Pentascale Incentive AKA Karate Pentascales

Edited 11/7/17 to include free downloads of all major and minor pentascales used to make this incentive. The downloads are located at the bottom of the post. Enjoy!

I’m a huge believer in teaching pentascales to new students as soon as they are able to play them.  Pentascales (also known as pentachords and five-finger scales) are simply the first five notes in any scale.

I teach students to play them in this pattern –

  • stepping up and down
  • skipping up and down
  • chord (using the 1,3,5 notes of the pentascale)
We start by learning all the white key pentascales, going in order of the circle of fifths.  I have found that it’s easiest to teach the circle of fifths, because the pentascales naturally build upon each other.
We start with C, then progress to G – both pentascales are only white keys (sugar cookies!).  These are perfect for beginners to work on curved, tall fingers.
Next comes D and A – both are fig newton cookies – white on the outside, black in the middle.
E is up next – a double stuffed fig newton cookie.  🙂
B is next in the lineup – a little more difficult to play, but is very similar in key topography (white and black keys) to E.  The last note is the only difference.
F comes last.  It’s important to teach that F is not really next in the circle of fifths, but we’re going to “make a little change here”.  🙂  By the time we get to this pentascale, I’ve already started teaching the order of whole steps and half steps in pentascales.  We start out with the tonic note, then the pattern is established – whole, whole, half, whole.  If the student already grasps the pattern with the other pentascales, it’s great to teach F by letting the student figure it out for himself using the pattern.  Discovering something for yourself is always longer lasting than rote learning.
We review these pentascales for quite awhile before moving onto black key pentascales, and then finally minor pentascales in all twelve keys.
I recently made up these pentascale flashcards for my students.  Each colored paper has a different pentascale on it.  They are bound in order of the circle of fifths – C,G,D,A,E,B,F.
One side has the keyboard view, the other side has the staff view.
When the student learns a particular pentascale, he is given a “belt” (ribbon, actually) of the same color.  Think karate here – progressing through different levels/colors of belts.
The students love the incentive of earning “belts” for their pentascale pack. Little do they know that they are actually learning to play in all keys.  Soon after learning pentascales, it’s fun to show them that they can play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” or some other little ditty anywhere on the piano – just because they know pentascales!

Click here to download the Karate Pentascale materials.  Or go to my “Printables” page, which is found just under the keyboard banner at the top of the blog.

You will want to print the Major pentascale keyboards and Major pentascale staff view files double-sided on cardstock paper. Minor pentascale keyboards and Minor pentascale staff view are also meant to be printed double-sided. Cut apart the individual pentascales. Then just bind them together with a ring of some sort, punch a hole at the end of each card, and your students are ready to start earning those pentascale belts!
Let me know how it goes for you!

Key Identification Game

Since moving across country this past year, I have been slowly building up my piano studio once again.  Usually that means starting with a brand new crop of beginning piano students.  And I am no exception!  Although I miss having advanced students, I love working with brand-new-“baby” pianists.  A few reasons I love the young ‘uns:

1.  I love to build my students from the ground up.  From the very first lesson, I get to shape and lay the foundation for what will come later.  I get the chance to teach exactly what I want them to know.  It is very gratifying when we go through subsequent levels of piano methods and I can say “You already know that!”, because I have already laid the foundation.

2. The “light bulb” moments are so awesome.  When the young students learn how to do something new, they are so cute because they are so proud of their new accomplishment.  I wish we could all unabashedly show our pride at learning something new!  It is a good thing!

3.  I get to nurture a person’s love of music.  I get to guide and direct them into thinking about what makes music good, in all styles of music.  What a lovely job description to have.

So…all that to say…I have some brand-new “baby” pianists who need teaching and nurturing.  My youngest student is four years old.  We are using the Faber My First Piano Adventures series.  Recently we have been working on key identification.  Realizing we needed some extra work on the concept, combined with the need for fun in the lesson, I began searching the web for game ideas.

I was inspired by this post utilizing a simple key identification game to work on note-naming on the keyboard.  It is such a simple game to put together, easy to explain, and fun to play.  The trifecta!

This is what you need:

1. Cards with letters A-G printed on them.  Put them into a basket.  I only had one set of cards, so that’s all I used.

2. Two tokens that are small enough to fit on a single key.  I used army men, but you could use anything small – wrapped candy, coins, erasers, etc.

This is what you do:

1.  Place both tokens on the low end of the keyboard, not on the keys.

2.  The student blindly takes  a letter card from the basket.

3.  The student moves his token to the first key corresponding to the letter card going up the keyboard.  Replace the letter card into the basket.

4.  The teacher repeats steps 2 and 3.

5.  The game continues until one player reaches the top C on the piano.  That player is the winner!  (Hopefully it is the student! – it’s usually pretty easy to manipulate the game to make sure the student wins 🙂 )

These are the goals:

1. For the student to be able to identify keys on the keyboard.

2. For the student to understand that as we move higher on the keyboard, we move forward in the alphabet.

3. For the student to understand that the music alphabet is A-G, then start over again on A.

This is a great game!  We learned the keys and we had fun.  Go try this game with your “baby” pianists!