How I Learned My Major Scales in all 12 Keys – Better Sax
Learn all 12 Major Scales

How I Learned My Major Scales in all 12 Keys

How I Learned My Major Scales in all 12 Keys

I recently challenged you to learn all 12 major scales on your saxophone… and then play them in one breath.

This major scales challenge got me thinking of how I learned my scales for the first time. 

Shoutout to my saxophone teacher when I was about 14 years old. Steve Perillo gave me this exercise in our very first lesson. I learned it pretty quickly and it had an immediate positive impact on my playing at the time.

I want to share that with you and give you some tips on how to tackle this challenge.

Very simply, if you are at all serious about playing the saxophone, knowing your major scales in all keys should be at the top of your list of things to get together quickly.

If you follow the steps in this video you should be able to have this down within a week and then have a quick way to run through all the keys.

THE Exercise

Here’s the exercise, we play the major scale from the root up to the 9th. We do this for 2 reasons. First it gives us the right number of notes to make the exercise very neat rhythmically. Second, it gets a step away from the very square way of playing your major scale that just goes from the root up to the root and back down again.

The exercise goes up chromatically. So we start with a very easy key, C. Then we immediately transition to one of the hardest keys, Db.

Some of the keys are going to be much more difficult than others, You should be practicing those at least 80% of the time. You already know the easy ones. Practice the hard ones.

Db, F# Ab and B will be the most challenging.

Play those slowly on repeat. Do not, I repeat do not allow yourself any mistakes. We are training our muscle memory here. Your muscles will remember to do the movement that you repeat. If you repeatedly play the wrong note in your F# major scale, you are actually training yourself to play it incorrectly.

Save yourself a ton of time, and go as slow as necessary so as not to make any mistakes.

You’ll learn the whole thing much faster I promise.

Once you know all 12 scales and can play them each perfectly in a loop it’s time to put them all together.

Now, don’t try to go through all 12  at once right away.

Take 2 scales and loop them, then move it up half a step, and continue like that until you get through all the keys.

You can also do groups of 3 up and down, C Db D etc, and then continue to build.

If you are making any mistakes, or find yourself unable to keep a steady rhythm, go slower. I recommend working with a metronome on this as well. Set it slow enough that you can play with solid rhythm and good technique. If you’re looking for a great metronome I recommend checking out the “Tonal Energy” app, it works as both a metronome and a tuner.

Remember you are training your muscles to do what you are repeating.

Spend some time on this every day for a while and when you feel ready, try putting all 12 together. 

Now to do this in one breath is a great challenge, because you’re going to have to learn how to fill up your air tank, how to release that air consistently, and how to play fast with good technique.

I decided to challenge myself by playing this on the bari sax which requires a lot more air than alto or tenor does.

I’ve put the pdf download for this exercise in the BetterSax Shed along with all my other free saxophone learning resources.

I’d love to hear your progress on this exercise so please record yourself and post it to Instagram, tag @bettersax and include the #bettersaxchallenge. I will share it to my story and comment on your post!

Looking for more exercises to work on? Check out this “Easy Bebop Lick.”

Also be sure to follow BetterSax on Facebook, InstagramLinkedIn, and YouTube. That way, you can stay up to date with us for news, giveaways, and other saxophone tips and tricks.

About the Author

As the founder of Jay’s mission is to help developing saxophone players break away from traditional music learning methods and discover a more efficient, practical and fun way to become a Better Sax player. The BetterSax YouTube channel’s videos have been watched by millions and thousands of students have made meaningful progress on their instrument thanks to BetterSax courses.

Jay Metcalf


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