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Interactive piano reference to major and minor scales


The black keys are in the wrong place! The black keys within a group are supposed to be spaced farther apart, and there should be less space between groups.

For example, C# and D#, in the diagram, are too close to each other. C# should be farther left, and D# should be farther right.


Yes that is true and is a common mistake. The keys at the back of the keyboard should all be about equal width to one another, regardless of whether they are black or white.

There is an interesting "fudging" that has to happen, though, because 5/12 is not exactly equal to 3/7 (each of which should be the width of CDE relative to CDEFGAB.... 5 keys out of 12, or 3 white keys out of 7 white keys)

I actually discuss it in detail here (and all the weird ways people mess this up):

Here is some JavaScript code for calculating where each key should go. You can paste in the final numbers at bottom if that's easier. They start at the left of C (zero) and assume each white key is width of 1:

  var firstFiveWidth = 3/7; // c-e, 3 white keys
  var lastSevenWidth = 4/7; // f-b, 4 white keys

  // assume each of the 5 is equal width at back
  var cSharpMiddle = firstFiveWidth * (3/10);
  var dSharpMiddle = firstFiveWidth * (7/10);

  // assume each of the 7 is equal width at back
  var fSharpMiddle = firstFiveWidth + lastSevenWidth * (3/14);
  var gSharpMiddle = firstFiveWidth + lastSevenWidth * (7/14);
  var aSharpMiddle = firstFiveWidth + lastSevenWidth * (11/14);

  // average width of what a key in first five and a
  // key in last seven should be (then halve it)
  var halfBlackKeyWidth = (((firstFiveWidth/5) + (lastSevenWidth/7))/2)/2;

  var keys = [
    cSharpMiddle - halfBlackKeyWidth,
    dSharpMiddle - halfBlackKeyWidth,
    fSharpMiddle - halfBlackKeyWidth,
    gSharpMiddle - halfBlackKeyWidth,
    aSharpMiddle - halfBlackKeyWidth,
  console.log("black key width: " + (halfBlackKeyWidth*2*7))
  console.log({ return item *7}))
And here are the numbers I got: ( C to B)

  black key width: 0.5857142857142857


Wow, I've been playing keyboards for years (as a hobbyist) and never noticed this but you're 100% right. Now I can never unsee this.


It more or less of has to be: the string courses are evenly spaced inside the instrument, and it probably behooves the implementation of the entire linkage from the key to the hammer to be in one plane, on-center with the string course.


Hmm I don't agree. That spacing looks right to me, but, now you mention it, the E,F,B and C notes look quite a bit too wide, I think that's the problem.


The spacing of the black keys is so far from the actual spacing on a real keyboard that I question how it could possibly look right to you. I would love to know if you actually have a real physical keyboard on hand, like I do, or if you are just going based on memory.


You should check out google images for piano key clip art. Almost all of them get it wrong. They assume a black key is centered between two white keys, but that is only true for g#.

The width of all keys, white or black, should be equal to one another at the back of the keyboard.

The width of the white keys should be exactly equal to one another at the front of the keyboard.

Those can't both be true (since 5/12 isn't equal to 3/7), so the former has to be fudged a bit.

My formula is in a different comment. :)


Literally just came across this thread after playing piano for the last couple hours, and I wouldn't have noticed it if it weren't pointed out. I think when you play you're just used to seeing all kinds of shorthand. I remember portable synthesizers from the 80s that actually did have this kind of relative size on black keys.


The spacing of the white keys is correct in the sense that they are of equal width. However, the black keys on a real keyboard are not centered between adjacent white keys (except for the G# between G and A).

The placement so that the two groups of black keys, C#-D# and F#-G#-A#, are a little bit wider than the naive on-center placement, as if they were repelled from each other.

The thin parts of the white keys that are between the black keys are evenly spaced with the black keys: i.e. all 12 semitones are equally spaced at the back. The rear ends of the keys directly link to the striking mechanism, which lines up with evenly-spaced string courses.


