• Week #1: “Here Are The Notes, Key, And Scale You’ll Be Needing This Christmas”

    in Beginners,Piano,Playing By Ear,Scales,Theory

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    We’re getting started with the notes, key, and scale that we can’t play Christmas songs on the piano without.

    Like I said on the introductory lesson, the Christmas On The Piano series is for the novice and absolute beginner and that’s why we have to review the notes, key, and scale that are fundamental to playing (not just Christmas songs but) a vast majority of songs you know.

    This lesson is not going to be a long one because it’s just bothering on the basics and I’m going straight to the point.

    Three Things You Can’t Play Christmas Songs Without

    Although there are lots of things we’ll be learning in this series, we’ll only be focusing on the three primary concepts that once you know and master them, you’ll just watch every other thing fall into place, naturally.

    They are as follows:

    The Twelve Notes

    The Major Key

    The Major Scale

    …and we’ll be learning about them right away.

    The Twelve Notes

    The keyboard layout is replete with tons of black and white keys and they are referred to as notes. So, this white key here:

    …is a note and this black key here:

    …is also a note.

    I’m sure you can see several notes on the keyboard layout below:

    However, these notes are only duplicates of a given set of twelve notes. These number of notes (twelve of them):

    …are basically duplicated here:


    …and there:

    …and you can even have more that this number of duplicates. The twelve notes are either black or white in color and there are seven white notes and five black notes.

    Using the first seven English alphabets, you can distinguish one white note from the other, starting from C:

    …before these two black notes (C# and D#):

    …you can have adjacent notes from C:

    …named in alphabetical order:






    …and then we go back to A (of course there’s no H, I, J, or K):


    …and then we’re back to C:

    Once you know these seven notes, you’re just left with five other notes to learn (and they are black notes):






    The black notes are named after the white notes they’re close to. For example, C#:

    …is close to C:

    …and that’s why it’s called C#:


    …is also close to D:

    …and that’s why it’s called D#:

    With the seven white notes:

    …and five black notes:

    …which are twelve altogether, you’re good to go.

    The Major Key

    All the white notes on the piano are related — not by blood, race, religion, or politics — but by key.

    So, all these white notes collectively:

    …are related by a key and that key is called the key of C major:

    There are other major keys on the piano (a total of twelve major keys) and some of them include D major:

    …Eb major:

    …F major:

    …A major

    …and others. But these other major keys are a combination of white and black notes.

    The key of C major:

    …is the only major key that consists of white notes — from C to C.

    Attention: This Christmas is going to be white; not because of the snow or any other thing, but because of the whiteness of the key of C major.

    So, we’re going to be learning in the key of all-white-notes, the key of C major:

    However, you must note that in between white notes are black notes too and they come in a few times in the key as well. We’re only focusing on the white notes because they’re natural with the key and are frequently occurring.

    In the key of C major:

    C is the 1 (the first tone of the scale):

    D is the 2 (the second tone of the scale):

    E is the 3 (the third tone of the scale):

    F is the 4 (the fourth tone of the scale):

    G is the 5 (the fifth tone of the scale):

    A is the 6 (the sixth tone of the scale):

    B is the 7 (the seventh tone of the scale):

    …and this creates a number system where we can easily use numbers to replace these tones.

    Instead of saying “D to G to C” we can just say “2-5-1” and it sounds really fancy and helpful as well. As we progress, you’ll learn more about this.

    The Major Scale

    Playing all the notes in the major key from C to C:

    …produces the C major scale.

    Using the C major scale, we’ll be deriving the melodies, and chords, and every other thing that would make our Christmas on the Piano a great one.

    One of the reasons why you have to learn and master your major scale is because a lot of melodies just flow with the major scale and we’ll be learning all of that in the next lesson.

    But for now, just focus on the major scale: repeat it over and over until you’ve mastered it.

    Final Words

    With the information at your disposal, I’m very certain that you have what it takes to learn melodies, harmonize songs, and accompany singers or other musicians as well and those are some of the things we’ll be covering in subsequent lessons.

    Special thanks to Jermaine Griggs for the opportunity and privilege of sharing this with you and I’m anticipating your feedback; questions, suggestions, and more are welcome in the comment section.

    Thank you for your time and see you in the next lesson.

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

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