Should I Learn Piano Scales or Chords First?

Piano Keyboard Guide

If you have decided to learn how to play the piano, you may be wondering what is more important to learn first, scales or chords? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. Most piano teachers want to teach scales first, but if you are only learning so you can play a few of your favorite songs, it may be best for you to start out by learning a few chords. Let’s take a look at scales and chords, and the importance of learning each.

Learning to Play Scales

Let’s start by talking about what a scale actually is. A scale is simply a set of musical notes put together in an order of frequency or pitch. It is important to learn scales if you truly want to be a good piano player, and most teachers will recommend that you begin with the major scales. In fact, most students begin by learning a C scale. Once the major scales are mastered, students then go on to learn chromatic, pentatonic, whole tone, and blues scales.

Scales are actually a huge part of most pieces of music, and just one scale could be the backbone of a song, because it gives you both the harmony and the melody. A scale is played over eight keys and is known as an octave. There are 12 major scales to learn, and then you get to move on to the 36 minor scales. For someone who just wants to play a few simple songs, this may seem like it is a lot to learn, but if you really want to play well, it is important.

Generally, students learn the C major scale with their right hand, and then move on to learning how to play it with the left hand. Then, they work at playing the scale by harmonizing with both hands. Many teachers feel this is the best way to learn fingering and develop muscle memory. Once students learn the basic scales, it will be easier for them to learn how to play most chords.

Learning to Play Chords

Before you can sit down and read piano sheet music, you really do need to learn about chords and where they are positioned. This can be a bit overwhelming at first, but the more you practice, the easier it will become. Some people have learned how to play the piano with chords only and have never learned anything about playing scales.

Learning how to play chords is a great way for the student who wants to learn on their own without having to take lessons. Thankfully, there are also plenty of YouTube videos out there that can really help you to learn.

The problem with starting out learning chords instead of scales is that it can be difficult to make the transition to playing songs with melodies and not just chords. Generally, chords are played with the left hand while the melodies are played with the right hand. If you are learning how to play chords only and play them on both hands, you are not going to really be playing entire songs.

In most cases, piano chords are sets of three notes that are played together. In some cases, there can be only two notes played, or there may be more notes played, but this can get quite confusing for the beginner.

If you are not planning on becoming a serious piano student, and just want to have fun playing your favorite songs, and you don’t mind not having the melody, playing chords may be just the thing for you, and you may or may not end up learning how to play scales eventually. If you can make music just by playing chords and this is what you enjoy doing, by all means, keep doing what you are doing and have fun.


As you can see, there is really no right or wrong way to learn how to play the piano. The important thing is that you are trying to learn. It only comes down to right or wrong when you want to start taking it seriously. Any great piano player will tell you that it takes years of learning and practice, and that both chords and scales are equally important.

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