Minor Scales

Natural, Harmonic and Melodic

The following is a very long and detailed page. You may want to tackle it in stages as there is a lot to take in. Just take it a step at a time, and most importantly make sure you understand each step before moving on to the next. Once you understand each concept, everything will start to make sense. Here we go...

The most common minor scales are:

  1. Natural Minor
  2. Harmonic Minor
  3. Melodic Minor

There is one thing that differentiates all 3 Minor Scales from the Major scale. The interval between the 1st and 3rd notes of the scale is always a tone and a half or 3 semitones. The correct terminology for this interval is a minor third.

In a Major Scale, the interval between the 1st and 3rd notes is a major 3rd which is equivalent to 2 whole tones or 4 semitones.

What differentiates the minor scales from each other is whether or not the 6th and 7th steps of the scale are sharpened or not.

Help Videos

There are some excellent videos on the net by 'musictheoryguy'. They are extremely well presented and detailed. I have included all the relevant videos on this page including the 'circle of fifths' video, which is a very useful tool for determining key signatures when building Scales.

These videos can be found towards the bottom of the page. It is a good idea to view them all as they are a valuable tool for calculating key signatures in any major or minor key. You can also refer to Table-4 below for the key signatures and notes in any given scale. This includes all major and relative minor keys.

Different Methods for Calculating Minor Scales

There are a number of ways you can determine the notes in any Minor Scale.

  • 1. The Step Method: Like the Step Method for determining the notes in a Major Scale, we can use the same principle in determining notes in the various Minor Scales. We can use this method in the form of Whole and Half Steps OR in the form of semitones. Simply remember that a Whole Step is equivalent to 2 semitones, and a Half Step is equivalent to 1 semitone.
  • 2. Using a formula: By applying a formula to a specific Major Scale, we can determine the notes of a specific Minor Scale.
You can also determine the notes by calculating the key signatures for each minor scale...

1. Natural Minor Scale

  • The Natural Minor Scale is the sixth mode (or Aeolian mode) of the major scale. e.g., if you are in the key of C and move up 6 notes, counting C as number 1, you reach A. The relative minor of C Major is A Minor.
  • Natural Minor Scale: 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7 8 ascending and descending

Method 1 - Using the Step Method: W - H - W - W - H - W - W     OR     2 -1 - 2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2

By using the step method we can calculate Natural Minor Scales. Here are a few examples...

Table 1:
Scale Notes 1st   2nd   3rd   4th   5th   6th   7th   8th
Whole / Half Tones   W   H   W   W   H   W   W  
Semitones   2   1   2   2   1   2   2  
C Natural Minor Scale C   D   E♭   F   G   A♭   B♭   C
G Natural Minor Scale G   A   B♭   C   D   E♭   F   G
D Natural Minor Scale D   E   F   G   A   B♭   C   D
A Natural Minor Scale A   B   C   D   E   F   G   A


Method 2 - Using the Formula 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7 8 ascending and descending

Example 1: Calculating the C Natural Minor Scale:

1. Write down the notes of a C Major Scale: C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C (no sharps or flats)

2. The formula for a Natural or Relative Minor Scale reads as follows: 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7 8 (ascending and descending).

3. Apply the formula to the scale: C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C ... flatten the 3rd, 6th, and 7th notes

4. C Natural Minor Scale = C - D - E♭ - F - G - A♭ - B♭- C- B♭- A♭ - G - F - E♭ - D - C


Image 1:
C Natural Minor Scale

To calculate the notes 'descending', go to the last note (end) and work backwards towards the middle. You always move from the lowest note to the highest note whether ascending or descending. The first and last notes (C) are the tonic, while the middle note (C) is an octave above the tonic.


Example 2: Calculating the A Natural Minor Scale:

1. Write down the notes of an A Major Scale: A - B - C# - D - E - F# - G# - A (3 sharps - F# C# G#)

2. The formula for a Natural or Relative Minor Scale reads as follows: 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7 8

3. Apply the formula to the scale A - B - C# - D - E - F# - G# - A ... flatten the 3rd, 6th, and 7th notes

4. A Natural Minor Scale = A - B - C - D - E - F - G - A (same notes as the C Major Scale).


Image 2:
A Natural Minor Scale

Method 3: Watch the video to calculate Natural Minor Scales using the Circle Of Fifths to determine the key signture.

