Minor Scale

Minor Scale

Grade 2

We have already looked at the major scale in the grade 1 section. Major scales are the most common scale used, closely followed by minor scales.
Both major and minor scales are related, and you can use major scales to help work out minor scales.

There are three scales that are needed to be known for Grade 2 music theory, D minor, A minor, and E minor.


Relative Minor/Major

Before we have a look at the each individual minor scale, it is useful to explore the C Major scale:

 

C Major Scale

Take note that of all the major scales looked at so far, C Major is the only major scale with no sharps or flats.

Now let’s look at the A Minor natural scale:

A Minor Natural Scale

You will notice that the minor scale has the same key signature as C Major, and has no flats or sharps.
This is because A Minor is the relative minor of C Major; and C Major is the relative major of A Minor.

Relative keys have the same key signature, they just start on different notes.
If you have a major scale and you want to work out the minor scale, you would start on the sixth scale degree.
In this case, the sixth scale degree of C Major is A, and so the relative minor of C Major is A Minor.

If you have a minor scale and want to work out it’s relative major you would look at the 3rd scale degree of the minor scale.
By looking at the A minor scale above, we can see the 3rd degree of the A Minor scale is C. Meaning the relative major of A Minor is C Major.

We’ll now look at the minor scales you need to know about in turn.


A Minor

Natural Minor Scale
There are three types of minor scales. The one we saw above is the natural minor scale.
You will also need to know about melodic minor scales and harmonic minor scales.
Let’s look more indepth at the natural minor scale first, before exploring the harmonic and melodic scales:

A Minor Natural Scale

As we know, it has the same notes as the C Major scale.
For this reason, it is the easiest form of minor scale to work out.

The brackets above the notes are the ones which indicate semitone steps. You’ll notice the 2nd and 3rd scale degree, and the 5th and 6th are also a semitone apart.

Melodic Minor Scale
The A minor melodic scale is below:

A Minor Melodic Scale

First thing to notice is that it is different going up as it is going down.
When the melodic minor scale descends it is the same as the natural minor scale.
When it ascends it the 6th and 7th scale degree are raised a semitone, meaning in this instance they are sharpened.
When it is ascending the 2nd and 3rd scale degrees are a semitone apart, as are the 7th and 1st/8th scale degree.
When it is descending the same scale degrees are a semitone apart as the natural minor: the 2nd and 3rd degree, and the 5th and 6th degree.

Harmonic Minor Scale
The A minor haromonic scale is below:

A Minor Harmonic Scale

Like the other scales, the harmonic is the same ascending and descending.
In this instance, only the 7th degree is raised a semitone, making it a G#.
In the harmonic minor scale, there are three pairs of scale degrees that are a semitone apart:
The 2nd and 3rd scale degree; the 5th and 6th scale degree; and the 7th and 1st/8th scale degree.

All three scales are used frequently and you will need to be familiar with all three.
You can figure out the scales if you either work out the natural minor scale, and raise the scale degrees as we have done here, or you can reconstruct the scale using the semitone scale steps we have shown. Both methods should be familiar to you, and they will both help you develop a comfortable understanding of minor scales.


E Minor

Natural Minor Scale
The natural minor scale of E Minor is below:
(Make sure you take note of the key signature and the clef).

E Minor Natural Scale

The 3rd degree of E minor is G, meaning it’s relative major is G Major:

G Major Scale

As before, you can see in the E Minor scale the 2nd and 3rd scale degrees, and the 5th and 6th scale degree are a semitone apart.
As before, the E Minor scale has the same key signature as G Major scale, and the E Minor natural scale has the same notes as it’s relative major, G Major.

Melodic Minor Scale
The E Minor Melodic scale is below:

E Minor Melodic Scale

As previously, when it ascends the melodic minor’s 6th and 7th scale degree are raised a semtione – in this case sharpened.
When it descends it is the same as the Natural Minor.

The 2nd and 3rd scale degrees are always a semitone apart.
The 7th and 8th/1st scale degree are a semitone apart when it is ascending.
The 6th and 5th scale degree are a semitone apart when it descends, as with the natural minor.

Harmonic Minor Scale
The harmonic minor scale is below:

E Minor Harmonic Scale

As with A Minor Harmonic, the E Minor Harmonic scale has the 7th scale degree raised a semitone – in this case sharpened.
It is the same ascending and descending.

The semitones are:
2nd and 3rd scale degree
5th and 6th scale degree
And the 7th and 8th/1st degree.


D Minor

This time when we look at D minor, we won’t annotate the semitones or scale degrees, as they won’t be annotated in the exam or in real life.
The third scale degree of D minor is F, meaning it’s relative major is F.
This means it shares the same key signature as F major – one flat.

Natural Minor Scale
D Minor natural scale is below:

D Minor Natural Scale

As before, the natural minor has no altered notes.
The 2nd + 3rd and 5th + 6th are a semitone apart (don’t forget the key signature!).

Melodic Minor Scale The D minor melodic scale is below:

D Minor Melodic Scale

As previously, the 6th and 7th scale degrees are raised when the melodic minor scale is ascending.
However, in this case as the 6th degree is a Bb, when you raise it a semitone it becomes a B natural.
The C natural (7th scale degree) therefore becomes a C# when raised a semitone.

Harmonic Minor Scale

D Minor Harmonic Scale

The 7th scale degree (C) has been raised to C#, as with the other harmonic minor scales.

The notes which are a semitone apart within both the melodic minor and the harmonic minor scales are the same as the other scales we previously looked at.


Triads and Arpeggios

You will also need to know about the arpeggio and tonic triads for A minor and E minor:
A Minor Tonic Triad

A Minor Tonic Triad

E Minor Tonic Triad

E Minor Tonic Triad

D Minor Tonic Triad

D Minor Tonic Triad

D, A and E Minor tonic triads are formed with the 1st, 3rd and 5th scale degree, as the major tonic triads are.

A Minor Arpeggio

A Minor Arpeggio

E Minor Arpeggio

E Minor Arpeggio

D Minor Arpeggio

D Minor Arpeggio

As with the major arpeggios, A and E minor arpeggio’s are the tonic triads broken up until 3 seperate notes.


Summary

To summarise, therefore, each minor scale has a relative major which it shares a key signature.
There are 3 types of minor scales:
Natural minor – the same notes as relative major.
Melodic minor – the 6th and 7th notes are raised when it ascends, it is the same as the natural minor descending.
Harmonic minor – the 7th scale degree is raised. It is the same ascending and descending.

Minor keys are widely used in music, and knowledge and understanding of them is essential.
It is almost guarenteed they will appear in the exam for music theory.

For practice, have a look at the free exercises for minor scales.