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Unit 2

2.1 Minor Scales: Natural, Harmonic, and Melodic

2 min readโ€ขnovember 2, 2020

Caroline Koffke

Mickey Hansen


Unit 2: Music Fundamentals II (Minor Scales and Key Signatures, Melody, Timbre, and Texture)

2.1: Minor Scales: Natural, Harmonic, and Melodic

The major scales we discovered in Unit 1 <hyperlink to Unit 1.4> each have a minor scale that is based on the notes of the major scale. In fact, with a few alterations, there are three types of minor scales that are relative to its major key.

Let's take a major key, such as C. What happens if you keep the same key signature?

Reminder: in the key of C, there are no flats or sharps!

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-f0u6tgOcfrMY.gif?alt=media&token=3c1911fd-ff1c-4584-957a-f4945366dabb

What if instead of starting the C scale on C, you started it in on A?

Welcome to the world of relative minor.

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-9qn5e5oPHvoo.webp?alt=media&token=c7693392-c5ae-4b7f-be50-ea86ce67b71f

Specifically, what is the interval between a C and an A below it?

Answer: it's a minor 3rd, or 3 half-steps away.

There you have it! A relative minor key keeps the same key signature as its relative major, but starts the scale a minor third below the major.

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-pWTtuE08z5sx.png?alt=media&token=f0f1c305-bf76-4987-a569-322118dcdb2e

But wait, there are actually THREE different types of minor scales!

Let's check them out!

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1) Natural minor: for this scale, you do not alter any of the pitches. All the pitches that are in the relative major scale will be used in this relative minor scale, you just start the scale a minor 3rd down from the major key.

If we are in the major key of D major, here is a D major scale:

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-yiunLC2TMtHw.gif?alt=media&token=0415c9e6-fa3b-4445-a275-7c4f2d1fb9ac

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-oCDAWH7l1ecE.png?alt=media&token=f4b23f70-62c6-4782-84f3-563a862cbf3e

Here is D major's relative MINOR, the b minor scale:

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-7oynecaJEm5m.png?alt=media&token=1277cdaa-78ea-4a2a-8d63-efd75c42affa

Listen to the b minor scale!

2) The second type of minor scale is the harmonic minor scale. In the relative minor key, you will raise the 7th scale degree by a half-step. Keeping in the key of b minor like above, the scale will look like this:

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-LWmkwRbR6Wid.png?alt=media&token=ab5cfe84-3013-4752-8358-945abbce6e21

Listen to b minor's harmonic scale!

3) The last type of minor scale is the melodic minor scale. This scale is audibly distinct, in that the scale going upwards is different than the scale going downwards. Specifically, the 6th and 7th scale degrees are raised by a half step when going up. This makes the scale sound like it is briefly in a major key. Going downwards, however, the scale takes on the natural minor pitches, so the raised 6th and 7th scales degrees are canceled.

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-UWi7XhY0XS0j.png?alt=media&token=db25cf4b-b804-41bb-a1d2-872952f7a675

Listen to an example of the melodic minor scale for b minor and another melodic minor scale!

๐Ÿฆœ Polly wants a progress tracker: Can you identify by ear what type of minor scales are below?

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-clH33u7Ikv1Z.webp?alt=media&token=708a3b44-33c5-4c7c-a5b0-91d5f19491be

Guess what the first minor scale!

Guess what the second minor scale!

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