A Major & Minor Scale Routine

Once you’ve become familiar with all of your major and minor scales*, it’s a good idea to keep playing them often.  Here’s a plan that can help you do that.  Rather than going around the circle of fifths or chromatically, we’ll follow this sequence of scales:

Major scale → Relative minor: Natural → Harmonic → Melodic →

Parallel Major → Relative minor: Natural → Harmonic → Melodic →

Parallel Major → Relative minor: Natural → Harmonic → Melodic →

Parallel Major → Relative minor: Natural → Harmonic → Melodic

You’ll notice that if you continued you would be back to where you began.  It looks complicated at first but it’s actual quite logical and takes advantage of two important music theory concepts:

  1. The major scale and its relative minor scale in natural form share the same notes, just a different pitch center (aka “tonic” – the first and last note of the scale)
  2. The melodic minor and the parallel major scale share all of the same notes except for the third.

In all, there are three groups of these four major/minor scales.  Here is the sequence of the actual scales:

Remember, each minor scale should be played in three forms (natural, harmonic, and melodic).  For example, group 1 would be:

C Major → a natural → harmonic → melodic minor →

A Major → f♯ natural → harmonic → melodic minor →

F♯/G Major → d♯/e natural → harmonic → melodic minor →

E Major scale → c natural → harmonic → melodic minor

One of the nice things about this system is that it pairs scales that tend to be more familiar (like C or F) with those that are likely to be less familiar (like F♯ or C).   

Depending on your facility with all of these scales (and practice time available), you can fit them in a six day practice week routine by doing them all either once a week, twice a week, or every day.  Here are the three options in a schedule:

Tips:

  • Don’t forget to play these with a metronome.  Regardless of whether you can play them fast or slow, it will help you chart your progress and develop consistency.
  • Play each scale in one breath.  This forces you to maintain a steady tempo and develops consistency of approach.
  • Rather than starting scales from the bottom (up and back down again), try starting them from the top (down and back up again).  Why?  It develops a different kind of familiarity with the scales and increases your confidence in starting in the upper register.
  • Vary the articulation in every way imaginable, especially when you start knocking these all out every day.

*Use this handy Scale Journal to keep track of your progress learning your major and minor scales. It’s best to memorize your scales, but if you’re not there yet here are scale sheets for major scales and minor scales.