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How to Learn C Major Scale the Natural Way

Dear reader, before I show you how to learn a C major scale the natural way, let me tell you my personal experience with learning scales and why I think it was all wrong.

When I was about 12 years old, we had a student concert at our school. Kids of our age performed on various musical instruments classical pieces and I was fascinated by one particular girl playing a lively song on accordion. I came home and said to my mum that I’d love to play the accordion. 🙂 I don’t think she was that impressed because we were quite a poor working class family so she and a teacher from a local music school persuaded me that I could start playing the ÂŁ3 recorder instead and see how it goes. She also said that I was too old to start playing a musical instrument. I was only 12 for crying out loud!

So I went to my first group recorder class excited, couldn’t wait to play music. I certainly didn’t expect to be sat in the classroom for more than three months without playing a single song just drilling mindlessly music theory that didn’t mean absolutely anything. Basically, we were learning a visual representation of music before producing music and independently of hearing music. Come on, what’s the point of that? The result was that even though I became quite a good recorder player, I was completely dependent on the music score and wasn’t able to connect to music I was playing with my hearth and core.

There is a much better way to learn scales and develop your musical ear. We often forget that music existed even before people had printers and music scores! 🙂 In most cultures, Easter and Wester, people use various solmization systems (using syllables) to express tones and relationship between them. One of the oldest seven-tone systems is described in ancient Indian Vedic texts called Upanishads. The most common solmization system in Western cultures is solfège system that most likely come from Arabic solmization system but nobody knows for sure.

Before you make an attempt to learn C major scale using Montessori bells, I assume you already started your ear training by doing the elementary exercises in How to use Montessori Bells – the fundamentals of ear training post. If not, please do them now so that you learn progressively.

Learn C major scale with Montessori bells and solfège system

By now you should be familiar with matching the two sets of Montessori bells that produce the same sound. Try this exercise again with a little variation. This time, the bells are replaced with solfège syllables.

Strike the first bell in set 1. Then strike the syllables till you find the one with the corresponding sounds. Place the syllable on the keyboard. Repeat till you order all syllables in the correct order. Click the check button to check that you are correct.

Now strike the first bell again and sing the tone in a gentle voice using the syllable “do”. Then strike the first and the second bell singing along “do, re”. Repeat till you can sing easily the whole scale.

Here is another variation. You are going to predict the sound of the next bell. Strike only the first bell and sing “do” followed by singing “re”. Only then strike the second bell to check you sang the correct tone. Then strike “do, re” singing along and sing “mi” on your own. Check your pitch by striking the third bell and so on.

When you’re ready, order the mixed bells in the exercise below into the C major acending scale without having set 1 for reference.

You can repeat the exercise as many times as you like and enjoy. Some children would perform the same exercise hundred times and still find it fascinating. This way you train your ear. Don’t do it mechanically. Enjoy and feel the sound, sing as best as you can.

After you mastered singing and ordering ascending C major scale, try the same exercises with the descending C major scale. First with a little help from set 1.

And now order descending C major scale without a reference.

About movable do solfège system

There are many variants of solfège system. I don’t use solfège the same way as Maria Montessori did. In Italy, they use solfège system with fixed do. It means that each syllable is an actual name for the particular pitch. In English speaking countries and German musical tradition, we use alphabet letters to name particular tones and notes (c,d,e,f,…). That frees us to use solfège in a relative manner, so called movable do solfège system. Syllables express a distance (intervals) between tones. If this all sound gibberish to you, don’t worry about it too much. It will become clear later. All that matters is that you did all the exercises many times over and over.

Learn pitch names in C major scale with Montessori bells

Now that you can sing the C major scale using syllables, learn the names of the tones. Do the same exercises you did with solfège syllables but this time using pitch names.

Please, there are different systems used in different countries. Pick the variation of the exercise below that’s relevant to your country!

Naming convention: English

C major acending
C major descending

Naming convention: German (DE, CZ, SK, PL, HU, AT, RS, DK, NO, FI, EE, LV)

C major acending
C major descending

Conclusion

Congratulation! You learnt C major scale ascending and descending the natural way. You can sing it using solfège syllables and you can name all the tones. If you progressed through all the exercises, you should be able to answer the following questions in your own words without having to drill any theory:

  • What is a scale?
  • How many different tones are there in C major scale?
  • Why is the scale in this post called C major and not for instance G major?

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