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Chapter 3
Scales


T
he ears and fingers feel an orderliness in the arrangement of tunes long before we ourselves are conscious of any logical arrangement of the tones. Since the ear player more or less feels his way along, rather than rationalizing it, he is able to progress far without any intel­lectual effort. The time comes, however, no matter how good he may be, when he reaches the limit of this easy develop­ment and his progress in music slows down or completely stops. Few ear players progress beyond this point; it is too tedious for them to begin anew with the rational theory of music and develop it to the level which they have attained in performance with so little effort. Those who learn to play by note carry more or less of this theory right along with them as they improve their performance. Their playing is both developed and limited by intellectual manipulation.

The most efficient way of learning to play an instrument obviously lies somewhere between the two. That is, the ear player should rely upon his ear so far as possible; but at the same time he should be conscious of the relationships which he is hearing and should use his knowledge when his ear fails. How valuable this ability is will be apparent to the reader if he will take the trouble to understand the system of scales presented in this chapter.

Tonic

The basis of all the music which the ear player is likely to attempt is in a certain key; it gets its effect largely from the relation of the tones to the tonic or basic keynote. In the previous chapter the beginning note of every piece was indicated for that tune when played in the key of C. You have probably already attempted many of them in another key. In order to gain facility in doing this, it is well worth while to practice the scales. This should not be continued to a point where it becomes drudgery; but playing scales is fun and makes progress in learning new tunes much faster.

Half-steps

The piano is constructed in the key of C. That is, if you play all the white keys on the piano, you are playing the scale of C. Begin on C and play up or down the next seven tones and you will recognize the familiar scale. The characteristic of the major scale is that the half-steps come between 3 and 4, and 7 and 8, where there is no black key. All the other intervals are whole steps. Thus, the C scale runs:

            C      D      E      F       G     A       B       C

Flats and Sharps

When a tune requires other notes than those in the scale, we call these tones "accidentals." When the tone is lowered and uses the black key to the left, it is called a flat; when the tone is raised and uses the black key to the right, it is called a sharp. Thus, G# and Ab are the same key. All the scales except C, however, require the use of one or more black keys. These keys are not considered accidentals then, since they belong to the scale; instead, if the b or # is removed, the tone is considered an accidental, since it is foreign to that scale. Now, if we play the scale of D, it will run:

Similarly, the scale of Bb will be:

Notice that the scale of D has two sharps: F# and C#. The scale of Bb has two flats: Bb and Eb.

Key

Attention should here be called to the two meanings of the word "key." Sometimes it refers to the note on the piano keyboard; at other times it refers to a scale. The Key of C is the scale of C; the Key ofB\> is the scale of Bb. This causes no confusion, if one understands the dual usage.

Now play scales beginning on any note you wish. Do not figure them out by steps and half-steps but trust to the ear to tell you what the next note will be. You will find that the ear soon develops a fine discrimination and is able to determine whether the next tone is a half or a whole step. It is of the utmost importance that you let the ear do the work; only by this procedure are the scales helpful in your ear playing.

Fingering

The fingering will cause trouble in playing scales. The human hand was not built to play the piano, or it would have had seven fingers. Since there are seven notes in the scale, all scales are fingered by some combination of 1-2-3 and 1-2-3-4. The question is where to put the thumb.

There are many systems of fingering the scales; but the simplest and the best for the ear player can be simply stated. Put the thumb on the key next above the black key played in the right hand and next below the black key played in the left hand. This not only results in the best fingering of the formal scales but is a good principle to follow in all passage work where it can be applied.

The following table gives the fingering for all scales. Do not try to memorize the fingering. Learn the principle of passing the thumb in under the hand when the fourth finger is on a black key and when the third finger is on a black key. By holding consistently to this one principle, the hand eventually takes it over as a habit, and the greatest difficulty of fingering is overcome.

