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I see that I play freely with my hands on the white notes. My question is - what will enable me to play as freely combining black notes? Though I am practicing scales, my hands can't play them freely and without thinking about it like I do with the white ones.

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  • There's a good chance that if you had started playing on black keys, you would now have the same sort of problem with white keys. It's just that nearly everybody seems to favour starting to play, using the white keys, and you've obviously got nicely comfortable with them. – Tim Aug 20 '17 at 12:47
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Just practicing scales has its limits - it can become a dry, abstract exercise that doesn't translate into the actual playing of music.

Besides your regular practice routine, you should be playing music that forces you to use the black keys - either from sheet music or perhaps by playing along with recordings.

For example, try playing simple etudes - music written for the purpose of teaching various skills - that focus on the skills you want to develop.

Another thing to help you work into using the black keys: Move through the circle of 5ths: First find a few easy things to play in F or G Major (whichever direction suits you - # side or b side) keys with only one sharp or flat. Then move on to Bb or D, etc - working you way through, gradually increasing your use of the black keys.

Maybe even try to learn some songs to play with others - put yourself in situations where you will be forced to broaden your technique in order to perform well and keep up. Just make sure you know the material well enough so that you don't mess everything up, and try to find others that are also beginners who will be tolerant of your mistakes, until you get up to speed.

The key is to play real music that demands the skills you need to develop - don't just rely on exercises where you aren't making real music.

Playing some real music also helps make your practice sessions more interesting, and keeps you engaged. Try to find music you enjoy playing that also helps you develop the skills you need.


As far as getting your scales right is concerned, maybe you should try consciously counting and spelling out to yourself the scales as you are playing them. I've found that the most useful way to count is using semi-tones - chromatic tones.

Say you're practicing an E Minor scale: E root -> 2 semitones == Maj 2nd==F# -> 1 semitone == min 3==G -> etc.

It will take more time initially, but when you do that, the scales become not just patterns on the keyboard, but concepts represented by mathematic models in your brain. When that becomes ingrained, you'll find that your brain is guiding you about what to play - not just you fingers following robotic patterns. Scales will become a living entities in your mind and playing them will become more natural and fluid.

Transposing to different keys with more or fewer black notes becomes easier that way, because you have a mathematical representation of the scale in your head that never changes, not a pattern on your instrument that is constantly changing. (I have a jazz teacher that constantly pounds on the importance of not playing based on physical patterns on your instrument, but thinking about the music itself, allowing your brain and your musical imagination to guide you, not physical patterns.)


On the piano, another very easy way of keeping track of white keys vs black keys is to use the key signature to determine which notes are white and which are black in a given key:

  • The key signature for G has only ONE # - F#, so all notes are white except for ONE - F#, which is black.
  • The key signature for Bb has TWO b's - Bb and Eb - so all notes are white except for TWO - Bb and Eb, which are black.
  • Moving all the way around to the F#, with a key signature of SIX #'s, all SIX notes are sharp and 5/6 are white, except for B and E#, which are white.

Good Luck!

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  • @Efi - You're welcome. I am speaking for personal experience. When I practice, I do focus on scales and technique for at least an hour, then I spend another hour, or more playing music in one form or another, and often applying what I have learned when i was practicing. [ You can also accept my answer and give me more points... :) ] – Stinkfoot Aug 21 '17 at 10:03
  • @Efi Playing some real music also helps make your practice sessions more interesting, and keeps you engaged. Try to find music that you enjoy playing that also helps you develop the skills you want. – Stinkfoot Aug 21 '17 at 10:05
  • @Efi - Another thing to help you work into using the black keys: Move through the circle of 5ths: First find a few easy things to play in F or G Major (whichever direction suits you - # side or b side) keys with only one sharp or flat. Then move on to Bb or D, etc - working you way through and gradually increasing the use you have to make of the black keys. – Stinkfoot Aug 21 '17 at 12:17
  • @Efi I wish to have some of this discipline - it really doesn't take discipline so much as understanding the necessity of getting it right, and using your practice time to the greatest advantage. If for example, i am going to practice modes 3, 6 and 7 of the D melodic minor scale, I might play the first mode 10 or 20 times or more, until I can navigate through it and spell/count it out fluently, two times in a row without error (usually ascending and descending.). Then I build the diatonic chords, and continue to the next. If you never get it right, you're wasting your time by practicing. – – Stinkfoot Aug 21 '17 at 14:43
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    Very nice post, almost article! Though all SIX notes are black except for B is not quite right, you needed to say all SIX notes are sharp except for B since the piano only has five black keys and in F#major E becomes E# which is the F-key – nath Aug 24 '17 at 21:33
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If you reduce yourself to only the black keys you will automatically play in a pentatonic scale. Either a F♯ major or a D♯ minor pentatonic. The advantage of a pentatonic scale is that all notes fit fairly well to each other so it is very pretty for improvisation.

I used to play a F♯ chord with one hand and improvise with the other by using the rest of the scale with F♯ as root note, then change to D♯min and play the same scale but with D♯ as root. Then swap chords and scale to each other hand.

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I added diagrams to make it fairly easy for beginners, since I would practice this pretty much from the start. And yes with the thumb on black keys.

From there on you can then introduce the F♯ major scale by adding the white keys B and E♯ and you would have an approach from starting with the black keys and adding the white keys, just the other way around then usual.

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If you have only played on the the white notes so far, probably your hand position is wrong. I would guess it is as close to the end of the keys as you can get, while still playing the thumb right on the end of the white keys.

To play the black notes easily, you need your long fingers (2 3 and 4) as close to the ends of the black keys as possible, and maybe your fingers need to be bent slightly more rather than straight and "flat".

Of course this is guessing what the problem is since we can't see you play, but it's a good example of why beginners really need a teacher who can sort out this sort of thing before it turns into a bad habits - or an excuse to only play in one key, because everything else is "too difficult!"

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My only addition to the above advice is: play chromatically up and down the entire keyboard on a daily basis. Learn the correct fingering for doing so. Additionally, play your major and minor scales, not just C Major, but the whole circle of fifths, one scale per day, including interval work and arpeggios. Again, correct fingering is critical for effective practice. Work slowly and perfectly. Perfect practice makes perfect. You'll be surprised at how quickly you gain proficiency when practicing slowly and perfectly.

Just my experience.

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