What is the right approach to learn major and minor scales.

1) Learn C major and then A minor, G Major and then E minor, D Major and then B minor - Notes are same in major and minor in this pattern. 2) Learn C major, D major, E major till B major – Complete all Major scales and then start A minor, B minor till G minor - Learn all major and then minor in this pattern. 3) Randomly select one song and learn the notes and learn the scale of particular song then pick next song with different scale.

The objective of learning is to a) Memorize the notes in a scale. b) To understand the difference in pitch and tone of each scale. c) To identify the scale of any song by identifying the tonic note and other notes so that the scale of the song can be identified.

  • When you say "memorize the notes", I would recommend not put too much effort into memorizing the individual notes for each key. The thing to memorize or learn is the sequence of intervals for each scale type (e.g. the steps for a major scale is whole tone, whole tone, semi tone, whole, whole, whole, semi). That way you can easily construct any scale starting from any note.
    – mattliu
    Mar 27, 2017 at 8:55
  • Am I right that you are approaching this from the direction of "ear training" and not from a theoretical standpoint (number of sharps and flats in a scale, etc...)?
    – Tim H
    Mar 27, 2017 at 9:25
  • Yes,you are right.I want the suggestion from a "ear training" standpoint and also to memorize the notes in a scale. Mar 27, 2017 at 9:43

5 Answers 5


Apart from the useful idea of when you are learning a piece in a particular key, learn the scale appropriate, it makes sense to accumulate # and b.

Assuming C as the first scale - no # or b. Move on to one # (G), and one b (F), and keep adding, so moving round the circle of fifths.

The minors bring an interesting angle in that the natural minor will use the same notes as its relative major, so that can go alongside the majors in turn. The melodic (classical) parallel minor actually has only one different note ascending, so can't be too difficult to understand and learn at the same time, and when the relative concept is understood, the natural minor notes fit when descending.Or, you may want the less complicated harmonic - same notes up and down, using the natural minor and changing the leading note only. That minor scale is probably the most used, unless you're looking at classical music.

It may be worth looking at exam boards' syllabi, as they set out scales to be learned in order, certainly with ABRSM. RGT has a good method, in that the scales needed to be played in a grade are used later in the exam to solo with - thus giving credence to having to know scales - yes, they're useful tools - but not to a young child who often gets the idea they're to gain points in exams! Bear in mind there are no clues from the OP to specify what instrument all this refers to, and that will make a difference too - I doubt if it's all being done 'theoretically'.

  • Consider Piano as instrument.Requesting specific answers as per the approch mentioned in the question or any other approch which is better than the three mentioned in the question.Thanks. Mar 28, 2017 at 4:51

I recommend beginning with a Chromatic Scale beginning on D. It's easy for a beginner pianist to learn and can be played in contrary motion from the outset. Let the student work out that beginning on G sharp is just as easy!

C major is difficult for small hands, but a necessary evil and good for explaining the structure of a major scale. I would soon introduce a tonic triad. Then A minor in its natural form (saving the usual minor scales until later)

Then C flat major and C sharp major (in no particular order). Initially I would always use seven accidentals in the key-signatures. So C major would have seven naturals, G major would have six naturals and one sharp (but we haven't learned that one yet). After a while, explain that convention dictates that the naturals are not used in key-signatures to avoid cluttering the score, but they are there really.

[The general idea is that the student only learns a small number of scales and extends his knowledge by transposing the scales he knows up or down a semitone and comparing the key-signatures. I have never met anyone taught this way who has ever been confused about scales of all kinds and triads of all kinds.

So once a student learns E major, he or she will know that there are four sharps and three naturals in the key-signature (the student will have learned previously that when you begin any major scale on the 6th degree it will produce the related minor with the same key-signature). Having learned E major, the student will instantly know and understand that by transposing it down a semitone, the three naturals of E major will become flats, and the four sharps will become naturals. Playing the scales on a piano is also quite straightforward, as long as it is remembered which fingers live on which black keys in each hand.]

