How to Play the C minor Scale on the Piano - Scales, Chords & Exercises

by Elke Galvin July 14, 2023 • 4 minute read
Learn everything about the C minor scale for piano - notes and fingerings for both hands included! Exercise the C minor scale and chords to improve your playing skills and music theory knowledge.
Musicologist Franz Pauer characterized C minor as the key that is "expressive of softness, longing, sadness, solemnity, dignified earnestness, and a passionate intensity. It lends itself most effectively to the portraiture of the supernatural." In music across all styles, C minor is very frequently used - from Beethoven's 5th Symphony to Kate Bush's superhit "Running Up That Hill". On your piano, you can easily learn how to play both the scale and the chords as well as songs in C minor.
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C Minor scale on the piano

The Notes of the C minor Scale

The C minor scale starts out on C and then goes up using three black keys: Eb, Ab, and Bb. The notes of the scale are C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C.

C Minor notes for bass and treble clefs

How to Play the C minor Scale With the Right Hand (Treble Clef)

On the piano, you can play the C minor scale going up (toward the higher notes), or coming down. In the treble clef, do this

  • Play the following notes going up: C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C. Start playing with your first finger, and tuck your thumb after you have played the third note, the Eb, to reach the F. As you continue playing, you will reach the higher C with your fifth finger.
  • Play the following notes going down: C-Bb-Ab-G-F-Eb-D-C. Start playing with your fifth finger on the C and play the full hand, then tuck your third finger over the thumb to play the Eb, and continue until your first finger reaches the C.
notes & fingerings in treble clef

How to Play the C minor Scale With the Left Hand (Bass Clef)

Piano beginners may find it difficult to read and play the left hand. It is worth investing some time to really familiarize yourself with the notes of the C minor scale in the bass clef, and learn how to read them in music scores.

The notes are the same as in the right hand (C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C), but they look different:

notes & fingerings for the bass clef

This is how you play (left hand):

  • Going up: Starting with your fifth finger (the pinkie) play the full hand up to the G, then tuck your third finger over the thumb to reach the Ab. Play the C with your first finger.
  • Coming down: Reverse exactly what you did on your way up. Start with your first finger on C. After the first three notes, tuck your thumb under to reach the G, then play the full hand down to C.

The C minor Key Signature

The key signature, located at the beginning of each line of a piece, lets you see which notes will be raised (#) or lowered (b) consistently throughout that piece.

If you spot this key signature below, the piece is likely either in C minor (or in its parallel scale Eb Major, you'll be able to determine that from the mood of the piece):

C Minor key signature

6 Exercises to Practice the C minor Scale

Play one exercise after the other and only move on after having correctly played the previous exercise 5 times on your piano:

  1. Play the left hand up and down using a metronome and slowly increasing speed
  2. Play the right hand up and down using a metronome and slowly increasing speed
  3. Play both hands up and down using a metronome and slowly increasing speed
  4. Play the left hand up starting from the lowest C to the highest, and down starting from the highest C to the lowest
  5. Play the right hand up starting from the lowest C to the highest, and down starting from the highest C to the lowest
  6. Play both hands up starting with the left hand on the lowest C and stopping when the right hand reaches the highest C, then play down to the starting position

Why you should exercise scales in general:

  • To memorize a scale
  • To practice dexterity and intonation (play all keys with even loudness. Beginners often play the notes they work with their stronger fingers much harder. Aim for an even tone)
  • To be able to play the scale in time without hesitating to find your fingerings
  • To be able to build chords and improvise

C minor Chords on the Piano

Any minor chord is constructed of three or more notes: The root note - the minor third - the perfect fifth.

Briefly explained what this means for C minor:

  • The basic C minor chord consists of C-Eb-G.
  • The first inversion is Eb-G-C.
  • The second inversion is G-C-Eb.

To practice the C minor chord and inversions, switch from the chord starting with the root note to the first, and the second inversion, starting slowly using a metronome, then increasing your tempo.

Elke Galvin
Elke Galvin is a British-Austrian singer, multi-instrumentalist, and writer. She has worked both as a musician and journalist for over 25 years. Not only is she an acclaimed songwriter, she loves to write about music, too! Making music theory easy to understand is her passion, as is writing about music styles, music and the brain, and how to have fun learning and playing music.

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