In this post, we’re going to learn how to play the E major scale on the piano. This scale is one of the twenty-four major and minor scales that every pianist should learn. I cover all of them in my comprehensive online piano course.
What is the E major scale?
The E major scale is merely the collection of notes that are found in the key of E major (the key signature with four sharps.) When we play all of those notes on the piano from bottom to top or top to bottom, we refer to that pattern of notes as the “E major scale” or sometimes simply the “E scale.”
Why do I need to learn it?
The E major scale is found very frequently in piano music. If you learn the fingering for it in advance, you will save lots of time, and will be able to play much faster.
Learning this scale will also improve your sight reading, improvising, and your understanding of music theory. For more information on why scales are important, check out this post.
When playing the E major scale on the piano, these are several important things to keep in mind. I’ll discuss these in more detail later, but here they are:
- The E major scale consists of the notes E, F#, G#, A, B, C# and D#.
- The right hand thumb plays on the notes E and A.
- The left hand thumb plays on the notes B and E.
Building the E major scale
Every major scale consists of the same pattern of half and whole steps. A half step is the distance between two immediately adjacent piano keys (white or black), and a whole step consists of two half steps.
The pattern for a major scale, from bottom to top, is:
This means that if I start on E on the piano, play two whole steps, then a half, then three more whole steps, and then a half step, I’ve constructed the E major scale. Here are the notes of the scale:
This pattern of notes can be repeated ad infinitum up and down the piano keyboard as far as you like. Which brings us to the next point:
Piano fingering for the E major scale
Like all major and minor scales, the E major scale has a standardized fingering that all pianists use. This fingering allows us to play up and down the scale quickly and easily.
Let’s learn the fingering for the right and the left hand separately. Later, we’ll play both hands together.
The right hand
There are three steps for playing the E scale in the right hand:
- Begin with the thumb on E, and play the notes E, F# and G# with fingers 1, 2 and 3.
- Pass the thumb under the hand to A, and play the notes A, B, C# and D# with the fingers 1, 2, 3 and 4.
- If you want to turn around, use the 5th finger on E and play the same fingering in reverse. Otherwise, pass the thumb under to E and continue from step 1 again. Here’s the fingering for the right hand of the E major scale:
The left hand
The fingering for the E major scale in the left hand is also quite easy. Keep in mind that the notes are exactly the same as those in the right hand. Here are the three steps:
- Begin with your fifth finger on E and play the notes E, F#, G#, A and B with the fingers 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.
- Cross the third finger over to C# and play the notes C#, D# and E with fingers 3, 2 and 1.
- If you want to turn around, simply play the same fingering in reverse. To continue, cross the fourth finger over to F# and continue as you did from the previous F#. The fingering for the E major scale in the left hand looks like this:
How to practice the E major scale
Ideally, you want to be able to play this scale very quickly with both hands together, in parallel motion as well as contrary motion.
Parallel motion means starting with the right hand thumb on E, and the left hand fifth finger on E, and then playing both hands upward and then back down. When playing in parallel motion, it helps to remember that the third fingers always play together:
Contrary motion means starting with both thumbs on the same E in the middle of the piano, and playing the right hand upward and the left hand downward, so that the hands are moving apart from one another.
When playing in contrary motion, remember that you should always be using the same finger in each hand. If you’re playing the fourth finger in the right hand, for example, the left hand should also be playing the fourth finger at exactly the same time:
In order to play this scale really quickly, start slowly and gradually increase the tempo. Eventually, I’d recommend a goal tempo of 100 on the metronome, with four notes per beat.
I’d also recommend practicing at least two octaves, like you see in the examples above. If you can play two octaves, it’s no problem to play three, four or more octaves if needed.
Remember that the fingering for the E major scale is not unique. We use the exact same fingering for the C, G, D and A major scales. If you’d like to learn all twenty-four major and minor piano scales in order, I’d suggest checking out my online course.
When playing major scales, really concentrate on playing evenly, with each note exactly as loud as the next. Try playing with different rhythms, or different dynamics like pianissimo or fortissimo. Scales don’t have to be boring!
Happy practicing and best of luck with the E major scale!