  • Calculate the key signature using the circle of fifths or manually as described below - in these examples, E♭ Major / C Minor, and C Major / A Natural Minor
  • Add the key signature to the Stave
  • Write the notes on the Stave starting and ending on the tonic making sure you include a note on every line and in each space.

Determining Key Signatures Manually - without the use of charts and aids

Let's say you don't watch the video and don't know how to use the Circle of Fifths, or you don't have charts or other aids available. There are other ways...

To determine the key signature of any Minor Key, you firstly need to determine the key signature of its relative major key. Also, you need to remember that you start and finish on the Tonic or first note of that particular key, therefore a C Natural Minor Scale will start with a C note and finish with a C note.

Every natural minor key has a relative major key and vice versa - this means they share the same key signature. To determine the major key from a natural minor key simply count up 3 semitones (minor 3rd) from the tonic of the minor key... here are some examples:

Am + 3 semitones = C Major where the tonic of the minor key is A...
Bm + 3 semitones = D Major
Cm + 3 semitones = E♭Major
Dm + 3 semitones = F Major
Em + 3 semitones = G Major
Fm + 3 semitones = A♭Major
Gm + 3 semitones = B♭Major

So now we know the major key, we need to determine the key signature - how many sharps or flats are written at the beginning of every Stave, and in what order. We know that C Major and Am are relative to each other and share the same key signature - no sharps or flats... but what about the other keys.

Determining Sharps: Each scale starts on the 5th degree of each previous scale along with an extra sharp in the key signature. To determine whether the 5th degree is a sharp or natural key, simply count up 7 semitones. Remember that each Scale Degree or note must have a different name.

To determine the order of sharps and flats, make up or use one of the many sayings available where the first letter of each word represents the sharp or flat. Wikipedia uses a good one where the saying incorporates both sharps and flats using the reverse order for flats... this way you only have to remember one saying.

Order Of Sharps: Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle ( F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, B#)
Order Of Flats: Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles' Father (B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭, C♭, F♭)

Lets take C major as our starting point... no sharps or flats

The 5th degree of C Major is G major 1 sharp - F# C + 7 semitones = G
The 5th degree of G Major is D major 2 sharps - F#, C# G + 7 semitones = D
The 5th degree of D Major is A major 3 sharps - F#, C#, G# D + 7 semitones = A
The 5th degree of A Major is E major 4 sharps - F#, C#, G#, D# A + 7 semitones = E
The 5th degree of E Major is B major 5 sharps - F#, C#, G#, D#, A# E + 7 semitones = B
The 5th degree of B Major is F# major 6 sharps - F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E# B + 7 semitones = F#
The 5th degree of F# Major is C# major 7 sharps - F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, B# F# + 7 semitones = C#

Determining Flats: Each scale starts on the 4th degree of each previous scale along with an extra flat in the key signature. To determine whether the 4th degree is a flat or natural key, simply count up 5 semitones.

Lets take C major as our starting point... (no sharps or flats)

The 4th degree of C Major is F major 1 flat - B♭ C + 5 semitones = F
The 4th degree of F Major is B♭ major 2 flats - B♭, E♭ F + 5 semitones = B♭
The 4th degree of B♭Major is E♭ major 3 flats - B♭, E♭, A♭ B♭ + 5 semitones = E♭
The 4th degree of E♭ Major is A♭ major 4 flats - B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭ E♭+ 5 semitones = A♭
The 4th degree of A♭ Major is D♭ major 5 flats - B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭ A♭+ 5 semitones = D♭
The 4th degree of D♭Major is G♭ major 6 flats - B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭, C♭ D♭ + 5 semitones = G♭
The 4th degree of G♭Major is C♭ major 7 flats - B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭, C♭, F♭ G♭ + 5 semitones = C♭

So now we know the key signature, we can include it on the stave and fill in the appropriate notes - From the example above, we have determined that the relative major of Cm is E♭major which has 3 flats... Cm + 3 semitones = E♭major. Instead of writing it on the Stave as we did in Image-1, we can now add the key signature at the beginning of the Stave, and add the notes on the Stave without the accidentals, as the key signature fixes the position of each note. This way, if we have a B♭, E♭, and A♭ in the key signature, every B, E, and A played on the Stave will be a flat... the C Natural Minor Scale = C - D - E♭ - F - G - A♭ - B♭- C

Image 3:
Key Signature and notes for the C Natural Minor Scale
C Minor Key Signature

Please Note: If you are using a key signature when writing harmonic and melodic minor scales, you must first determine the key signature of the Natural Minor Scale and then make the necessary adjustments.


