Piano Scales 101


Authored by Suzanna Sifter


Course Code: OPIAN-240

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

Level 2

Level 2

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Discover a new world of sound by studying scales and their modes. Open your ears to different sounds to spice up your song writing and improvisation. This course is designed for piano and keyboard players with prior playing experience, who want to further their technical, theoretical, and performance skills. The course fills a number of specific needs in the current online keyboard curriculum. It addresses the needs of students who have successfully completed courses such as Berklee Keyboard Method or Keyboard for the Electronic Musician, and want to continue their development in the Berklee keyboard program, but are not ready for advanced level courses. Piano Scales 101 also fulfills the requirements of an elective keyboard course in other programs, when the student has prior experience with the instrument.

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With multi-genre songs and exercises, Piano Scales 101 provides a well rounded approach for students of varied backgrounds and musical interests.This course has exercises and materials that cover different levels of skill sets which fit a wide range of students. Each lesson contains “Bonus” exercises for more advanced students or students that have practice time for more rigorous study.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • use the proper fingerings of scales to navigate the topography of the keyboard
  • play the major, major pentatonic, minor pentatonic and blues scales
  • play the modes of the major, jazz melodic minor, harmonic minor, and symmetric scales
  • play and compose melodies with varied scales
  • improvise melodies using modes in varied genres
  • read and interpret lead sheets with an understanding of corresponding chord scales
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: Major Scales, Part I

  • Building the Major Scale: C G D
  • Fingerings
  • Melodic Application
  • Improvising with the Major Scale, Part 1
  • Assignment 1: C, G, and D Major Scales and “Lean on Me” Melody

Lesson 2: Major Scales Part II

  • Building the Major Scale: F, Bb, and Eb
  • Fingerings
  • Melodic Application
  • Improvising with the Major Scale, Part 2
  • Assignment 2: F, Bb, and Eb Major Scales and “My Romance” Melody

Lesson 3: Practice Techniques, Dynamics, and Sound

  • Efficient Practice for Success
  • Traditional and Non Traditional Fingerings Expanded
  • Working with Dynamics
  • Working with an Even Sound
  • Assignment 3: C, F, and Bb Major Scales Four Octaves

Lesson 4: Major Pentatonic Scales

  • Building the Major Pentatonic Scale
  • Fingerings
  • Melodic Application
  • Improvising with the Major Pentatonic Scale
  • Assignment 4: C, F, and Bb Major Pentatonic Scales and “Stand By Me” Melody

Lesson 5: Minor Pentatonic Scales

  • Building the Minor Pentatonic Scale
  • Fingerings
  • Melodic Application
  • Improvising with the Minor Pentatonic Scale
  • Assignment 5: Am, Fm, and Bb Minor Pentatonic Scales and “Chameleon” Melody

Lesson 6: Blues Scale

  • Building the Blues Scale
  • Fingerings
  • Melodic Application
  • Improvising with the Blues Scale
  • Assignment 6: C and F Blues Scales and Eb Major Blues Scale and Blues Melody

Lesson 7: Modes of the Major Scale Part I: Tonal Tunes with Modes

  • Discovering the Modes of the Major Scale
  • Fingerings
  • Melodic Application
  • Improvisational Application
  • Assignment 7: A and D Aeolian, and F and G Mixolydian Modes and “Afternoon in Paris” Melody

Lesson 8: Modes of the Major Scale Part II: Modal Tunes

  • Discovering the Modes of the Major Scale
  • Fingerings
  • Melodic Application
  • Improvisational Application
  • Assignment 8: C, and D Dorian and F and Eb Lydian Modes and “Sorrow’s End” Melody

Lesson 9: Modes of the Jazz Melodic Minor Scale

  • Discovering the Modes of the Jazz Melodic Minor Scale
  • Fingerings
  • Melodic Application
  • Improvisational Application
  • Assignment 9: G ,A F and Bb Mixolydian b6 Mode and “Windows” Melody

Lesson 10: Modes of the Harmonic Minor Scale

  • Discovering the Modes of the Harmonic Minor Scale
  • Fingerings
  • Melodic Application
  • Improvisational Application
  • Assignment 10: G, A F and Bb Mixolydian b2 b6 Modes and “Caravan” Melody

Lesson 11: Symmetric Scales

  • Building Symmetric Scales
  • Fingerings
  • Melodic Application
  • Improvising with Symmetrical Scales
  • Assignment 11: C Symmetric Diminished, Dominant Diminished, Whole Tone and Chromatic Scales and Melody

Lesson 12: Combining Forms of the Minor Scales

  • Ear Training: Different Minor Mode Scales
  • Combining the Scales
  • Composition
  • Improvisation
  • Assignment 12: “A Sentimental Mood” Melody and Minor Key Melody Composition


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Music Theory 101 and Berklee Keyboard Method or equivalent knowledge and experience is required.
Students should:

  • have studied piano/keyboard for at least 1 year
  • know the major key signatures
  • be able to play the major scale on the piano/keyboard in the keys of C, G, D and A
  • understand and be able to play major and minor chords in C, G, D, and A
  • have experience reading the treble and bass clefs



  • Students are required to record video while playing along with a backing track for their assignments. Options for recording video include:
    • Smartphone
    • Digital camera
    • External webcam
  • Note: The camera view must be from above, recording the keys right side up. It is imperative that the videos show the student's fingerings. You may need certain accessories to accomplish this, such as a goose-neck camera holder, tripod, etc.


  • Piano or keyboard instrument with at least 61 keys and a sustain pedal
    • If using a MIDI keyboard controller, a high-quality piano software instrument is also required.
    • If using a digital piano or keyboard workstation without built in speakers, an audio interface or amplifier is also required.


  • Students are required to capture their instrumental performance, as well as monitor audio output. Options include:
    • Input (one required if not using MIDI and software instruments):
      • Keyboard connected directly to audio interface (recommended non-acoustic option; alternatively, the microphone options below can be used with amplified instruments)
      • XLR microphone and audio interface (recommended acoustic piano option)
      • USB microphone
      • Built-in computer/mobile device microphone
    • Output (one required):
      • Headphones (recommended option; required if multitracking and/or input monitoring a microphone)
      • Studio monitors and audio interface
      • Built-in or external computer speakers
  • Note: Depending on your setup, you may also need XLR/instrument cables and microphone stand(s).

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact support@online.berklee.edu with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Suzanna Sifter

Author & Instructor

Suzanna Sifter is a jazz pianist, author, and educator who has been on faculty at Berklee College of Music for 30 years. She holds a BM from Berklee and Master’s Degree from New England Conservatory.

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Suzanna has traveled extensively with Berklee to places such as Europe, South America, the US, Canada and Japan giving master classes and performing. Suzanna has five recordings as a leader, composer, and arranger: Flowers for You, Awakening, The Illumination, Sophisticated Lady, and the play along CD to her book, Berklee Jazz Keyboard Harmony: Using Upper Structure Triads. The second edition of Suzanna's book was released through Hal Leonard/Berklee Press in May 2015.

Suzanna has performed with John La Porta,, Alan Dawson, John Lockwood, Yoron Israel, Dave Clark, and recorded with Casey Scheuerell, Jon Hazilla, Bruce Gertz, Dino Govoni, Tony Lada, Larry Monroe, and Greg Badolato. Her compositions have been featured on “In the Library” (D. Govoni) and “On the Edge” (T. Lada).

Suzanna's fifth recording, Sophisticated Lady, is a musical tribute to her late mother and was released in July 2018. It features luminous solo jazz piano with relaxing yet poignant improvisations and arrangements. Read Less


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