The C Scale and Octaves

Hello! Welcome back! In this lesson, we are going to take a look at the C scale and octaves.

Scales are a vital part of music. They divide the notes on the piano into groups: each of which produce a different type or ‘mode’ of sound. For every note there is several different scales, all of which can be used to different effect - although we will only have time to cover a few of these in upcoming lessons. As these lessons continue, you will see howintegral scales are to everything you play on the piano.

The C scale is the simplest scale on the piano, it only contains white notes and it runs from middle C to the next C – sometimes called high C - CDEFGABC.

Before playing the C scale through, try playing some octaves. Place your thumb on middle C and see if you can stretch your little finger to play high C at the same time. If you can – well done! This is called ‘spanning the octave’.

[2 C Octaves + play button]

Just a quick reminder: the notes in each section between two of the same notes (e.g. C & C) are called octaves. As I said in the last lesson, each octave contains the same 8 notes, but at a different pitch. For instance, you can probably easily sing in the middle octave from low G to middle G. But if you try hitting a high G, you will probably find it is at the top of your range if you are a woman and completely impossible to sing if you are a man!

For people with small hands, playing an octave can be a bit of a stretch. But don’t worry – the more you play, the more your hands will get used to stretching. After 17 years of playing the piano, my hands are really strong and flexible. Just like any other part of you, you can ‘exercise’ your fingers to help them get stronger and more agile. As you play more and more, you will notice that your fingers will quickly adapt, and positions that were once difficult to sustain (think of yoga for hands!) become easy as anything.

But just as with any other exercise, if you don’t practice for a while, you will gradually lose your ‘fitness’ and you will find it hard to play pieces that you could play easily a few weeks ago.

To play the C Scale, place your thumb on Middle C. The first three notes are the same as the piece we played in the first exercise of Lesson One. Put your thumb on Middle C, index finger on D, and forefinger on E. Now play these three notes in succession: CDE.

Once you have played E, keep your hand in the same place, but move your thumb UNDER your other fingers by raising your hand slightly, placing your thumb on F. When your thumb is on F you can move your other fingers across into normal position. Once your thumb has played F, your index finger can play G, forefinger A, fourth finger B and your little finger High C. And there – you have played a C scale!

To go down again, keep you hand as it is and play High C with your little finger, B with fourth finger…and so on, down to F. Once you have played F with your thumb, move your forefinger OVER your thumb and onto E. Then your index finger can play D and your thumb lands back on Middle C.

Scales tend to have a reputation among piano students as being the ‘boring’ part of learning the piano - and I must admit I didn’t find them terribly enjoyable! BUT, when you do know how to play them really well, you will find that they will enable you to learn new pieces of music much, much faster.


Well, almost all music incorporates scales into the melody. So by knowing your scales thoroughly, you can instantly see familiar patterns in music. This is how experienced pianists are able to sight read complicated music quickly – and what you need to do if you want to awe your friends and family with your remarkable sight-reading ability!

As I showed you earlier, when you learn a scale, you learn how to move your fingers around to play the scale smoothly. All scales (and there are quite a few!) have fingering based around that which you played for the C scale. So once you’ve mastered this technique you will find it enormously helpful for other scales and other pieces of music.

To finish off the lesson, here is a piece to play based on the C Scale:

Glossary of Terms

C Scale: The easiest scale on the piano, it only contains white notes. It covers the 8 white notes from C to C.

Chords: A combination of three or more notes that blend harmoniously when sounded together.

Key Signature: The key signature is made up of sharps or flats and is usually found at the beginning of a musical composition, indicating the key of the piece.

Melody: The ‘tune’ of music.

Runs: A series of consecutive notes played in quick succession