Grade 4 piano scales and arpeggios are tough. They represent a substantial milestone in your development as a musician. You are, in effect, half way to grade 8! If you lay a good foundation at this stage, you will set yourself up for success later on. Along the way, I’ll be introducing you to great works of piano music written in the respective keys we are studying. I will continue to update this post until I have included all the grade 4 scale and arpeggio requirements from the major examination bodies.
1. E Major
This is one of the easiest scales in the set. E Major is a comfortable key to play, because it has four black keys. This means it sits quite comfortably in the hand. Fingers 2 and 3 move up to black keys, the thumb goes down to white ones. The finger pattern is straightforward: (1 2 3) – (1 2 3 4 5), just like C Major. The key signature for E Major has four sharps. These are F sharp, C sharp, G sharp and D sharp. Its relative minor is C sharp minor.
In this short video I will demonstrate the E Major Scale in similar and contrary motion. I’ll also show you the arpeggio. E Major is the best place to start and it’s a great scale to use for metronome drills! The composer you see on the thumbnail is Maurice Ravel and you will hear an extract from his legendary Jeux D’eau.
2. C sharp Minor (Harmonic & Melodic)
While E Major was a gentle, easy scale, its relative minor is a different kettle of fish. C sharp minor is the relative minor key for E Major. This is because they both have four sharps. We can see the key signature most clearly in the descent of a melodic minor scale. We know that the harmonic minor scale will not look exactly like the key signature. To form the harmonic minor scale, we need: C# – D# – E – F# – G# – A – B# – C#. You might be thinking: but B sharp is just C! This is true but it’s only part of the picture. For now, we just need to notate it as B sharp because we are sharpening the seventh degree of the scale. You will recognise the stern visage of Ludwig van Beethoven on these videos because the piece I’ve chosen to exemplify this key is his Sonata Quasi Una Fantasia.
The melodic minor is a little different, of course. This is because the ascent and the descent differ from one another. For the ascent, we need to sharpen the A and the B. On the way down, these fall away and we are left with the four sharps of the key signature: F, C, G and D. This means that we have to alter the finger pattern, too. For the right hand, place the fourth finger on the A sharp on the way up and the thumb on B sharp. This allows you to place the third on the tonic (C sharp).
C sharp Minor Arpeggio
In this next short video we will look at the arpeggio pattern. As with the scale, we have to make a decision about the placement of the thumb. It is actually possible to execute these arpeggios in the standard pattern, with the thumb. But I prefer an alternative pattern in which we begin with the same fingers we used for the scale: 2 in the right, 3 in the left, with thumbs on the E.
3. A Flat Major
Like C sharp, this scale begins on a black key. Because it’s a major scale, we don’t have to worry about harmonic and melodic sequences. A general rule of thumb (heh) is that you want to get the thumb on the white keys. This is safe and ensures maximal mobility in the hand. However, there are exceptions. As far as grade 4 piano scales go, this one isn’t too bad.
The dapper man in green is Jean Sibelius, composer of the monumental work Finlandia. At the beginning of the video I will elevate your mood by playing an arrangement of one of the themes from that piece.
These scales are quite tough to get right, simply because they sound quite strange. In this video I will walk you through what the name chromatic signifies and teach you the finger pattern for similar motion and contrary motion chromatic scales. We will also delve into some theoretical principles, because these will help you to understand what you are playing.