More on the Minors

Last week’s theory post introduced the concept of minor scales. I promised you more on the minors, so here we go.

Always, Review First

First, though, a quick review:

  • Major scales all follow the same pattern of whole steps and half steps.

                        W-W-H-W-W-W-H

  • Natural minor scales all follow the same pattern of whole steps and half steps.

                        W-H-W-W-H-W-W

  • There are two types of relationships between major and minor scales.
    • Relative major and minor –
      • Both the major and its relative minor have the same key signature and use the same notes.
      • The relative minor scale begins on the sixth step of the major scale.
      • The relative major scale begins on the third step of the minor scale.
    • Parallel major and minor –
      • Both the major and its parallel minor scale begin on the same note.
      • They will use the same note names, but with different accidentals (sharps or flats).
      • The major scale and its parallel minor scale have different key signatures.

Now, More on the Minors

There are three forms of minor scales:

  • Natural Minor – follows the key signature exactly, and is the same both ascending and descending (going up and coming down).
  • Harmonic Minor – raises the 7th step of the natural minor scale, both ascending and descending.
  • Melodic Minor – raises the 6th and 7th steps of the natural minor scale going up, but lowers them again when coming down.

Here are some examples of the three forms of minor scales.

Here is an example of the A minor scale, in natural form. There are no sharps or flats in the key signature, and none are added.

Now, the harmonic form of the same A minor scale. Notice how the 7th step of the scale is raised (sharped). And the 7th step keeps the sharp on the way down the scale as well.

And here is the melodic form of the same scale. This time, both the 6th and 7th steps of the scale are raised as we go up the scale. But on the way down, the sharps are eliminated.

Now, let’s look at a couple more examples of the same thing, but in different keys.

D minor scale, Natural form

D minor scale, Harmonic form

D minor scale, Melodic form

E minor scale, Natural form

E minor scale, Harmonic form

E minor scale, Melodic form

And, of course, the Big Question – Why?

Why Minor?

So, why do we use minor scales? Why use different forms of the minor scales? First, using minor scales/minor keys adds a different “flavor” to the music. Some say music in minor keys gives a darker, more complex sound to the music. Others feel that minor music is more somber, or serious, or sad-sounding. Being able to use minor scales in music gives composers and arrangers more options and more variety. And variety and options are good!

Why Harmonic Minor?

Now for the why of the different forms. It’s all about how things sound! The harmonic form developed because people didn’t like the way a final chord cadence sounded. In major keys, most music ends with a V chord leading to a I chord. That chord progression gives a very final-sounding ending to a piece. In the natural minor, though, you don’t get the same sort of finality. By raising the 7th step of the minor scale, the V chord became major, so going from V to I chords produced more of a final-sounding conclusion. Also, because our ears are used to hearing a half step progression from the 7th step of a scale to the last step, the raised 7th fit better.

Why Melodic Minor?

But wait! That caused a different problem! Now, in a minor scale with a raised 7th step, there is a huge jump between the 6th step and the 7th step. Really awkward to sing, or play, or listen to! Solution – raise the 6th step also. In a melodic minor scale, the first half of the scale sounds minor, but the second half sounds major – more of what we “like” to hear or are used to hearing. But descending? Doesn’t matter so much. So, in the melodic form the 6th and 7th steps are lowered back to the natural form of the minor.

Scales Forever!

When you are learning your scales, and you think you have mastered all 12 major scales, don’t think you are done with scales! You still have 36 more scales to learn! All the minor scales, in 3 forms! You are never done with scales! Just keep practicing! And thinking! Your fingers and your brain will thank me later.

More on the Minors

Minor Scales

OK, music theory friends, time to start learning about minor scales! What? More scales, you say? Oh, yes! More scales!

Here is what I want you to learn today:

  • Review of Major Scales
  • There is such a thing as a Minor Scale
  • Form of a Natural Minor Scale
  • Relationships between Major and Minor Scales

Major Scale Review –

Remember what we learned about major scales.

A major scale (in one octave) begins and ends on notes with the same note name. (C – C, F – F, A – A, etc.)

A major scale must go in order alphabetically (within the musical alphabet).

A major scale cannot have two notes with the same note name except for the first and last notes.

