Pentascale Incentive

This post has been edited to include free downloads of materials used to make the 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 white key 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!
Up with pentascales!
Free downloads:
You will want to print the CDEF Pentascale keyboards and CDEF Pentascale files double-sided on cardstock paper. GAB Pentascale keyboards and GAB Pentascales 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!
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8 thoughts on “Pentascale Incentive

  1. Jill, I love this idea! Would you be willing to make this available for other teachers to print out for their students? Thanks for sharing so many great ideas on your blog!

    • Hi Julia! Yes, I would be happy to make this available for download. I will post it on the blog and let you know when it is ready by leaving another comment on this thread. So glad you can use this idea!

    • Hi Laura, as of now I just have the major white key pentascales uploaded to the blog. I have always wanted to update the post to included black keys and minors, so I will be working on it! I will comment on this thread when they are ready to go! Glad you can use this idea!

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