your minor scale note. Play up the scale, remembering to play any accidentals from the major scale and add the sharp to the seventh note.
But remember – if you’re sharpening the seventh note you might not actually be adding a sharp. Sharpening just means raising the note a semitone higher – if it’s a flat then a semitone higher will just take you to a natural.
Let’s work through it together:
Key Signature: Bb and Eb
1. Bb and Eb – go to the second flat back: Bb major
2. Counting back 3 semitones from Bb: Bb-A-Ab-G: The relative minor is G Minor
3. #7th note: G, A, B, C, D, E, F – We’ll turn the F into and F#
4. Playing the scale with the flats from Bb major (relative) and the #7th
G, A, Bb, C, D, Eb, F#, G: G Minor
One more just for luck….
Key Signature: F#, C#, G#
1. F#, C#, G# – go to the last sharp and go up one note: A major
2. Counting back 3 semitones from A: A-Ab-G-F# : The relative minor is F# Minor
3. #7th note: F, G, A, B, C, D, E – We’ll turn the E into and E# (Which is F natural)
4. Playing the scale with the sharps from A major (relative) and the #7th
F#, G# A, B, C#, D, E#: F# Minor
Look out for the video if you need a visual prompt for these.
Otherwise – have fun figuring out your majors and relative minors!
Our Scale Flashcards are only 99p and are a brilliant teaching aid as well as great for students of all ages to practise with.
Grab a copy now!