A superior method for working with scales it's simply learning the theory behind them.

For instance if you learn that a harmonic minor scale is made of 1 2 3b 4 5 6b 7 you can find the notes of that scale in any key very quickly, for instance Bb harmonic minor would be Bb C Db Eb F Gb A

However this requires that you understand what are 1, 2, 3b 4, 4#, etc, and have enough practice in translating it to notes to do it quickly.

Also if you learn this, then finding the chords that can be derived from any scale becomes super easy.

Now I understand that this a hustle for many people because of the initial effort that requires before is actually usable, and it's more easy to use tools such as the one presented, I just wanted you to know that there is something better albeit harder.


It can be even simpler with intervals: 1 is a half-tone, 2 is a whole tone

Major scale: 2 2 1 2 2 2 1 Minor scale: 2 1 2 2 1 2 2 etc

They sum up to 12 (octave)

Now that you got the theory, practice playing them evenly from every note and make sure they sound right.

Fingerings are a separate story though.


I think it comes down to what motivates your music, and what you prioritize. My focus is sound design, so the quicker I can get melodies written, the better. Now you might reasonably think: "but if you memorize all this stuff, you won't need your handy app with an interactive circle of fifths!"[0]

And that's true! The trouble is, the last time I tried learning using techniques like this, I could never remember it with any amount of practice, and it made me so down about music that I quit for years. If I cared much about melodies, improvising, and/or performance, I might have the drive to invest effort past that hurdle, but I don't. I did have the drive for sound design--which is at least as complicated as foundational western music theory--because the whole thing fascinates me, so that's what I prioritize.

[0] Piano Companion Pro. Worth the lifetime purchase ($12).

I come up with chord progressions in my DAW and use them as "ghost notes" to paint a melody over.


In my experience, learning the theory behind them helps you understand how to derive the scale in your head but it doesn’t actually help you get muscle memory for the specific patterns. This is like multiplication tables versus knowing how to multiply.


> For instance if you learn that a harmonic minor scale is made of 1 2 3b 4 5 6b 7 you can find the notes of that scale in any key very quickly, for instance Bb harmonic minor would be Bb C Db Eb F Gb A

It's even easier in many cases to learn harmonic minor as a natural minor w/ a sharpened 7th, borrowed from the parallel major scale. (This doesn't work so well for Bb minor, since its relative major is a pretty exotic Db major; in this case, it's in fact easier to start from the parallel major and find the actual scale degrees.)


Do you have any good resources / links for a beginner who wants to understand the fundamental theory behind chords, scales, etc? Especially in a way that lets me easily re-derive stuff and not memorize as much.

E.g. I just learned from my roommates that I can form the major chord for any note by adding the keys that are 4 half-steps and 7 half-steps higher. And then swap out the 4 half-steps higher key for 3 half-steps higher to make the minor chord. Very cool :)


sorry but I learnt this in a music school and using paid materials I don't know where you can find this well explained.

I've done a quick look and i've found this videos that I think are ok as starting point:

Hope it helps


Thank you! I will try those videos out.


First thing I clicked on was C minor... which showed me "C minor scale". Problem is.. Is that a thing? I've not heard of "the C minor scale". I don't think it's a thing. (Jazz pianist here) In classical piano as a kid I was taught 2 minor scales - melodic (different going up to coming down) and harmonic. Your "minor scale" corresponds to the melodic minor descending, aka Aeolian mode. (i.e. white piano notes from A up to A)

[googles it] On the "minor scale" wiki page they mention those three scales - "In music theory, the term minor scale refers to three scale patterns". There is no one "minor scale", that I'm aware of. Well, maybe you were taught that way, I don't know. Dorian mode (i.e. white piano notes from D up to D) is another commonly used minor scale; there are others.


I think with no modifiers or disclaimers, minor means “natural minor” or aeolian.

