How To Practice Piano Scales (With Lisa)

Lisa Witt  /  Scales and Keys  /  UPDATED Jan 16, 2023

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This is a play-along lesson on how to practice piano scales, so I hope you’re sitting at your piano (or keyboard).

You know you should practice your scales…

But do you know how?

Scale practice can be tricky. Part warm-up, part technique, it’s hard to know how long to practice scales for and what to focus on.

This lesson will show you how to practice piano scales with both hands in a way that’s challenging, but also musical and fun.

This is not your normal scale practice.

You’ll also learn how to approach new scales with more confidence, so you can master even more of the keyboard.

Here’s a little write-up of each part of the play-along lesson.

Warm-Up Stretches

Warming up is super important every time you sit at the piano.

It doesn’t have to be a full stretching session, but spending a few minutes to stretch out your forearms and loosen your next and shoulders will help you arrive at the piano feeling relaxed, and it helps avoid the risk of long-term injury.

Correct Posture

I’m guilty of this one.

When you sit at the piano, try to keep your back straight, shoulders relaxed and feet flat on the floor.

I know all these things in my head, but I still have trouble remembering to do them all (as you’ll see in the lesson).

For more on posture, check out this lesson with a chiropractor.

🎹 Piano Technique Made Easy ✨

Technique is the foundation to piano playing. If technique has been holding you back from playing the songs you love, check out Piano Technique Made Easy with Cassi Falk. This course, free with your Pianote membership, will take you through all 12 major and minor keys as you master scales, arpeggios, chords, and more.


Start with your hands separate

When you start practicing your scales, keep your hands separate.

Hand independence is a skill that takes time to learn, and it begins with each hand knowing how to play its part.

So start by playing a C scale (or any scale you’re comfortable with) with just your right-hand.

When you can play it without any mistakes, move on to your left-hand.

Only when you can play mistake-free with each hand should you play the scale with both hands.

Here’s where things get tricky…

You’ll be changing your fingering at different times. That means your thumb-tucks and crossovers will be happening at different points.

I’ve seen this trip up so many beginner piano players, that I really recommend taking things super-slow to begin with.

I’m talking one note at a time.

Really focus on getting those transitions perfect. Even if you feel like it’s too slow, you’re creating correct mental pathways and helping your hands “feel” what it’s like to play correctly.

Practice scales slowly

Going too fast only leads to mistakes. And if you keep practicing mistakes you’ll keep making them.

Move to the relative minor scale

Every major scale has a relative minor. That means the notes are exactly the same, but the scale BEGINS on a different key.

For C, the relative minor scale is A minor. You can find the relative minor scale of ANY major scale simply by counting up 6 notes in the major scale.

So for C, the 6th note of the scale is A. So A is the relative minor scale of C major.

Again, practice hands separately and hands together. Remember all the notes are the same, they just start and end at a different place.

This is great, because it means that by learning one new major scale, you’ve also learned the relative minor!

Play major and minor scales together

Now things get really interesting.

You’re going to keep playing the minor scale in your left-hand, but with your right-hand you’ll play the MAJOR scale!

So it will be A minor in the left-hand and C major in the right.

practice major & minor scales together

This is tricky, but it sounds amazing!!

When you’ve got that down, try swapping and playing the major in your left-hand and the minor scale in your right.

Scales and Fifths

Now we’ll make it even more musical.

With your left-hand, try playing a popular chord progression using fifths.

So in the key of C that means fifths starting on C, A, F, G.

Then play the C major scale in your right hand on top of the chord progression.

Sounds beautiful, right?

To make it even more challenging, try pulsing the fifths with your left-hand while you play the scale with your right.

Your right-hand will be playing two notes for every one that you play with your left. It’s a real challenge but a great way to build up some hand independence!

Learning new scales

This lesson starts in C, but at the end, I move to G major to show you how to apply this practice to new scales.

Working your way around the Circle of 5ths is a fantastic way to introduce new scales to your practice routine.

The Circle of 5ths

That’s because each time you move around the circle, you’re only adding one new black key.

Start with the major scale. Take it slow. Practice it with each hand before trying it together.

Then, remember that you only have to count up to the 6th note to find the relative minor, and the notes will be the same!


Scales are like the ingredients we use to create beautiful music.

They tell us what notes sound good together, what chords go together, and give us a fantastic starting point for improvising and expressing ourselves through music.

Hopefully, this play-along lesson has given you some ideas on how to practice piano scales, so you can apply it to your daily routine and start seeing better results.

Have fun!

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for more than 20 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others. Learn more about Lisa.

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