Key of

Right Hand

fe/f     /

C

1

2

3

1

2

3

4

1

1

4

3

2

1

3

2

1

C# or Db

2

3

1

2

3

4

1

2

3

2

1

4

3

2

1

4

D

1

2

3

1

2

3

4

1

2

1

4

3

2

1

3

2

Eb

3

1

2

3

4

1

2

3

3

2

1

4

3

2

1

3

E

1

2

3

1

2

3

4

1

1

4

3

2

1

3

2

1

F

1

2

3

4

1

2

3

1

3

2

1

4

3

2

1

3

F# or Gb

2

3

4

1

2

3

1

2

4

3

2

1

3

2

1

4

A

1

2

3

1

2

3

4

1

2

1

3

2

1

4

3

2

Bb

4

1

2

3

1

2

3

4

3

2

1

4

3

2

1

3

Bor Cb

1

2

3

1

2

3

4

1

1

3

2

1

4

3

2

1

The 5 th finger is never used except at the end of the scale.

Scale Habits

Scales should be practiced  through several  octaves;  the fingering repeats in each octave. Practice them as slowly as is necessary to get the correct fingering. You are trying to form a habit in the sequence of your fingers; this is a very complicated habit, and each wrong fingering damages the formation of the habit. Your speed will gradually increase as your fingers learn the sequence. When you feel fairly secure in playing the scale with each hand separately, try playing with the two together. Sometimes it is easier to begin at the middle of the piano and play the hands in opposite direction. The most useful practice, however, is playing them in the same direction an octave apart.

At first practice them very slowly without any accent. Then accent every third note and play them for three octaves. Then accent every fourth note and play them for four octaves. This brings the accent out even at the top of the scales. Gradually let them get faster.

Technique

If you are interested in developing speed and a smooth technique, a few suggestions will be helpful. In practicing the scales keep the fingers curved; this makes it easier for the thumb to pass in under the hand. Keep the thumb curved also and bend it far in under the hand when necessary. Do not raise the wrist up to help the thumb to pass under the hand; and do not twist the hand to right and left any more than is absolutely necessary. Make the thumb do the work. Do not pull the hand to the front when playing white keys and then shove it in to play the black keys. Find a convenient compromise and keep the hand there. In short, avoid all excess motion.

Scales are not easy; but so much of music is made from bits of scales that any time you spend in practicing them will bring immediate improvement in your playing. Do not stop to conquer them now, but keep working at them as you proceed.

Numbers

In the previous chapter we used the names of the notes to designate the first note of a piece when played in the key of C. Now that we understand the structure of the scale, we can designate the first note of a piece by its position in the scale or key. Thus, Mary Had a Little Lamb begins on 3. If it is in the key of C, this is E; if it is in the key of G, this is B, etc. The advantage of thus being able to play in any key is obvious. In such a system, 1 and 8 are the same tone—the tonic or keynote. Many people use the syllables do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do in the same way; but these are more cumbersome and hard to learn, so we shall use the number system.

Joy to the World is a good example of the power of the simple scale; it begins on the tonic and comes right down the scale. You will find the first line easy to play, but you will notice that the ear has to be more attentive to find some of the notes which skip about. Even these notes, however, depend for their particular feeling upon their position in the scale.

Tonic

Notice that the tonic, or 1, has a feeling of great solidity. It does not want to move in any direction and gives the impression of finality. No wonder it is used as the final note in most compositions!

The second note of the scale, number 2, wants to return to the tonic. You can hear a strong pull downward whenever this tone is used.

Number three also wants to go to the tonic, but it may get there by a skip, 3-1. It also has a slight tendency to go up to 5 and then down to 1.

Number 4 tends downward and reaches the tonic through 3, though it may easily progress upward to 5 and then down to the tonic.

Dominant

Number 5 is the most important tone in the scale after the tonic, and it jumps to the tonic very boldly, either up or down. It is so important that we shall need its special name, the "dominant."

Number 6 has a desire to drop to 5 and then go up to 8, though there is also a slight desire to progress upward through 7 to 8.

Number 7 flips up to 8 like steel to a magnet.