A few years ago I made a similar site with many more scales and modes than this one:


This is a topic that I think is covered poorly sometimes. It's one of those things that is actually a much longer discussion. Think of it, in increasing complexity,

1. There is a major scale and a minor scale.

2. Actually, there are three minor scales: natural, melodic, and harmonic.

3. Actually, forget about those scales. Think instead more freely about tonality, modal mixtures, secondary dominants, and voice leading.

I think that anyone studying music is better off stopping at #1 or going all the way to #3. The problem with stopping at viewpoint #2 is that it's complex enough to make you really think, but not grounded enough in actual musical practice to make that thinking fruitful[1].

There are a lot of reasons why you might want a particular note to be sharp or flat. Sometimes you want a stronger resolution, like V -> i, rather than v -> i, which sounds weak. For that reason, to make better harmony, you may choose to make the 7th scale degree (B) a major 7th (B natural) instead of a minor 7th (B flat). You may also want to resolve a melodic line by half-step, which often sounds stronger, like B->C. But when you are stepping downwards, C->B, that's likely not any kind of resolution, so C->Bb is fine (it's likely not a resolution if you're in the key of C). These melodic concerns drive the "melodic" minor scale (and we drag in the 6th scale degree to avoid an augmented second interval).

The catch is... all we're really saying here is,

1. You are free to borrow notes from outside the key, for lots of reasons, and

2. There are lots of reasons in particular why you might want to borrow for the sixth and seventh scale degrees.

These deeper concepts get shoehorned into the notions of "melodic minor" and "harmonic minor". So much is lost by shoehorning these ideas into scales that I wonder why we even bother. I think it's really that people like categorizing scales and learning new names for things, which also drives people's fascination with modes, which is totally out of proportion to how much you'd actually want to use them in music. Modes and scales seem to have a particular fascination for hackers in the music scene.

I have a lot more to say on this subject, but I'm working on a blog post.

[1]: Please note that you definitely can choose to write music using one of these scales as a device, and many people do, and it's good stuff. It's just that most music that most people listen to doesn't make any sense to analyze as using particular minor scales.


Yes, the "harmonic" and "melodic" so-called scales are more like common musical patterns that arise by "borrowing" chromatic alterations from the parallel major scale for the sake of better resolution. This also explains why the "melodic minor" is different when going upwards vs. downwards; since it's not really a "scale" in any structural sense, and the idiomatic alterations are different when one is "resolving" in one direction or the other.


>I think it's really that people like categorizing scales and learning new names for things, which also drives people's fascination with modes, which is totally out of proportion to how much you'd actually want to use them in music

I don't get this. Modes show up all the time in popular music of the last 50 years. Am I missing something?


Would love to see an attempt to quantify how they show up "all the time".

When these discussions pop up, you see a lot of examples of songs that have borrowed chords or modal mixtures... "Oh, this song uses a mode in the bridge, or that song uses a mode except for the intro, or this other song switches between two modes." When songs have a lot of borrowed chords or borrowed notes, it more or less subsumes the idea of modes.

The problem is that modes are somewhat fragile things. As you mix more borrowed notes and borrowed chords into a song, the notes that make a mode sound like a mode get drowned out, and you're left with just a key center and a tonality (or not even that). That leaves precious few popular songs that actually sound like they're using a mode.

There are some specific genres where you see certain scales over and over, like the mixolydian scale in blues music, but blues typically relies so heavily on mixed tonalities.


Very good, I agree with every word of that, I look forward to reading it.


Without more to go on I think musicians would pretty unanimously consider "minor" to mean Aeolian, aka the sixth mode of the major scale.


Ok thanks, I guess I'm in the, uh, minority.


The text at the top specifies it's the natural minor (Aeolian)


"The natural minor scale is the most common minor scale, and the default when a musician refers to “a minor scale” or “minor.” The natural minor scale pattern features the same exact notes as the Aeolian mode in modal music."


Well, I've already written too much on this page! But every part of that seems wrong or very strange. And just before what you quoted:

> 3 Types of Minor Scales

> There are three types of minor scales in music theory.

