Do I have to learn my major scales?

Have you ever visited a foreign country and picked up a handful of essential phrases only to forget them as soon as you returned home? I spent some time in Russia recently and I became a master of please and thank you, but it only took a few days to forget my good Russian manners entirely once I returned home.

When you learn random phrases in a foreign language without any real context for what they mean or how they’re formed, you’re relying on your short term phonetic memory, which can only store so much information before being overwritten. The same goes for learning a new song – you might be able to pick up the main riff by spending an afternoon with an HDpiano tutorial, but if you don’t understand the musical context that underpins the song, you’ll likely see that musical memory fade unless you keep it fresh with daily practice.

Luckily, a little knowledge can go a long way, and though scales get a bad rap, they are filled with clues that can help you understand and remember the music you’re learning. It’s like knowing the alphabet – if I had known the Cyrillic alphabet used in Russian, I would’ve had a logical place to file away the words I was learning, but without it, I was scrambling to contextualize sounds that came in one ear and went out the other.

Learning your 12 major scales is like learning 12 seven-letter alphabets. These alphabets provide the roadmap for not only the notes you’ll encounter in melodies, but also much of the harmony you’ll find in popular music. The reason for this is that a large swath of popular music is entirely diatonic, meaning the melody and harmony is derived from just the seven notes of the major scale. River Flows In You by Yiruma (A), Lost In Japan by Shawn Mendes (Bb), My Girl by The Temptations (C), All Of Me by John Legend (Ab), Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison (G) are all entirely diatonic, to name just a few.

So, I hope you’re beginning to recognize the importance of learning your major scales. Thankfully, we’ve made it pretty easy, with a beginner friendly series that walks you through the essential scales and chords in each of the 12 key signatures. Check it out at, and watch as your practice efficiency and retention increase ten-fold!

Diatonically yours,


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