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.
- Natural minor scales all follow the same pattern of whole steps and half steps.
- 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.
- Relative major and minor –
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?
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.
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.