What type of "music theory"? Dorian mode doesn't count? Maybe 3 in classical music theory, not in jazz or..rock/pop/contemporary music etc. And calling them "types" of minor scale sounds very odd to me.

> The natural minor scale is the most common minor scale.

Is that true? Arguably not. What sort of music are they talking? Does it mean "out of all music ever written" or "nowadays in music" or..something else? They might mean, "in classical music before the mid 19th C" if they say there are 3 minor scales. Or, most likely, "This is true by definition ..because it's called natural minor." - they probably never thought about if it's true or not. The scale of a piece/song (usually) depends on the melody, and I think Aeolian (i.e. "natural") and Dorian are both common. Possibly Dorian is much more common - that "minor 6" sound very common in pop songs since..forever, the 60s if not way before, is Dorian not Aeolian. It's extremely common in R&B etc. Or like..uh..the second chord of Here, There and Everywhere, Gmajor then Amin, the scale is evidently not Aeolian but Dorian.

> the default when a musician refers to “a minor scale” or “minor.”

Well, this is questionable too. Depends what kind of music. "Minor" mostly refers to a chord, not a scale. I'm not sure people ever say "a minor scale", when would you (need to) say that? It might mean a minor blues scale in some genres.

> The natural minor scale pattern features the same exact notes as the Aeolian mode in modal music.

I find that super-bizarre and sounds like they don't know what they're talking about. Features the same exact notes?! - it's the same thing. A little like saying " features the same exact articles as Hacker News". You would think "What the hell are they talking about?!", and that's what I think when I read that sentence.


Well my experience is that the natural minor is treated as the "default" minor key. For instance, I always understood that A minor was all on white keys. Here is what the Wikipedia page for "A minor" starts with:

"A minor is a minor scale based on A, with the pitches A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. Its key signature has no flats and no sharps. Its relative major is C major and is parallel major is A major."

Then it goes on to discuss the melodic and harmonic versions. Notably, those need accidentals since the key signature itself describes A natural minor. That in itself suggests "default" for the natural version. As does the name "natural."


Jazz vibraphonist here: pretty sure there isn't a definitive "minor scale," as you say. 4 (3?) of the modes are considered minor, 2 major, and the weird one (dominant 7). So I completely agree it's a bit misleading to just call things "the minor scale."

Although I do think I was initially taught the "minor scale" was the natural minor, so that may be where the OPs decision comes from.

Edit: Just saw info on the site. It is using natural.


Hi. I don't remember ever hearing the term "natural minor" either hehe. I've never thought about it too much, but I think improvising on a tune with a C- or C-7 etc chord symbol, like a C minor blues, I (mostly) wouldn't use Ab in the scale but A. Dorian is the modern jazz go-to minor scale, I think. Maybe all the versions of So What/Impressions I've been listening to lately have distorted my ear :-) I'd be more likely to use a scale with a B natural than one with an Ab. Well, come to think of it, one of my complaints about the institutionalization of jazz has been that everyone learns to play the same scale over a minor chord! And it's better if everyone has their own ideas...



> C natural minor scale. the default when we just say 'C minor scale'


> First thing I clicked on was C minor... which showed me "C minor scale". Problem is.. Is that a thing? I've not heard of "the C minor scale". I don't think it's a thing. (Jazz pianist here)

Eh, just worry about Off Minor.


Of course it's a thing. C major, C natural minor, C melodic minor, C harmonic minor, the whole shebang: all the scales are there for every note, A through G and the sharps/flats. Heck. You could start somewhere in between recognized notes and make a major/minor scale based off that, if you had the right instrument. It's a ratio of frequencies, that's all.

That's what all Western music music is based on. Divide the frequency space between N Hz and 2N Hz into 12 segments, pick seven tones out of the 12, then figure out where you're actually going to put the two notes that are right next to each other, half-steps. Extend that for your entire frequency space. (Also, if you devise two neighbor-patterns that are the same when you rotate them around, you're doing modes.)