2. Harmonic Minor Scale

  • The Harmonic Minor Scale is the same as the natural minor scale but with a chromatically raised seventh degree ascending and descending (raised by 1 semitone).
  • Harmonic Minor Scale: 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 7 8 ascending and descending... in simple terms, you lower the 3rd and 6th note by 1 semitone.

Method 1 - Using the Step Method: W - H - W - W - H - WH - H    OR     2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 1 - 3 - 1

By using the step method we can calculate Harmonic Minor Scales. Here are a few examples...

Table 2:
Scale Notes 1st   2nd   3rd   4th   5th   6th   7th   8th
Whole / Half Tones   W   H   W   W   H   WH   H  
Semitones   2   1   2   2   1   3   1  
C Harmonic Minor Scale C   D   E♭   F   G   A♭   B   C
G Harmonic Minor Scale G   A   B♭   C   D   E♭   F#   G
D Harmonic Minor Scale D   E   F   G   A   B♭   C#   D
A Harmonic Minor Scale A   B   C   D   E   F   G#   A

Method 2 - Using the Formula - 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 7 8 ascending and descending

Example 1: Calculating the C Harmonic Minor Scale:

1. Write down the notes of a C Major Scale: C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C (no sharps or flats)

2. The formula for a Harmonic Minor Scale: 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 7 8 (ascending and descending).

3. Apply the formula to the scale C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C ... flatten the 3rd and 6th notes

4. C Harmonic Minor Scale = C - D - E♭ - F - G - A♭ - B - C - B - A♭ - F - F - E♭ - D - C

Image 4:
C Harmonic Minor Scale

Method 3: Watch the video to calculate Harmonic Minor Scales using the Circle Of Fifths to determine the key signature.

  • Calculate the key signature of the Natural Minor Scale - in this example, E♭ Major / C Minor.
  • Add the key signature and write all the notes on the Stave.
  • Make adjustments to the notes - add a natural sign ♮(accidental) in front of the 7th note - B ascending and descending, as this is raised in a Harmonic minor scale. This will negate the B flat in the key signature from having any effect on the note... this is explained fully in the video.

3. Melodic Minor Scale

  • The Melodic Minor Scale is the same as the Natural minor scale but with a chromatically raised sixth and seventh degree ascending and restored to its normal pitch descending.
  • Melodic Minor Scale: 1 2 ♭3 4 5 6 7 8 ascending & 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7 8 descending

Method 1 - Using the Step Method:

Ascending: W - H - W - W - W - W - H    OR     2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 2 - 1

Descending: W - H - W - W - H - W - W    OR     2 - 1 - 2 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 2

Please Note: The descending Melodic Minor Scale is exactly the same as the Natural Minor Scale.

By using the step method we can calculate Melodic Minor Scales. Here are a few examples ascending... use the Natural Minor Table 1 for descending.

Table 3:
Scale Notes 1st   2nd   3rd   4th   5th   6th   7th   8th
Whole / Half Tones   W   H   W   W   W   W   H  
Semitones   2   1   2   2   2   2   1  
C Melodic Minor Scale C   D   E♭   F   G   A   B   C
G Melodic Minor Scale G   A   B♭   C   D   E   F#   G
D Melodic Minor Scale D   E   F   G   A   B   C#   D
A Melodic Minor Scale A   B   C   D   E   F#   G#   A

Method 2 - Using the Formula - 1 2 ♭3 4 5 6 7 8 ascending & 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7 8 descending

Example 1: Calculating the C Melodic Minor Scale:

1. Write down the notes of a C Major Scale: C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C (no sharps or flats)

2. The formula for a Melodic Minor Scale: 1 2 ♭3 4 5 6 7 8 ascending & 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7 8 descending

3. Apply the formula to the scale: C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C ... flatten the 3rd note ascending, and flatten the 3rd, 6th, and 7th notes descending.

4. C Melodic Minor Scale = C - D - E♭ - F - G - A - B - C ascending, and C - D - E♭ - F - G - A♭ - B♭ - C descending.

Image 5:
C Melodic Minor Scale
When writing the descending notes, start at the end and work towards the middle retaining the correct order - low to high.