Every major scale must follow the same pattern of half steps and whole steps. That pattern is: W-W-H-W-W-W-H

If you need some more review on this, look back at these posts:

Intro to Minor Scales –

First of all, know that there is such a thing as a minor scale, and at some point in your musical training you will have to know minor scales in addition to major scales. Some of the same rules apply to minor scales as well as major scales. Here is a list of things major and minor scales have in common:

  • A minor scale (in one octave) begins and ends on notes with the same note name, just like a major scale.
  • Minor scales must go in order alphabetically (within the musical alphabet) – just like major scales.
  • Minor scales cannot have two notes with the same note name except for the first and last notes.
  • Every minor scale must follow a specific pattern of whole steps and half steps.

Also, there are three different kinds of minor scales. We are only going to look at one of those kinds this week, the Natural Minor Scale

The Natural Minor Scale Pattern –

Here is where things get different. A natural minor scale follows a specific pattern of whole steps and half steps. Here is the pattern that you need to learn:

                        W-H-W-W-H-W-W

Notice that there are, again, two places where there are half steps, just like a major scale, but that the half steps come in different places.

Difference between Major and Minor Scales

If you want to hear the difference between the two kinds of scales, do this. Go to a keyboard, or whatever instrument you have available, and play these two sets of notes:

                        C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C – Major Scale

C Major Scale
C Major Scale

                        A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A – Minor Scale

A Minor Scale
A Minor Scale

Can you hear a difference between the two? (Not just that they start on different notes!) Here is another example:

                        G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G – Major Scale

G Major Scale
G Major Scale

                        E-F#-G-A-B-C-D-E – Minor Scale

E Minor Scale
E Minor Scale

Another thing you need to notice about these examples of major and minor scales is that they use the exact same notes, just starting on different notes. The notes are in the same order, they use the same accidentals, the scales just start on different notes. In the first example the major scale begins on C and the minor scale begins on A. All the notes of the two scales are the same. In the second example the major scale begins on G and the minor scale starts on E. Again, all the notes in the two scales are the same. The pattern of half steps and whole steps is changed. That is what makes the scales different.

The minor scales in these examples are both Natural Minor Scales. No extra accidentals are added, no accidentals are removed. The notes in both the major and minor forms are exactly the same. (There are two other forms of minor scales, but we will get to them next week.)

Connections –

Just so you know – these are not random pairings of major and minor scales. There are connections between them. Actually, there are two ways in which major and minor scales can be connected.

Relative Minor

The first of these ways is called Relative. Relative Major and Minor Scales share notes and key signatures. They are “related.” The examples I gave earlier are examples of relative major and minor scales.  

So how do we figure out what minor scale is related to what major scale? Let’s look at the earlier examples again.

C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C – Major Scale

  A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A – Minor Scale

The sixth step of the major scale becomes the first step of its related minor scale. The third step of the minor scale is the first step of its related major scale. Here is another example:

G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G – Major Scale

E-F#-G-A-B-C-D-E – Minor Scale

        Again, the sixth step of the major scale becomes the first step of its related minor scale. And the third step of the minor scale becomes the first step of its related major scale.

Parallel Minor

The second way major and minor scales are connected is called Parallel. Parallel major and minor scales have different sets of notes, different key signatures, but start on the same note. An example of that would be C Major and C minor.

        C Major – C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C

C Major Scale
C Major Scale

        C Minor – C-D-E♭-F-G-A♭-B♭-C

C Minor Scale
C Minor Scale

        Here is another example:

        F Major – F-G-A-B♭-C-D-E-F

F Major Scale
F Major Scale

        F Minor – F-G-A♭-B♭-C-D♭-E♭-F

F Minor Scale
F Minor Scale

Notice how the two scales in each set begin with the same note and follow the same sequence of alphabetical note names. When we go from the parallel major to the parallel minor, we add the necessary accidentals to make the notes fit the pattern for a natural minor scale. When we go from the minor to the major, we adjust the accidentals to make the notes fit the pattern for a major scale. The accidentals used in the scale determine the key signature of the scale.

Did you get all this?

Now, let’s see if you have figure this all out. Here’s a little test.

  1. Tell me the names of the related MINOR scales for each of the following major scales.
  • C Major
  • G Major
  • F Major

2. Tell me the key signatures for each PARALLEL MINOR scale

  • C minor
  • G minor
  • F minor

3. Tell me the key signatures for each PARALLEL MINOR scale

  • C Major
  • G Major
  • F Major

Email me your answers (carol@amusicmom.com) and I will let you know how you did.

Come back next Friday for more info about minor scales!

Minor Scales