A major scale

A major scale

Are you excited to learn a new piano scale? Maybe not. But learning scales as you learn to play piano is a gateway to understanding musical keys and how they work. Today, we’ll take a look at the A major scale, one of the most useful and versatile major scales.

Getting to Know the A Major Scale

The key of A major is sometimes described as sounding optimistic, joyful, or reminiscent of innocent love. It’s uplifting yet sincere, and it’s used in nearly all genres. In fact, more than a third of songs are in the key of A major, C major, D major, or G major.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, Op. 92 and Schubert’s Trout Quintet are written in A major. So are the National Anthem of El Salvador and the National Anthem of the Kyrgyz Republic.

Structure and Formula of the A Major Scale

You can figure out the notes in any major scale by applying a simple formula of intervals. Starting at the root note (in this case, A), you just need to apply the formula whole step-whole step-half step-whole step-whole step-whole step-half step. You can abbreviate it as W-W-H-W-W-W-H. If you start with A and apply the formula, you get this scale:

A B C# D E F# G#

As you can see, this scale contains three sharps, so it’s a bit more challenging than the C major scale and other “beginner” major scales. The key signature for a piece of music in the key of A major will contain three sharp symbols: one in the place of C, F, and G on the staff. You’ll see these symbols next to the treble clef, alto clef, bass clef, etc.

How to Play and Learn the A Major Scale on Piano

When you first learn a scale, it’s vitally important to learn the right fingerings the first time; it’s easier to learn than it is to unlearn! Here’s how to play it on the keyboard with both your right hand and your left hand.

Right Hand:

  • Start by finding A (the white key five white keys to the right of C) on the keyboard. Play it with your thumb.
  • Then play B (the white key to the right of A) with your index finger.
  • Next, play C# (the first black key to the right of B) with your middle finger.
  • Now cross your thumb under your fingers and play D (the white key immediately to the right of C#).
  • Then play E (the white key to the right of D) with your index finger.
  • Next, play F# (the first black key to the right of E) with your middle finger.
  • Then play G# (the black key to the right of F#) with your ring finger.
  • Finally, play A (the white key to the right of G#) with your pinky finger.

Left Hand:

  • Start by playing A with your pinky.
  • Then play B with your ring finger.
  • Next, play C# with your middle finger.
  • Now play D with your index finger.
  • Then play E with your thumb.
  • Now cross your fingers over your thumb and play F# with your middle finger.
  • Then play G# with your index finger.
  • Finally, play A with your thumb.

As always, with each hand, be sure to use the same fingering on the way down, too. Work your way up gradually. Practice one octave at a time with each hand and then build up to adding an octave higher, too. Eventually, you should be able to play the scale with both hands simultaneously. For a helpful visual example, check out this video lesson!

Relative and Parallel Scales

When learning a scale, it’s a good idea to learn how it’s connected to other scales. All major scales have relative minor scales. This scale will contain the same seven notes, though they’re in a different order. The A major scale is A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G#, and the F# minor scale is F#-G#-A-B-C#-D-E, so the F minor scale is the relative minor scale of the A major scale.

Parallel scales have the same starting note (the root note), though the other notes of the scale may be different. Since the A minor scale and the A major scale both have A as the root note, they are parallel scales.

Chords of the Scale and Their Scale Degrees

In any major scale, each note name has a corresponding chord. And like the notes of a scale, the chords also have scale degrees. To find the chords, we need to apply the formula I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi-vii°. Uppercase Roman numerals indicate major chords. Lowercase Roman numerals indicate minor chords, and the degree symbol indicates a diminished chord.

When we apply this formula to the scale, we get the following chords. They’re listed along with their scale degrees:

  • I. A major (tonic)
  • ii. B minor (supertonic)
  • iii. C# minor (mediant)
  • IV. D major (subdominant)
  • V. E major (dominant)
  • vi. F# minor (submediant)
  • vii°. G# diminished (subtonic)

Songs in The Key of A Major

If you want to get a feel for what this balanced and versatile key sounds like, check out some of these popular songs written in A major!

  • 1. “No Rain” by Blind Melon
  • 2. “Every Breath You Take” by The Police
  • 3. “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks
  • 4. “I’m With You” by Avril Lavigne
  • 5. “Fade Into You” by Mazzy Star
  • 6. “Cherub Rock” by The Smashing Pumpkins
  • 7. “Africa” by Toto
  • 8. “Doo Wop (That Thing)” by Lauryn Hill
  • 9. “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys
  • 10. “Three Little Birds” by Bob Markey & the Wailers

Common Chord Progressions

The key of A major is especially versatile, and it can be found in various chord progressions. “Every Breath You Take” by The Police uses an I-vi-IV-V progression. It’s known as the “doo-wop” progression. In this particular song, that progression looks like A-F#m-D-E.

The ultra-famous “Africa” by Toto is played using a somewhat unusual vi-IV-I-V (F#m-D-A-E) progression. And the verses of the Backstreet Boys hit “I Want It That Way” use a vi-IV-I (F#m-D-A) progression.

If you prefer bluesier-sounding arrangements, you might like the somewhat common ii-V-I progression. One version of the progression uses Bm7, E7, and Amaj7.

Final Thoughts

Discovering the unique nature of each key is one of the most exciting things about learning an instrument. Mastering the key of A major (and the music theory behind it) will serve you well, as it’s one of the most common keys in Western music. Do you have any tips for those just mastering the A major scale? Please tell us in the comments below, and don’t forget to like and share if you learned something!

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