Pentascales – or “five-finger scales” – can be a great first introduction to the idea of scales for your youngest beginners. But how do you teach piano pentascales to a 4-year old who’s wiggling off the bench the moment you start talking?
The content in this post was originally published in May and July 2014, and updated in December 2021.
As I explain in this article, I personally only use pentascales with young beginners who won’t be ready for full one-octave scales for a long time. But in those select cases, piano pentascales certainly have their place.
Pentascales can be a good tool for working on non-legato and legato techniques and to aid with transposing work.
They’re also an excellent opportunity for improvisation and composition. No complicated instructions needed – once a student knows their piano pentascales well, just start playing a chord progression and say “Play any note from your C pentascale!”
But how do we teach a dry concept like scales to curious, active kiddos? Creative tactics are a must-have, or they’ll wiggle off the bench before you can finish saying “penta”!
If your students are ready for one-octave scales, you’ll love the resources on my hub page devoted to Teaching Music Theory.
What are piano pentascales?
Before we go any further, let’s be sure we’re talking about the same thing. Pentascales consist of the first five notes of any scale. They are normally played with fingers 1–5 regardless of the key, but some teachers prefer to teach using the start of the standard scale fingering patterns.
Don’t mix up pentascales with pentatonic scales. Pentatonic scales are a whole different thing!
3 Fun Piano Pentascale Teaching Tools
Try out these 3 approaches the next time you teach 5-finger scales, and watch the magic unfold.
Tool #1: Pentascale Stairs
If you try to explain and demonstrate a pentascale to 3-5 year olds, odds are you’ll never get their interest. But show them a picture with a colourful staircase like this, and suddenly five-finger scales are a fun activity!
I like to practice this away from the piano first by by tapping at a table and singing along with the finger numbers, note names or “up and up and up and down and down.”
Tool #2: C and G Pentascale Worksheets
Reinforcing the pentascales with some writing work can help students make those connections between LH/RH, finger numbers and piano keys.
This worksheet has students draw a line between the fingers of each hand to the correct keys in the C major pentascale.
Once you’ve introduced the G major pentascale, the worksheet pictured below can come in handy to reinforce how the pattern looks on the keys.
Bonus benefit: Colouring the keys is a sure-fire way to improve fine motor skills!
Tool #3: Pentascale Games
If you’ve been following me for any time at all, you’ll know that my favourite way to teach any concept is with games, games, and more games.
PentaPOP is one of my favourite pentascale games from the Vibrant Music Teaching Library. Students can test their knowledge against each other by laying out tokens on the board, or play alone by racing against the clock. But they’d better watch out for the POP! cards if they want to come out on top!
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Do you use pentascales in your piano studio?
If so, what’s your favourite approach for teaching five-finger scales? Share your ideas in the comments below. 🙂