Traditional Minor Scales

(In the PDF, the scales talked about here are on pages 5 to the end. There are three traditional minor scales always taught – simple minor, harmonic minor and natural minor, also Aeolian. Melodic minor is not a minor scale – it is two minor scales, simple ascending and natural descending.)

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Problem Minor Scales

There is an easy way to change major into minor. For simple minor, b3. For harmonic minor, b3 and b6. For natural minor, also Aeolian, b3, b6 and b7. Remember, all modes and all altered scales are formed or can be formed by changing the major scale. Aeolian is a mode. Simple and harmonic minor are altered scales. This takes care of forming these scales, but there are problems in some for fingering.

In general you just keep the same fingering as you change the scales. For instance, C major and all three C minor scales use the same fingering in both hands. But this is not always true, so I have shown when they change. Gb F# and related minors are the most confusing.


4 thoughts on “Traditional Minor Scales

  1. Changing scales is like changing chords, you change b3, then b6 and b3, finally b7, b6 and b3. But they are different as they have different names for when you change the chord or scale.

    1. That’s right, Michael. You can think of each mode as starting from a degree of a major scale, like Aeolian or natural minor is 4 to 4.

      But that does not work well for me, and it’s not how I think. I relate the easiest modes to major and just change stuff. Like Dorian is b3 and b7, Lydian is #4, Mixlydian is b7, and Aeolian, same as natural minor, is b 3 b6 and b7. Over time you get so that each mode has its own sound, and you know it just like major. Ionian you get for free because it is the same as major. Phyrgian is not as common, and Locrian is hardly used at all.

  2. I very much prefer this way of seeing minor scales, as opposed to the relative minor idea that we get in theory books, only useful for major and minor key signatures. This is much more real and an easy jump to modes like Dorian.

    I had a look at the downloadable files and saw the symbols for “cat’s paws” etc. Clever and useful. Thank you.

    1. Sharp students always discover on their own that natural minor is really the same scale as some major scales. If they can’t see this, hear it and sense it, it generally does not good to point it out. For instance, when you play A natural minor or Aeolian, you can see that you are playing only white keys. That should alert the brain: “Wait, I know this scale. It’s the same thing as the C major scale, just starting on A”

      But you don’t want to start there. You want to start of knowing that you are playing an A major scale with three notes lowered. In the long run it is faster and way more solid.


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