We’re back for another “Ask Jermaine” where I choose a student’s question and give my personal take on it — this week on gospel piano scales.
(By the way, you can submit your questions here).
Today’s questions is from Ade:
Hi, it’s Ade here. I’m a young 14-year old player and just want to know how many types of gospel piano scales there are and which ones I really need to know to progress as a gospel player. I already understand major scales and the circle of fifths and am now working on minor scales. You are doing a great job with your gift and this site. Thanks and God bless
Just by your question, I can see you’re a serious player… even at the tender age of 14.
When I get questions from youngins’ like you, I don’t take them lightly because I too was a young church musician. At 7 years old, after getting tired of beating on pots and pans and getting spankins’ for putting holes in our couch, I moved on to playing this old antique piano my grandma won on the “Price Is Right” in the 70’s.
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Long story short, one thing led to another and by 12 I was playing for multiple churches, youth choirs, gospel choir competitions and more. So I know from personal experience, music has no age barrier. If you don’t believe me, check out this amazingly talented 8-year old gospel organist, Jayden Arnold.
Gospel Piano Scales
When it comes to gospel piano scales, you have many options.
I’d say the most popular gospel piano scales are:
- Blues scale 1 2 3
- Pentatonic scale
- Minor pentatonic scale
- Super “Locrian” scale 1 2 3 4
- Whole tone scale
- Diminished scale
In fact, there’s really no such thing as “gospel piano scales” — scales are scales and regardless of whether you’re playing gospel, jazz, or blues, there’s places to fit all scales. Granted, some styles utilize certain ones more than others.
Gospel Piano Scales – Whole tone
Since I’ve covered the blues scale, pentatonic scale, and minor pentatonic scale extensively in the past (see above links), I’ll just cover the ones I haven’t written about here.
When it comes to gospel piano scales, the whole tone scale is a great tool to have in your arsenal and pretty simple to understand. It’s basically all whole steps.
C Whole Tone: C – D – E – F# – G# – A#
And because every note is the same distance apart (equidistant), there are really only two unique whole tone scales.
Why? Because if you play this same scale above starting and ending on D, you get the same exact notes.
Starting and ending on E, same thing.
Basically, pick a note in the scale and play the same notes and you’ve got yourself a brand new whole tone scale without changing up anything.
So the only other whole tone scale is on B (or any other note of that scale, as explained above):
B Whole Tone: B Db Eb F G A B
These are great gospel piano scales to use with:
- Augmented chords
- Augmented 7th chords
- Dominant 7 #9 #5 (very popular in gospel)
- Dominant 7 b9 #5 (very popular as well)
…and many others.
(If you’ve taken GospelKeys 202, you’ll know the last two chords on the list are VERY popular in gospel. They can be used on the 2, b3, 3, b5, and 6 — but most popular on the 3 as passing chords. You’d simply play the chord in your left hand and experiment with different whole tone gospel piano scales in your right, knowing that there are really only 2 unique scales… and all the rest just start on different tones but use the same notes).
Gospel Piano Scales – Diminished Scale
The diminished scale is also a pretty cool gospel piano scale you can use with diminished chords (…which occur a lot in gospel).
Just like the whole tone scale, you don’t have to remember 12 distinct scales because they repeat. There are only 3 unique diminished scales.
E♭ diminished (F♯/G♭, A, C diminished): E♭, F, F♯, G♯, A, B, C, D, E♭
D diminished (F, A♭, B diminished): D, E, F, G, A♭, B♭, B, C♯, D
D♭ diminished (E, G, B♭ diminished): D♭, E♭, E, F♯, G, A, B♭, C, D♭
How do you remember which scales share the same notes?
Answer: Just remember which diminished chords share the same notes!
Let’s look at these 4 diminished chords:
C diminished 7: C + Eb + Gb + A
Eb diminished 7: Eb + Gb + A + C
Gb diminished 7: Gb + A + C + Eb
A diminished 7: A + C + Eb + Gb
They share the same notes don’t they? Therefore, their corresponding diminished scales will be the same. So just commit the three diminished scales above to memory, remember which ones group together, and you’ll have even more gospel piano scales to add to your repertoire!
And because diminished 7 chords are commonly found on the b2, b3, 3, b5, b6, and 6 tones of the scale, you’ll have many opportunities to employ these gospel piano scales.
When it comes to gospel piano scales, if you master the 6 here, you’ll never run out of ideas.