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How to approach the Ocean Etude Op. 25 No. 12 by Chopin

Are there really just 36 scales in music?

Released on April 3, 2013

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Video Transcription

Hi, and welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin with a viewer question. How many scales are there?

Well, if you've ever analyzed a keyboard on a piano you notice that there are 12 different notes. You might think the answer would be since there are 12 different notes there are 12 different scales. Well, this is true for major scales, but what about minor scales? Well, if you add minor you'd think maybe there'd be 24, but the minor actually has 2 different forms, the harmonic and the melodic. So, you're at 36.

Are we done yet? Well, not necessarily, because there are also what are called modes. This gets to be a gray area. Why? Because modes are essentially scales that start on different notes. For example, if you have no sharps or flats you might think you're in C major, and indeed you can play a C major scale by playing all the white keys through C up to C and back down again. But, what if you have no sharps or flats and you started on D? Well, this is the Dorian mode. You could do the same thing starting on E. That would be the Phyrgian mode. You would have essentially seven modes just for no sharps or flats.

I actually haven't calculated a number of how many scales there would be if you considered every mode to be a separate scale. It gets to be mind boggling at that point, because you're just essentially starting on any note for all of the notes of a major scale plus your three minors because they have altered tones. I will have the review for you in the write up about how many that is. I'll have to count it up in my head.

Basically the answer to this is there are 36 major and minor scales if you include both the harmonic and the melodic minor along with the major scales. Good question. You got me thinking. Very good.

We'll see you next time here on and I'm Robert Estrin.

Text Onscreen: 36 major and minor scales, 72 additional modes, 12 blues scales, 12 diminished scales, 12 pentatonic scales, 12 whole tone scales, 12 chromatic scales. 168 TOTAL.
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Denis Gogin on June 24, 2015 @2:34 am PST
Hello, Robert,
I have a question about transitions from one octave to another in this etude , could you suggest some preparatory exercises to improve this skill?
Robert - host, on June 24, 2015 @2:50 pm PST
As I show in the video, practice going to the repeated note that changes fingers in each hand without going further. Practice arriving on that note with the other fingers of the hand over the octave (and middle note). You should practice very slowly at first until you can make the change to the higher octave instantaneously.
Iretnal on August 11, 2014 @11:52 pm PST
Thank you, that was very instructive!
robertfields * VSM MEMBER * on April 14, 2013 @8:21 am PST
This was very informative
Thank you very much
henry morris * VSM MEMBER * on April 6, 2013 @6:23 am PST
thanks for this, Robert! appreciated.
J. Shaw on April 5, 2013 @6:39 am PST
Thank you. Nice to see someone else who uses the same approach in teaching. My students will have another reference.
Judith Stijnis on April 4, 2013 @12:52 pm PST
Thank you . It is very interesting
Ross * VSM MEMBER * on April 4, 2013 @9:32 am PST
Exquisite! Before watching your video I regarded this Etude as the Mount Everest never to be tackled by me; now it looks more like a piece that I may actually dare attempt!! Your simple explanation and analysis of the Etude makes all the difference. Thank you Robert.
BJ on April 4, 2013 @8:27 am PST
Have been playing and teaching for years and always avoided the etudes as I have small hands. However you've prompted me to get my book open and have a go. Thanks
Jean-Marc Fabri on April 4, 2013 @7:05 am PST
Nice! Thanks!
phil * VSM MEMBER * on April 4, 2013 @6:17 am PST
That was a very helpful video for a novice piano player like myself. It changed a string of endless notes to a logical progression of chords. It's still too hard to put my hands together the way you play but I now understand what's going on. Thanks.
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