Tone Tendencies

Play these tones in the scale and notice these tendencies. Try these resolutions and then try others of your own. You will see—or hear—how melody gets its peculiar power. Now take America and note how each tone has a particular pull. The first two notes are rather static—they are 1, or the tonic. Then we go up to 2, which immediately wants to return to the first note. But "'tis" skips down to 7 instead. This makes us want to return to 1, which we do but on such a weak beat that we cannot stop and are carried on up to 2 on the word "thee." The tune could go down to 1 here and stop; but, being rather venturesome, it proceeds on up to 3 for "sweet land" and gets to 1 by a roundabout route. This all may seem very trivial; but these little tendencies, these feelings of relationships, are the minute differences which tell us what note to play next. The more keenly we feel them, the more readily we play by ear. Therefore: Listen to every tendency of the melody.

For the sake of reference, the following table of the names of the tones of the scale and their tendencies is given. Remem­ber the names "tonic" and "dominant" and practice listening to melodic tendencies in real melodies.

      1    tonic                  remains stationary
      2    supertonic          2-1
      3    mediant              3-1, or 3-2-1
      4    subdominant       4-3-1
      5    dominant            5-1, or 5-8
      6    submediant         6-5-8, or 6-7-8
      7    leading tone        7-8

Finding the Tonic

In attempting to play any piece, the first step is to find out where the tonic is. Sing the piece or think it through until you find the note that has that solid, static feeling which identifies it as tonic. Some find this very easy to do; others find it almost impossible. If necessary, sing the piece to the very end, and you will there find the tonic. Then listen particularly to that tone every time it occurs in the piece; accent it; make it stand out; and you will soon develop a sensitivity for that tonic. At the same time you will be developing your enjoyment of music.

Having determined what tone of the scale the piece begins on, you can choose the key in which you wish to play it and then find the first note of the piece in that key.

One other observation will help you: Notice where the dominant is. Since so much of the melody revolves around the dominant, it is helpful to have that pivot point consciously located in the key and on the keyboard.

As an example of this procedure, let us take the chorus of Old Black Joe. Sing it through and you find the last note resting firmly on the tonic. Now begin the chorus again and you will hear that it begins on 5. Let us decide to play it in the key of Eb. Play the scale of Eb and you will notice that 5 is Bb. So we begin on Bb. Remembering that Eb is the solid tonic tone and that Bb is the determined dominant tone, you will now be able to work out the tune. Follow this same process with other tunes and you will soon find that you can locate the tonic and dominant and first note almost without a thought.

Now play the pieces that you have learned in the last chapter but play them in different keys. Disregard the name and finger of the first note which are given after each title; those were a crutch for the beginner but will not apply when you play in another key. Henceforth you must figure these out for yourself. Notice where the tonic and dominant are in each key, but otherwise do not concentrate too keenly on what your fingers are doing. Think of the tune and let the fingers take care of themselves. Develop a freedom that will permit you to enjoy what you are playing.

Try other pieces that you have wanted to play. Now that you have practiced the scales and learned to identify tonic and dominant, you will be able to play many things which were impossible to you before.

Modulation

Pieces do not always stay in one key. In fact, they seldom do. When they go from one key to another, we call it modulating. Most of your difficulties in the pieces which you have been unable to complete have been caused by modulations. The tonic and dominant are necessarily changed when a modulation takes place. Naturally this is confusing; but you can help the situation greatly by realizing what the modulation is—by knowing what the tonic and dominant are in the new key. There is no easy rule for doing this; one eventually learns to feel a modulation just as he feels the next note of a piece. But this takes time. Without this power one must either stop and figure out the new key by singing the passage until he can locate the tonic, or just guess. The most frequent modulation, particularly in the type of pieces we are using, is to the dominant. Try the dominant first.