After learning C flat major, the student will learn easily that he now knows B major as well. A brief investigation will lead to the discovery that its key-signature has two naturals and five sharps. By transpoing down a semitone, again the naturals become flats and the sharps become naturals, and B flat major is born!

And so on ...

[I wouldn't object to teaching D major as the first major scale after D chromatic. It would be easier for a very young person or someone with small hands to play because the thumb always has more room to pass under the other fingers if the preceding note is played using a black key. However, C major is better continuity from a theoretical angle. The easiest scales are probably C flat major (B major), G flat major (F sharp major) and E major, because of the lay of the black keys under the fingers and the ease of passing the thumb. In all these scales, the same fingers play the black keys, so the finger patterns come easily. For some useful teaching pieces for beginners go to this webpage and get the 'First Ten' series: www.douglaspjones.co.uk/FreeDownloads.html]


IMO, the exact order to learn scales is dependent on what kind of music repertoire you want to learn. If you want to learn piano music, you start with C major because it uses (the generally considered "easier") white keys only. If you want to learn guitar music, I suspect you start with G major because the strings are typically tuned to play it better than C major. If you want to learn concert band music, you start with B flat major because enough important (transposing) instruments treat that as their home key (such as the trumpet and the clarinet).

Due to difficulties in learning minor scales (for each minor key, you need to learn both the harmonic minor and melodic minor scales), I've actually generally been exposed to a learning pattern that's more like this (at least for piano--transpose all scales down one whole step for concert band): C major-F major-G major-A minor-D minor-E minor-D major-B flat major-B minor-G minor-...

While I do not recommend picking songs completely randomly in order to learn scales (you risk running into songs that change keys far too many times, atonal music that is not in any key, world music that does not use major or minor scales such as gamelan, and more), picking a sample of a lot of songs, then learning the most common scales first, is a wise idea.

Along those lines, I do not recommend learning all major scales before all minor scales, as some major scales are significantly more relevant than others. In concert band repertoire, for example, songs originally in keys with several sharps (e.g. E major) are often transcribed into versions in keys with flats instead (while B flat major, F major, and E flat major are common targets because they are the first few keys that students learn, this transcription of Dmitri Shostakovich's Festive Overture in http://www.jwpepper.com/599043.item is in A flat major instead of the original piece's A major). In another example, you bump into some keys more than twice as often as others on Spotify, according to https://insights.spotify.com/us/2015/05/06/most-popular-keys-on-spotify/.

  • Cmaj theoretically should be the starting point :)
    – John
    Mar 27, 2017 at 9:16
  • In terms of notation, you start learning transposing instruments in C major, independent of whether the sounding pitch is B flat, E flat, or something more exotic.
    – user19146
    Mar 27, 2017 at 9:39
  • @Santa not if your piano teacher follows Chopin, and starts you off with the easiest scale to play, which is B major, not C.
    – user19146
    Mar 27, 2017 at 9:41
  • @alephzero yeh probably is the easiest scale to play. But Cmaj is theoretically the best starting place :)
    – John
    Mar 27, 2017 at 9:45
  • @alephzero - C#maj and F#maj are also very easy to play. One of my students has very long fingers, and consequently prefers those keys.
    – Tim
    Mar 27, 2017 at 11:06

Not only play the scales but the associated triads and their inversions, some chord progressions in that key, and the chromatic scale starting on tonic note.

Try one piece in that key

Check out ARSM for more on the order of the scales. It's usually C major and A minors and then sharps then flats.


The 'recipe' for the spacing of notes any major scale is: Tone Tone Semitone, Tone Tone Tone Semitone

I have my students recite and memorise 'Tone Tone Semitone, Tone Tone Tone Semitone' or even 'TTSTTTS'.

Given any starting note, they can then 'generate' any major scale using sharps/flats to maintain the tone or semitone spacing.

So I would start by learning this pattern and then memorising the keys from no sharps/flats to one sharp, one flat and so on.

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