Every teacher approaches technique exercises a little bit differently. I usually start teaching students 5-finger patterns (aka pentascales) during the first month or two of study. I start by assigning the C Major 5-finger pattern (5FP) and sometimes G Major along with it. Every week or every-other-week, I add a new 5FP to their list, following the Circle of 5ths.
Personally, I don’t teach the theory behind the major 5FP’s until a little bit later (i.e., the pattern of whole and half steps: WWHW). To introduce each 5FP, I let the student figure out what black keys are needed — using their ear. I say: “Today we are going to add the D 5-finger pattern. There is a black key in this 5FP. Do you think you can figure out where the black key needs to be?” The student first plays the 5FP with all white keys, and we discuss that it doesn’t sound right — it doesn’t match the sound of the C and G 5FPs. The student then uses his/her ear and trial-and-error to discover that the 3rd note should be a black key. Now it matches! Leading the student through this kind of discovery makes the learning moment memorable.
The beauty of this approach also is that the student inherently learns the concept of transposition through this moment! The concept of being “in a key” and the concept of transposition between keys is such an integral part of the way music works, but is so often it is neglected until students begin playing scales and learning key signatures. However, after learning just two or three 5FPs, the teacher can easily ask the student to play a few familiar folk tunes by ear in different keys. (See my printable from a couple years back, “Melodies to Play by Ear and Harmonize.”) The student will understand that depending on what note the tune begins, they will need certain black keys in order for the tune to sound “right.”
Once the students knows the seven white key 5FPs, we stop for a few weeks to review those. I usually also change the order from the Circle of 5ths and ask them to start practicing them in order from C up the scale through B. Then, we add begin adding the five black key 5FPs. Once all the major 5FPs are learned, we spent a few more weeks reviewing those until they are everything is memorized securely.
I recently created a new set of worksheets to use with students throughout this process.
Each 5FP has a series of five boxes behind it, representing the five notes of the 5FP. The student’s job is the fill in the boxes that would be black keys on the piano. The goal is for the student to visually memorize the pattern of black and white keys for each 5FP, and this worksheet will help with that. I’ve made five pages in this pdf:
- Major 5FPs, in the order of the Circle of 5ths.
- Major 5FPs, in the order of the scale (C up through B).
- Minor 5FPs, in the order of the Circle of 5ths.
- Major Scales
- Natural Minor Scales
I hope you can make use of these worksheets! You can download this FREE pdf by visiting the Printables > Worksheets page, and scrolling to “5FPs & Scales – Patterns of Black & White Keys.” Enjoy!