Now, whether anyone plays them in general practice is another thing. Is the harpsichord a real instrument? Obviously on paper, but is it actually a thing?


I think GP was just making a Monk joke, which I appreciated a lot - it made me smile and made up in a moment for all these downvotes! My "shallow dismissal" made some interesting discussion appear, at least. ..But, it seems maybe you meant to reply to me, not the GP.


I’ve read through parts of the Wikipedia page several times in the past. It’s not ideal. I haven’t studied music theory systematically but I believe all the modes that contain a minor third above the root are technically considered minor scales (so Dorian, Aeolian, Phrygian, and Locrian), but in addition to that there are of course other constructed scales like melodic minor and harmonic minor as you mention, as well as multiple different scales called the Blues minor scale (the only one I’m familiar with is the one constructed from the minor pentatonic plus a diminished fifth).


I've always been a melodic instrument player and have never had formal theory training - I'm trying to play the piano and I can't figure out how to harmonize (is this the right term?) a melody, this is, how to find or decide which chords go naturally with a specific melodic line. I know there are many alternatives and that the music sheets usually have the matching chords.

I want to write my own and I struggle to find proper chords to melodic lines. Can anyone recommend resources to learn this (and tell me if harmonization is the proper term)?


Well you’re in luck because I am going to tell you.

1. Identify what key you’re in (I.e what scale you want to use to build the harmonies from) 2. Start with the note you’re looking to harmonize, and play that note and every other note from the scale in step 1. 3. Do some final touch up work:

eg the chord you made in step 2, should probably be inverted to space the notes out more

eg playing a chord for “every” note in your melody will be too much. So choose the chords that work best over all, but you can always add chords back in as passing chords

eg once you’ve plaid the first three notes of the harmonization (root, third, fifth) you can be more liberal with the next notes and leave the pattern I described. So for example you can flatten/sharpen the next note in the sequence, or even play an entirely different note. Having the first 3 notes will ground the chord strong enough harmonically to let you do whatever you want with the rest and still retain the character of the chord. This helps you create more interesting and tense sounds and also let’s you harmonize notes in less traditional ways than before.

I typed this on my phone but I hope that helps. Last thing is just try harmonization of the c major scale. It will sound like you’re playing the scale with “chords”. Then try harmonizing Mary had a little lamb and so on. You can basically play anything by ear once you get a hang of this.


I can't recommend any particular resources, but yes it's called harmonization and I'm sure you can get started by searching "how to harmonize a melody." YouTube has a billion videos on this sort of thing. You may also find it fun to play around with reharmonization, which is where you take an existing tune and find a new harmonization to match its melody.


> I'm trying to play the piano and I can't figure out how to harmonize (is this the right term?) a melody, this is, how to find or decide which chords go naturally with a specific melodic line

This is a challenging task, almost as hard as composition itself! It's easier if you have a matching baseline to go with the melody, since there are often idiomatic chords that can be played with a given bass note. (Such as the famous "rule of the octave", that has you playing root-position chords on the tonic and dominant, and first inversion chords (i.e. harmonizing with thirds and sixths over the bass) in all other scale degrees.)

Of course you could improvise a baseline for your melody and then harmonize that, but this requires a lot of familiarity with the rules of counterpoint.


Harmonization is the proper term. For a simple set of harmonization rules, check out Old hymnals are a wealth of examples. Take a listen to this guy's YouTube channel:


> Can anyone recommend resources to learn this (and tell me if harmonization is the proper term)?

Harmonization is the right word.

(But, as the name suggests, it's not a shortcut rules-of-thumb bypassing the theory kind of resource.)


Take some existing simple melodies that you know (like nursery rhymes and hymn tunes) and try to work out by ear what the chords are. They are probably all chords I, IV, V, and maybe VI of the key. For example, in C major: I is C major, IV is F major, V is G major (often with an added 7th), VI is A minor.

When you think you've got it right, look up the `official' chords in a book or online (be careful online, I've found some hilariously wrong chords for pop songs).

