I recently made two versions of scale sliders, which can be used as a handy resource to help play and learn scales on your instrument. I’ve been making and using piano scale sliders for a while with my students, as they provide a nice way of visualising the intervals within different types of scales, however I also wanted to make something that my wind students can use too.
Here I’ll show you how the sliders work, suggest some ways you can use them to benefit your practice, and link to where you can download them in my new online shop.
How do scale sliders work?
Because each scale is characterised by the intervals within it (the distances between the notes), scale sliders can be moved around to find the notes of a given scale. As the intervals remain the same, the sliders will always work, regardless of which note you select to be the root note (the root is the note the scale is named after, e.g. C is the root of the C major scale).
For keyboard instruments, scale sliders can sit directly behind the keys, and have markers to show which notes to play for certain scales. All you need to do is position number 1 on the slider behind the root note key on the piano, and the slider will mark out the following notes of the scale. For example, if you’d like to play an F major scale, position the number 1 marker behind the F key (number 8 should also line up behind F an octave higher), then play the numbered notes in order.
For everyone else who doesn’t play or have access to a piano, I’ve made a separate tool that essentially does the same thing. This slider has a moveable strip that lays out all of the chromatic pitches in order, and a main sheet that lists types of scales with windows cut out in the relevant places. All you need to do is position the root note of the scale you’re looking for behind the number 1 window on the main sheet, and the rest of the notes of that scale will appear in the other windows. You can then play the notes in order going up and down the scale.
The Alphabet Rule
For each scale, we need one of each letter of the alphabet from A to G, in alphabetical order. This will dictate whether you will use sharp or flat note names, when they occur.
For example, in the F major scale, the fourth note is written on the slider as A# or Bb. In this instance, it is correct to call this note Bb in order to preserve the alphabet rule. The notes of the F major scale, therefore, are F G A Bb C D E F. (We can’t call the fourth note A#, because that would result in two types of A in the scale and no type of B.)
Because of this alphabet rule, there are some scales where we have to rename one of the ‘white notes’ on the piano as a sharp or flat. For example, in F# major, the seventh note should be called E# (not F), so that we have one of each letter.
The F# major scale is F# G# A# B C# D# E# F#.
This same scale could also be spelled out using the flat names, as Gb major: Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F Gb (notice that the fourth note here is named Cb, not B, because of the alphabet rule).
Which scales are included?
The sliders include some of the most common types of scales in Western music: the major scale, and the three types of minor scales (natural, harmonic and melodic minors).
You’ll notice that the melodic minor scale has some different options for the sixth and seventh notes. This is because the ascending form of the scale is different to the descending form. On the way up (from 1 to 8), use the 6 and 7 boxes that have up arrows. On the way down (from 8 back to 1), use the ones with down arrows instead. (The melodic minor raises the sixth and seventh notes on the way up, but then reverts to the key signature on the way down. This is to avoid the larger augmented 2nd interval that occurs in the harmonic minor scale, as the melodic minor was historically used for melodies, and the augmented 2nd jump used to be considered undesirable in melodic lines in a certain era of Western/European music.)
You can also use your sliders to play some other scales:
To play a major or minor arpeggio, play numbers 1, 3, 5 and 8 only (up and down) of the major or minor scale (these numbers fall on the same notes in all of the three types of minor scales).
To play a major pentatonic scale, play numbers 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 of the major scale line.
To play a minor pentatonic scale, play numbers 1, 3, 4, 5 and 7 of the major scale line.
Using scale sliders to play chords
This mostly applies to the piano, but is handy to know nonetheless. Playing the following combinations of notes simultaneously will result in the chords listed. In each case, number 1 is the root note (the note the chord is named after).
Major: 1 3 5 (of the major scale)
Minor: 1 3 5 (of the natural minor scale)
Sus4: 1 4 5 (of either)
Major 7th: 1 3 5 7 (of the major scale)
Minor 7th: 1 3 5 7 (of the minor scale)
To find a D minor chord, for example, you can place the number 1 box of the natural minor scale behind the D key, and then play the notes marked 1, 3 and 5 as listed above (these will be D, F and A).
There are many other different types of chords that I haven’t included in this list (such as augmented, diminished, dominant 7th, etc.) because they require altered notes, but these few will get you started.
More ideas for how to use the sliders
If you laminate your slider, you can use a whiteboard marker to shade in or mark out boxes needed for the arpeggios or pentatonic scales listed above, so that you can see the relevant notes more easily. You can also write the fingerings of certain scales above the notes, and wipe them off when you need to.
You can use the slider as an improvisation or composition tool to help keep you within a certain key (e.g. if you want to improvise over a backing track in E major, position the major slider to mark out the notes of this scale to instantly know what notes to choose from.
Use the sliders to notice where the semitones in each scale are (the smallest gap or interval between two consecutive notes). For example, in a major scale, you can see that the closest pairs are numbers 3 and 4, and numbers 7 and 8. This is where the semitones occur in a major scale, and it can be really helpful to know that for ear training and transcription skills (being able to work out and play melodies by ear).
Here are the links to download your own slider from my new online shop on Ko-Fi for £1. You’ll need a printer and something to cut with (laminating is optional, of course, although I recommend printing on thicker paper if not so that your sliders are more durable). Hopefully you find them useful!