Mastering the E minor scale on piano is a task every pianist will have to accomplish at some point in their journey, as much of our common repertoire is based on the components of this scale.
Here, we’ll dive deeper into ways for you to practice and perfect your E minor scale on the piano.
Click here to watch the tonebase lesson on this topic for FREE!
Let’s practice the E minor scale with the help of Bach.
Here’s an excerpt from Bach’s Duet in E Minor, BWV 802, a lesser-known masterpiece:
And here’s an excerpt from the Chopin’s majestic Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 11:
Here, we will identify the pure form of the scale common to both excerpts, before using them as the basis for multi-purpose practice: sight reading and fingering, coordination and technique, theory and ear training, and musical expression.
The exercises in this lab are marked with symbols helpful for practicing different technical and musicianship skills. In particular, you are encouraged to employ “play and sing” techniques to internalize musical relationships while developing physical coordination.
Provides a singable syllable to match each of the seven letter notes in every scale. In Fixed-do, the note “C” is always identified and sung as “do”, regardless of key.
To keep a flowing line, omit accidentals when sight singing (D - E - F♯ is sung “re mi fa”).
Scale degrees number the notes of a scale in order from 1 to 7.
Here, scale degree numbers are enclosed in circles, with tonic (1) and Dominant (5) scale degrees colored purple for reference. Chromatic tones are enclosed in red circles.
While singing in fixed-do solfège tracks the absolute pitches of a given musical line, singing in scale degrees tracks the position and role of the notes with respect to a key center. Employ both at different times in your scale practice for best results.
Do not confuse scale degree numbers with fingering numbers.
Scale exercises are labeled with standard fingerings for both hands. Note that repertoire passages can deviate from the standard fingering. Try the fingerings marked in each excerpt, but also explore alternatives and ultimately choose what’s best for your hand.
Roman numeral analysis
Labels harmonies according to the root, with chords built on a given scale degree assigned a roman numeral corresponding to that number.
Tonal phrases tend to move from tonic (roman numeral I, built on scale degree 1) to dominant (roman numeral V, built on scale degree 5), and back, with other harmonies, especially ii and IV, used to prepare the dominant.
Pay attention to how composers use these functional harmonies with respect to the scalar lines within each passage.
How to approach the exercises
As mentioned before, these exercises go hand in hand with our comprehensive video lab, which you can access for free here. Feel free to check it out for a more in-depth look into this process.
Depending on your current skill level and practice goals, you can approach this lab in different ways.
Beginner and intermediate players:
Take your time: feel free to slow down the video using the settings and replay activities until you’re comfortable with a given skill. Don’t feel the pressure to complete all the exercises lab in one sitting.
More experienced players:
Try using the simpler activities to warm up your fingers or to reinforce your musical understanding. You may even repurpose the whole lab to target a single skill, like sight reading or ear training, or to warm up for a piece you're practicing in the same key. Feel free to speed up the videos to try drills at faster tempos, and repeat replay activities as needed.
E minor scale elements
Notes and scale degrees
These are the nuts and bolts of the scale: note names, scale degrees, and solfège syllables.
This is the standard right-hand, one-octave scale fingering for this key.
This is the standard left-hand, one-octave scale fingering for this key.
These are the standard hands-together, two-octave scale fingerings for this key.
To help you think ahead of your fingers, only fingerings for changes of hand position are shown.
E Minor Exercises: Bach
Bach: Exercise 1
This exercise omits the right-hand scalework and adds “stops” at the end of each bar, allowing you to focus on the left-hand scales’ interplay with the right-hand contrapuntal skeleton.
Bach: Exercise 2
This exercise is analogous to Exercise 1, but focuses on the left hand.
Bach: Exercise 3
This exercise presents scales in both hands, but they trade off rather than proceeding constantly like in the original piece. Voice exchanges are marked, showing the voices trading off chord tones (blue circles indicate scale degree 3, purple circles indicate scale degree 1).
Bach: As Written
E Major Exercises: Chopin
Chopin: Exercise 1
This exercise isolates the right-hand scale figure, featuring a “stop” on the first note, fewer decorative pitches, and precise rhythmic notation.
Chopin: Exercise 2
This exercise adds a skeletonized version of the underlying harmony, giving you a firmer grasp on its harmonic trajectory.
Chopin: Exercise 3
This exercise fleshes out the harmony with full chords.
Chopin: Exercise 4
This exercise includes the true bassline for the whole phrase, and introduces a finger substitution in bar 2.
Chopin: As Written
Now that we’ve gone through these examples, you should have all of the tools necessary to play a E minor scale on piano and related passages with ease.
If you’d like to watch the lesson we mentioned earlier for free, just click here.
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