Developing your ear is the most important thing. `Rules' for harmony just summarise what many people have thought sounds good. Theory also provides a language for talking about what the music is doing (whether or not the music is conventional).

Work the other way around too: take a chord progression (whether from an existing song, or of your own creation), and improvise singing a melody over the top. The singing is important because it forces you to just use the natural notes that come into your head against each chord.

Also, investigate different notes against a given chord. While just keeping on playing the same chord, taking each of the twelve chromatic notes in turn, play it over the chord: does it sound `resolved' or `normal', or `unresolved' / `weird' / `tense', if the latter try using it in a melodic phrase between two `normal' sounding notes.

The chord for a given bit of melody often contains most or all of the melody notes. It often contains all of the stronger notes in the melody. A melody note can be `stronger' by being on a strong beat, by lasting longer, by being first or last in a phrase, etc.

Although, in a given key, every chord contains all the notes of the scale. For example, in C major, chord I fully extended is: C (root), E (major third), G (perfect fifth), B (major seventh), D (major ninth), F (perfect eleventh), A (major thirteenth). But that's all the notes of the scale, just organised in a particular way (in scale-wise thirds, starting on C). So any bit of a C major melody contains `only' notes from a (fully extended) C major chord. (Fully extending the C major chord in another key which contains it will give different extended notes, for example, in G major, the C major chord is chord IV and will have F# as the (augmented or sharp) eleventh.)

But each note of the scale has a different `sound' or `meaning' in the context of a given chord. A melody using Cs, Es and Gs over a C major chord will sound `grounded' and `normal'. A melody using Ds, Fs and As over a C major chord will sound `jazzy' or `floaty'. A melody using Cs, Es and Gs over a Bb major chord will sound `jazzy' or `floaty. A melody using Ds, Fs and As over a D minor chord will sound `grounded' and 'normal'.

But you can't look at each part of the melody and a chord for it in isolation. You probably want the chord progression on its own to have some sense to it: to feel like its going somewhere, telling a story, sometimes unsurprising, sometimes surprising.

Different styles of music harmonise their melodies in different ways. A hymn tune, versus a jazz bebop tune, versus a Joni Mitchell song. Within the same style, different harmonisations are possible. E.g. here is Chick Corea reharmonising his own Spain: .


You might want to double check the fingerings, for example[0] the F major scale has Bb played with 4th finger, because it would be impossible with the 1st.



Just as a bit of UX feedback, it's difficult to read this method of specifying the fingering. You display a finger-to-note lookup when you really want a note-to-finger lookup. It would be more useful to specify e.g. "left hand: 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3" and "right hand: 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 5" for learning purposes.

Edit: most awesome would actually be an animation of the hand playing the scale with cross-unders and whatnot but that sounds like a lot of work.


This is amazing. Beautiful design (both in light and dark mode) and very educational regarding music theory. And a lot to it (if you click beyond the linked page).


Indeed. This page allows one to experimentally create music that actually sounds musical!




Wow, what a wonderful site, I wish I'd had this when I was trying to learn those cursed Czerny scales.

The site is remarkably comprehensive - circle of fifths and everything needed to both practice and understand the theory. Moreover, the site has a quirky design that's both cleaver and cute.

Top marks.


Really great resource! I've been using chordhouse for years, but this is soooo much better! Good work!


Very cool - I think a nice addition would be to add some common chord progressions, e.g. as an option at in each scale section. Would help people learning to do transpositions if you persist that option - also an option to invert the chords.


Awesome, I love the design and what a helpful resource. Also the first scale I randomly picked matched perfectly with the song I had playing on my phone. Lol


I play the guitar and I've been relying on for the same information. But this site has a much better UX! Thanks for making this!


Nifty. The mouseup for the buttons should be placed on the body at the time the mousedown is triggered, because right now if you drag outside the button to highlight a set of keys and release the mouse on the background, the keys stay lit and only light/unlight when other buttons are clicked. (Alternative would be, at least, clear all the key highlights when any button is clicked).