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The Minor Scale

Theory



Any scale with a b3rd is called a minor scale. The b3 gives the scale a sort of dark or sad sound that we call minor. There are many different minor scales, here we focus on the most common.

Natural Minor

The first is Natural Minor or the Aeolian mode. It's also often just called "the minor scale". It's the most common minor scale used and is one of the "Modes" of the major scale. To find the notes in the scale, start on the 6th note of any maj scale, also called the "relative minor".

So looking at the C maj scale:

C D E F G A B C

The 6th note is A. Starting and ending on A gives this new scale:

A B C D E F G A

Same notes as C maj but the root is now A. So it is an "A" scale. If we look at the actual key of A major we can see what the notes are in A:

A B C# D E F# G# A

That is the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 in the key of A. This new A scale formed from the key of C has some differences. The 3rd is flat, the 6 is flat and the 7 is flat. So this new scale is minor because it has a b3. The formula for this scale looks like this:

1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7 = Aeolian scale or Natural Minor scale

The chords in the key of C - Cmaj, Dmin, Emin, Fmaj, Gmaj, Amin, Bdim or as seventh chords - Cmaj7, Dmin7, Emin7, Fmaj7, G7, Amin7, Bmin7b5 - will show the chords in A aeolian:


A Aeolian Diatonic Chords

Triads - Amin, Bdim, Cmaj, Dmin, Emin, Fmaj, Gmaj

Seventh Chords - Amin7, Bmin7b5, Cmaj7, Dmin7, Emin7, Fmaj7, G7

These chords are called:

Amin7 - One minor 7

Bmin7b5 - Two minor 7 flat 5

Cmaj7 - Flat three major 7

Dmin7 - Four minor 7

Emin7 - Five minor 7

Fmaj7 - Flat 6 major 7

G7 - Flat seven dominant 7



When naming a chord any alteration from the major scale version is usually said. For example the 3rd chord in the key of A major is C#min7. That would simply be called "the three chord".

In the key of A minor (also it's the key of C major but the difference is here the A minor chord is being looked at as the Root or first chord in the key) the 3rd chord is Cmaj7. Compared to the key of A major that "C" is a flat 3rd, the 3rd of A should be C#. The 3 in A major is also min7. Here in the A minor key it is maj7.

So these differences are noted when saying the chord - " Flat three major seven" means - "take the normal 3 chord in A, flat it and change it to a major 7.

The 1, 4, 5 - Am, Dm, Em, - chords are still considered to be the 3 primary chords and move similar to the 1, 4, 5 chords in major. Here just like in the key of C major where A minor is called the relative Minor, the relative major is C major.

There is one small problem with the Emin7 as the 5 chord however.

Harmonic Minor

In major keys the 5 chord is a Dominant 7. In C it's G7 (G, B, D, F). This chord has a special quality to it. The 3 and b7 in the chord (B, F) form a tri-tone and pull beautifully to the 1 chord (C). The F pulls down 1/2 step to the E in the C major chord and the B pulls up 1/2 step to the C.

In A minor the 5 chord - Emin7 (E, G, B, D) does not have the pulling tri-tone. So the 5 chord from the A major key is borrowed - E7 (E, G#, B, D). Now the 1, 4, 5 in A minor is - Am/Am7, Dm/Dm7, E7.

This also gives a new version of the A minor scale with a G# instead of G called Harmonic Minor. It can be used during improv/melody when the chord progression changes to E7. Or anytime while in the key of A minor. It has an extra dark and exotic sound that is common in baroque music and neo-classical metal.

1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, 7 = Harmonic Minor (Minor Scale/Aeolian With Natural 7)

If the 4 is sharped in harmonic minor it becomes Hungarian Minor and is even darker sounding. I use that scale often in metal type tunes.




The other minor scales Phrygian, Dorian and Locrian will be covered in "Modes" and in the Jazz material.

For now here are the formulas:

Dorian - 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7

Phrygian - 1, b2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7


If you take the Major Scale and just lower the 3rd to a b3 but leave everything else the same it is called Melodic Minor.

1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, 7

By itself this scale is somewhat useful in jazz over 2 chords (I have a better way of looking at it) but 2 of it's modes - Lydian b7 and Altered Dom are huge parts of the Jazz improv library. I'll get to those in the Jazz section.




Next - Minor Scale Tab



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