Half-modulation

The Star-Spangled Banner is a good example. When you get to "flag was still there," you have modulated to the dominant key. On the word "still" you have to use a note which is not in your original key. This is your modulating tone, and if you listen to it keenly, you can notice the strong upward thrust which characterizes a modulation to the dominant. It does not remain in the dominant key, however, but jumps immediately back to the original key with the words "Oh, say, does that." This is called a half-modulation since it does not stay in the new key long enough to establish it firmly; but it is a clean illustration of the point. A great many hymn tunes use this type of half-modulation.

Flow Gently, Sweet Afton has a long modulation to the dominant. The entire middle section,

"Thou stock dove, whose echo resounds from the hill,
Ye wild whistling blackbirds in yon thorny dell,"

is in the dominant key. Carry Me Back to Old Virginny has a similar modulation at about the same place.

Accidentals

As long as there are no notes in the music outside the key in which you are playing, there is no modulation. The modulation comes when the notes belonging to that new key appear. That is how the modulation is made. You can easily improvise a modulation by introducing the new notes of the new key. Thus, play up the C scale and then back to G and continue with F#-G-A-G. You will find that G now feels like the tonic; you have modulated to G. Not a very sturdy modulation, to be sure, but sufficient to make G feel like a fairly satisfactory ending. Now, if you want to get back to the key of C, simply play the F natural (Ffc|) rather firmly, and you will find that you now accept C as the tonic and won't be satisfied until you reach that as an ending.

Accidental tones outside the key, however, are also used merely to embellish regular melodic tones which have no tendency to modulate. Do not let these confuse you. A good example is in the trio (or chorus) of Stars and Stripes Forever. Play just the first few notes and you will find these embel­lishing notes:

5-5 4-3-3 2#-3-3

The 2# is not in the key of the piece but sounds a little more pointed than just 2 at that place. Try it without the sharp there; perhaps you will not notice the difference. You may have heard it that way; but Sousa wrote it with the 2 sharped, and it is certainly more artistic. However, these embellishing tones are never so important as the accidentals which cause modulation; they may perplex the player, but they probably will not hinder his playing the piece.

You are now ready to attempt a great number of pieces. A difficult piece which you have heard many times is often easier to play than a simple one with which you are only slightly acquainted. The following list is added to suggest numbers which will involve the modulations and accidental tones discussed in this chapter. The chief source of practice, however, will still be the list of pieces at the end of the second chapter. Play these in as many different keys as possible. The more familiar you are with these tunes, the easier you will find the harmonization suggested in the following chapters.

Tunes Which Use Tones Outside the Key

(The asterisks and daggers will be explained later)

 

scale tone on which it begins

  † America the Beautiful

5

** Farewell to Thee

5

†† The Last Rose of Summer

1

†† The Heavens Resound

5

†† How Can I Leave Thee?

3

** Santa Lucia

5

†† Sweet and Low

3

  † Till We Meet Again

3

  † Sailing

5

  † Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean

5

†† Marseillaise

5

†† God of Our Fathers

1

  † Perfect Day

5

†† Cantique de Noel

3

†† Palm Branches

5

†† Last Night the Nightingale Woke Me

5

†† On, Wisconsin

5

  † Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair

6

†† It's a Long Way to Tipperary (chorus)

3

  † What'll I Do

1

†† Alexander's Ragtime Band

3

** Stars of the Summer Night

5

** O Sole Mio

5

  † Minuet (PADEREWSCHI)

5

     Minuet (BEETHOVEN)

3

     Humoresque (DVORAK)

1

     In the Time of Roses

3

†† Smiles

5

†† Gypsy Love Song (chorus)

1

†† O Promise Me

5

†† Funiculi, Funicula

7

†† Washington Post

5

†† Semper Fidelis

5

†† My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice

5

†† Ave Maria (SCHUBERT)

1

†† Funeral March (CHOPIN) (trio)

3


WHAT TO DO

Practice all major scales hands alone, hands together,
   accenting every third note when flaying three
   octaves and every fourth note when playing four
   octaves. Avoid unnecessary motion.

Transpose the tunes you have learned to many different
keys.

Play the pieces with either hand or with both hands.
Listen to the tendencies of the notes. Curve the fingers


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