 

Method 3: Watch the video to calculate Melodic Minor Scales using the Circle Of Fifths to determine the key signture.

  • Calculate the key signature of the Natural Minor Scale - in this example, E♭ Major / C Minor.
  • Add the key signature and write all the notes on the Stave.
  • Make adjustments to the notes - add a natural sign ♮(accidental) in front of the 6th and 7th notes A & B ascending as these are raised in a Melodic minor scale. This will negate the A♭ and B♭ in the key signature from having any effect on the note.
  • The melodic minor descending remains untouched as it is exactly the same as a natural minor scale where B♭, E♭, A♭are all included in the descending scale in accordance with the key signature.

Major & Natural Minor Scales

The following chart lists all the major and natural minor scales. I have included the major scales, so that you can see the relationship between the two. Make sure you remember the order of sharps and flats in any given scale. This order never changes... no matter what key you are in, the order of sharps and flats in a key signature always remains the same.

Here are some other sayings to help you remember the order of sharps and flats. The first letter of each word represents the sharp or flat. This is just one example of many... the important thing is that you remember them.

Order of Sharps: Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle ....... F - C - G - D - A - E - B

Order of Flats: Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles' Father .......... B - E - A - D - G - C - F

Please note that the order of flats is the reverse order of sharps; the last sharp is the first flat; the second to last sharp is the second flat; the third to last sharp is the 3rd flat and so on.


Major scales and their relative minor scales have exactly the same key signature except that the first note of the minor scale starts on the 6th note of the major scale e.g., C Major ( C - D - E - F - G - A - B ) A is the 6th note and also the relative minor of C Major (see below).

Table 4:
Major Scale Notes in the Major Scale Sharps Relative Minor Notes in the Minor Scale
        *Order of sharps: F C G D A E B*
C C - D - E - F - G - A - B None Am A - B - C - D - E - F - G
G G - A - B - C - D - E - F# 1# Em E - F# - G - A - B - C - D
D D - E - F# - G - A - B - C# 2# Bm B - C# - D - E - F# - G - A
A A - B - C# - D - E - F# - G# 3# F#m F# - G# - A - B - C# - D - E
E E - F# - G# - A - B - C# - D# 4# C#m C# - D# - E - F# - G# - A - B
* B B - C# - D# - E - F# - #G - A# 5# G#m G# - A# - B - C# - D# - E - F#
* F# F# - G# - A# - B - C# - D# - E# 6# D#m D# - E# - F# - G# - A# - B - C#
* C# C# - D# - E# - F# - G# - A# - B# 7# A#m A# - B# - C# - D# - E# - F# - G#
         
Major Scale Notes in the Major Scale Flats Relative Minor Notes in the Natural Minor Scale
        *Order of flats: B E A D G C F*
C C - D - E - F - G - A - B None Am A - B - C - D - E - F - G
F F - G - A - B♭ - C - D - E 1♭ Dm D - E - F - G - A - B♭- C
B♭ B♭ - C - D - E♭ - F - G - A 2♭ Gm G - A - B♭ - C - D - E♭ - F
E♭ E♭ - F - G - A♭ - B♭ - C - D 3♭ Cm C - D - E♭ - F - G - A♭ - B♭
A♭ A♭ - B♭ - C - D♭ - E♭ - F - G 4♭ Fm F - G - A♭ - B♭ - C - D♭ - E♭
* D♭ D♭ - E♭ - F - G♭ - A♭ - B♭ - C 5♭ B♭m B♭ - C - D♭ - E♭ - F - G♭ - A♭
* G♭ G♭ - A♭ - B♭ - C♭ - D♭ - E♭ - F 6♭ E♭m E♭ - F - G♭ - A♭ - B♭ - C♭ - D♭
* C♭ C♭ - D♭ - E♭ - F♭ - G♭- A♭ - B♭ 7♭ A♭m A♭ - B♭ - C♭ - D♭ - E♭ - F♭ - G♭
* indicates 'enharmonic' which is a note or key signature which is equivalent to another note or key signature, but spelled differently, e.g., B Major = C♭Major / F# Major = G♭ Major / C# Major = D♭ Major

Some of the most popular minor scales are the A Minor Scale, C Minor Scale, and D Minor Scale.



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Circle Of Fifths Videos
There are a couple of other videos which you may find extremely useful:
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