The Minor Scales

The Minor Scales Explained

The minor scale is the scale which sounds negative – it is used by composers to depict sad, melancholic or even angry/dramatic moods. However, there are in fact 3 minor scales which you will come across. Each one sounds similarly “minor-like”, but they also have their own unique flavour. Let’s have a look at each one in turn.

The Natural Minor Scale

This is the minor scale which follows the pattern of notes laid out in the key signature. The set pattern for the notes is:

Tone – Semitone – Tone – Tone – Semitone – Tone – Tone

It is the same pattern of notes when going up the scale as when going down the scale.

Let’s have a look at the easiest minor scale – A minor.
The key signature of A minor tells us that there are no sharps or flats (in other words, you play all the white notes on a keyboard and none of the black notes).
Look at a keyboard and play a scale (of all the white notes) starting on A and going up until you reach the A above it. You have just played an ascending natural A minor scale. Come back down again and you have just played the descending natural A minor scale.

piano keyboard a natural minor scale

      Play A natural minor scale

You will also notice that the pattern of steps followed the pattern given above (Tone – Semitone – Tone – Tone – Semitone – Tone – Tone). Let’s try a natural minor scale starting on a different note – let’s try D minor.

piano keyboard d natural minor scale

      Play D natural minor scale

By following our set pattern of note steps (Tone – Semitone – Tone – Tone – Semitone – Tone – Tone) we can easily work out and play a natural D minor scale.

The Harmonic Minor Scale

The harmonic minor has a slightly more intense feel to it than the natural minor. This is caused by the raised seventh.
It’s easy to work out any harmonic minor scale. Simply work out the natural minor using the set pattern above (Tone – Semitone – Tone – Tone – Semitone – Tone – Tone) and then raise the 7th note by another semitone so the pattern becomes:

Tone – Semitone – Tone – Tone – Semitone – Tone and a half – Semitone

Let’s have a look at A harmonic minor:

piano keyboard a harmonic minor scale

      Play A harmonic minor scale

Notice how the G has been raised an extra semitone (half tone) to be G sharp. This is the same going up the scale and coming down the scale as well. Let’s have a look at D harmonic minor.

piano keyboard d harmonic minor scale

      Play D harmonic minor scale

The Melodic Minor Scale

This is the trickiest of the minor scales as the pattern for going up the scale is different from that coming down the scale! However, it’s still pretty easy to work out if you can remember which notes to raise. The crucial thing to remember is you only need to change the natural minor scale on the way up. The melodic minor descending scale is the same as the natural minor scale.

So, on the way up you need to raise each of the 6th and the 7th notes by a semitone (half tone). So, your melodic minor pattern will be:

Tone – Semitone – Tone – Tone – Tone – Tone – Semitone

Let’s have a look at A melodic minor:

piano keyboard a melodic minor scale

      Play A melodic minor scale

Now, let’s try D melodic minor:

piano keyboard d melodic minor scale

      Play D melodic minor scale

Remember, the melodic minor is only used on the ascending scale. When coming down the scale you use the natural minor.

In the next lesson we are going to look at the Blues Scales.