The Natural Minor Scale


There are actually three minor scales:

This tutorial will concentrate on the Natural Minor, which is probably the one that you'll use most often. This time around is just an introduction - I'll cover the natural minor in more detail, and explain the other minor scales as well, in a later tutorial.


Finding the Relative Minor

Every major key has a relative minor, which consists of the same notes - and therefore the same chords - but starting from a different point within that series of notes. The natural minor starts on the 6th degree of the relative major scale. For example, A natural minor is the relative minor of C major:


Numbering the Notes

You'll notice that some of the notes of the natural minor scale are numbered with flat signs. That's to show the difference between that scale and the 'parallel' major scale of A major. In "Meet the Major Scale" we saw how to number notes, and said that all scales are numbered with respect to the major scale. Well. this is an example of that rule in action. The A major scale contains the following notes:

A B C# D E F# G#
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

That means that the 3rd, 6th and 7th degrees have been lowered by a semitone to get to the notes that appear in the natural minor scale. I mentioned the term 'parallel' scale before - there isn't really a connection here between A major and A natural minor, other than the fact that they share the same root note. All we're doing here is making a comparison between the two scales. The important thing is that A natural minor is the relative minor of C major, because A is the 6th degree of the C major scale.


Natural Minor Scale Harmony

But what's so special about the 6th degree of the major scale? The reason for using this particular degree is connected with the chordal harmony of the scale. Remember that when the major scale is harmonised in triads, we get major triads on the 1st, 4th and 5th degrees and minor triads on the 2nd, 3rd and 6th degrees (plus, of course, the diminished triad on the 7th degree). When the notes of the major scale are re-arranged from the 6th degree, and the resulting scale is harmonised in triads, we end up with minor triads on the 1st, 4th and 5th degrees:

The principal chordal sounds in a key are those found on the 1st, 4th and 5th degrees. Major keys have major triads for these degrees, minor keys have minor triads.


Playing the Natural Minor Scale

We've talked about quite a bit of theory here, but how about putting it into practice?

  This is a useful shape for playing the natural minor scale on the guitar. It's a one-finger-per-fret approach, with a slight stretch to reach the 2nd degree on the 4th string.

Take some time to learn how to play this properly - it's probably the 2nd or 3rd most important scale box that you'll ever need to know.

Also, get to know the sound of the natural minor scale. It has a totally different sound to the major scale. Play a major scale, immediately followed by its parallel natural minor scale - you should be able to hear some big contrasts. In particular, the natural minor has a more 'sad' or sombre sound compared to the 'happier'-sounding major scale.

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