Virtually nobody gets excited about learning piano scales. But as you learn each scale, you start to get a feel for the distinctive sounds and moods of each key. Plus, it’s a great way to sharpen your technique. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the E major scale.
Getting to Know the E Major Scale
Each key has its own sound, and the key of E major is certainly an interesting one. It’s often characterized as being “boisterous” or “quarrelsome,” so it’s fairly common in rock music. Many rock classics like “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” were written in the key of E major. This key isn’t too terribly popular in classical music, but a couple of notable pieces are Chopin’s “Nocturnes, Op. 62” and Mozart’s “Adagio in E for Violin and Orchestra.”
Scale Structure, Formula, and Key Signatures
You may already know the formula to figure out any major scale. But in case you don’t, all you do is start with the root note (E) and follow this formula: whole step-whole step-half step-whole step-whole step-whole step-half step. Or you can abbreviate it as W-W-H-W-W-W-H. So if you start with E, you get this:
As you can see, the E major scale has four sharps. That means that on the treble clef, alto clef, tenor clef, and bass clef, there will be a sharp sign where F, G, C, and D are on the staff.
Each note on the scale is a scale degree with its own name. Here’s a quick rundown of all the note names and scale degrees of all E major scale notes:
- 1. E – Tonic/Root Note
- 2. F# – Supertonic
- 3. G# – Mediant
- 4. A – Subdominant
- 5. B – Dominant
- 6. C# – Submediant
- 7. D# – Leading Tone
How to Play and Learn the Scale With Fingerings
It’s one thing to know the E major scale in theory, but it’s quite another thing to be able to play it smoothly and accurately. We’ve included a list of the fingerings below. It’s also helpful to remember the finger numbers for piano:
- 1 – Thumb
- 2 – Index Finger
- 3 – Middle Finger
- 4 – Ring Finger
- 5 – Pinky Finger
Playing With Your Right Hand
- Start at E (two white keys over from middle C). Play it with your thumb.
- Then play F# (the first black key to the right of E) with your index finger.
- Next play G# (the black key next to F#) with your middle finger.
- Cross your thumb under your fingers and play A (the white key to the right of G#)
- Play B (the white key next to A) with your index finger.
- Play C# (the first black key to the right of B) with your middle finger.
- Play D# (the black key next to C#) with your ring finger.
- Play E (the white key to the right of D#) with your pinky finger.
Playing With Your Left Hand
- Start at E and play it with your pinky finger.
- Play F# (the first black key to the right of E) with your ring finger.
- Play G# (the black key next to G#) with your middle finger.
- Play A (the white key to the right of G#) with your index finger.
- Play B (the white key to the right of A) with your thumb.
- Cross your fingers over your thumb and play C# (the first black key to the right of B) with your middle finger.
- Play D# (the black key to the right of D#) with your index finger.
- Play E (the white key to the right of D#) with your thumb.
Sometimes it ends up being more helpful to watch someone play the scale. If you’re a visual learner, check out this quick video lesson.
Relative and Parallel Scales
Understanding how piano scales relate to one another can make you a better musician. The relative minor scale of a major scale is the minor scale that contains the same seven notes, just in a different order. The relative minor scale of the E major scale is the C# minor scale. This scale is C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A-B.
Parallel scales on the piano keyboard are a little simpler. These are scales that share the same tonic or root note. Since the E major and E minor scales both start with E, they are parallel scales.
Chords of the Scale & Their Scale Degrees
Just as notes in the have their own scale degrees and names, the chords in the key of E major also have their own names and scale degrees. Remember that the chords in a major key always follow this formula: I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi-vii°. Uppercase Roman numerals are major chords, and lowercase numerals are minor chords. However, the degree sign on the last chord indicates that it’s a diminished chord.
Here are the chords (most of which are triad chords) with degrees:
- I. E major (Tonic chord)
- ii. F# minor (Supertonic chord)
- iii. G# minor (Mediant chord)
- IV. A major (Subdominant chord)
- V. B major (Dominant chord)
- vi. C# minor (Submediant chord)
- vii°. D# diminished (Leading tone chord)
Songs in The Key
Want to get a feel for the key of E major’s distinctive sound? If so, check out some of these famous songs in E major.
- “High and Dry” by Radiohead
- “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by The Verve
- “Atomic” by Blondie
- “Livin’ La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin
- “Summertime Sadness” by Lana Del Ray
- “Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers
- “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
- “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” by Willie Nelson
- “No One” by Alicia Keys
- 10. “Tennessee Stud” by Johnny Cash
- 11. “Yellow Ledbetter” by Pearl Jam
Common Chord Progressions
If you’re beginning to write your own music or just want to give writing in E major a shot, it can be helpful to know some chord progressions used in the key. Here’s a collection of some chord progressions you might try:
- I-V-IV (E-B-A)
- I-IV-V (E-A-B)
- I-V-vi-iii-IV (E-B-C#m-G#m-A)
- I-vi-ii-V (E-C#m-F#m-B)
- I-IV-ii-V (E-A-F#m-B)
Remember that you can use variants (like suspended, seventh, etc) of the chords when making a progression, too. Let’s take a look at some of the progressions used by the songs above:
Pearl Jam’s song “Yellow Ledbetter” uses an I-IV-V (E-A-B) progression. Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” uses I-V (E-B) for the verses and IV-I-V (A-E-B) for the chorus. Part of “Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers uses I-V-vi-iii-IV (E-B-C#m-G#m-A). And lastly, “I Saw Her Standing There” by the Beatles uses an I-IV-I-V (E-A-E-B) progression.
Hopefully, you learned something about the E major scale today. Do you have any tips for mastering it? Let us know in the comments, and please don’t forget to like and share if you found this list useful!