Tuesday, October 24, 2017

DIY Major Scale

In today's Do-It-Yourself projects, we'll show you how to make your own major scale in a key other than C.  With 12 different keys on the piano, you have many ways to personalize your scale. 

Creating scales on every key is a skill we teach in the BRIDGE curriculum for Let's Play Music graduates, but you can have fun at home with this right now.

Gather Supplies

You won't need a hot glue gun or chop saw for this part, but there are a few mental tools you might need.

TOOL #1: EARS.  
You've been singing the major scale in Let's Play Music songs like The Red Balloon, so your ear is well trained to hear what a major scale sounds like going up and down.  

Even if we didn't give you any more theory lessons, you could go figure out the major scale just using your ear. You might be thinking, "I can't play the E-flat scale. Nobody has told me which notes to use. That sounds very advanced."  Guess what!?- You already know enough to figure this out. Trust me!

Are you that excited? Go to the piano. Cover your child's eyes and have him blindly pick any ONE key.  Open eyes.  Play that note and sing "up up up up..." in a major scale as your fingers go up the keyboard. 

Any time it sounds wrong or off, try skipping to another key.  You will need some white ones and some black ones.  You won't play every key.  You will be able to figure out what sounds like a major scale! You will be able to figure out which black keys you need. AMAZING!  (keep reading if you don't want to feel like you're guessing.)

You've mastered the solfege names and hand-signs for each tone of the major scale. You are going to love applying them to your major scale.  

You may have already read the earlier articles all about solfege, in which we explained the MOVEABLE DO system. The scale starts on 'DO', but Do can be any key on the piano, white or black!  

When Do is C, we say "we are playing in the key of C."  When Do is F, we say "we are playing in the key of F." You get the idea.  ANY NOTE!

Your scale is a major scale when you sing Do Re Mi while playing the notes up.  And THEN you'll be able to play/ transpose any song into your scale by singing the solfege.

Think about it: Three Blind Mice is mi-re-do. mi-re-do. sol-fa-fa-mi. sol-fa-fa-mi.

Once you have your major scale you can play mi-re-do and sol-fa-fa-mi....and it will be the melody for Three Blind Mice, just a little higher or lower. 

Yes, transposing (playing in a new key) is that easy to wrap your brain around. Now you're motivated, so let me help you easily create that major scale.

The major scale is really a system of relationships between pitches.  Each pitch is identified by the wavelength that generates the sound.

In the pentatonic scale article, I explain how cultures around the world build scales based on relationships between pitches of different wavelengths.  

In our Western music, we like to divide the range of wavelength into 12 equal divisions (semitones). That's why our pianos have 12 different notes. Playing a piano key and then the very next piano key is a semitone, the smallest unit you can change pitch in piano playing.  Semitones are also called half steps in music theory circles.

Moving by an increment that is 2 semitones large is called a tone or whole step

The following pattern of relationships that we have come to prefer and love is our major scale.  

Whole-Whole-Half. Whole-Whole-Whole-Half.

The pattern is very pretty to look at when Do is C because we can play all the white keys. The piano was built to make it natural to play a major scale in the key of C.

Looking for a mnemonic to help you remember this pattern?  When it's super hot/sunnyt outside, you should wear white (not dark) clothes to help you feel cool, right?  

Imagine the silly man who insists on wearing dark clothes on hot days. You ask: 

Why Won't He Wear White When Hot!?

Let's build a scale again!  Go pick ANY key at the piano.  Take steps using the pattern that defines a major scale: WWH, WWWH.  As you go, your ear will let you know if things are going well or if you slip up!

My daughter chose to start on D as Do.  We followed the pattern and learned that in the key of D, you'll need to use F sharp and C sharp!  

Let's Play Music Bridge

Check out how we teach the pattern of whole steps and half steps in the LPM Bridge program with songs and games. You'll love this!

Montessori Method

Italian educator, Maria Montessori, understood the simplicity of solfege, major scales, and key changes.  She also understood the natural and easy way children can learn to hear and internalize aural skills.

In a well-equipped Montessori classroom, you might find beautiful tone bars like these.  Unlike the piano, black and white bells are all the same size, making key changes easier than pie.

The paper strip has green gaps painted on it, to indicate the step pattern for a major scale.  A child as young as 4 can spend hours creating new major scales. She slides the strip left and right to ANY note and looks to see which bells are steps 1-8 (or Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do). She pulls those bells slightly forward and plays the major scale.  A scale in the key of C is shown above.

Then she finds letter discs and labels the notes of the scale.  Finally, she can choose a song card from the collection and play her favorite songs based on steps (1-8) or solfege. No matter what key she is in, she will be able to play her favorite songs.

The final beauty of this practice is that it is self-directed. A student can change key, label the scale, play a song, and repeat endlessly and correctly with very little adult interruption needed.

Change Keys

Now you know how to create a major scale anywhere...so you can transpose songs into other keys.  

Ready for some more fun? 

A RED CHORD (I)  always has notes  Do-Mi-Sol.  
A BLUE CHORD (IV) always has notes Do-Fa-La, 
YELLOW CHORD (V) always has notes Ti-Re-Sol. 

Now you can make chords using your new scale (in your new key).  I challenge you to play all of your favorite Let's Play Music songs in the key of D, or A, or F#.  Do you like the way these tunes sound in different keys!?  

My daughter decided to replay all of the Green and Yellow book songs in the key of D, just because it's fun to transpose. 

Practicing making chords in new keys is a little tricky because you have to remind yourself which notes are part of your scale and which are not.  The good news is, your HAND ALREADY KNOWS how to make the primary chords. You only have to adjust a little bit to incorporate the "magic" black keys. 

The more you play this game, the more comfortable you become with automatically finding chords and melodies in new keys.

-Gina Weibel, M.S.
Let's Play Music teacher

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