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Prospect Music Lessons

Music Theory Basics Part 4

Minor Scales

In the last couple of blog posts, we learned about Major Scales and the chord progressions that correspond to them. Now let’s discuss Minor Scales.

The notes of the Minor Scale can be ascertained in two different ways – either by using the Relative Minor of a Major Key, or with a formula like the one we used to figure out the Major Scale.

Relative Minor

Relative Minor is the Minor Scale that shares the same notes as another Major Scale.

Let’s look at C Major.


If we start on the 6th degree (A) and use the same notes, we get the Relative Minor:


This is also known as the Natural Minor – we’ll discuss this a bit later. Anyways, what you need to remember is that the 6th degree of any Major Scale is the 1st degree of its Relative Minor – hence A Minor is the Relative Minor of C Major. We can also use the term Relative Major when going in the opposite direction – C Major is the Relative Major of A Minor.

Natural Minor

Building the scale from 6th degree creates a new formula:

W ½ W W ½ W W

We often write scales in comparison to the Major Scale, so Natural Minor would be:

1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

Now, if we create chords based on this formula, we get:

im iio bIII iv v bVI bVII

Technically, still the same chords as the Relative Major, but we hear i (formerly vi) as the “tonic” or fundamental chord. However, Minor is unique in that we often alter the 6th and 7th degrees to create a few other scales and chords….

Harmonic Minor

Harmonic Minor is like Natural Minor but has a Natural 7th, creating a larger interval between the 6 and the 7.

1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7

W ½ W W ½ W&½ ½

In the key of A Minor, this would be:

A B C D E F G# A

This creates a “leading tone” that wants to move up a ½ step to the Root or Octave. It also creates a few new chords!

im iio bIII+ iv V bVI viio

The addition of the V major chord makes the progression from V to i feel much stronger – most minor keys will use this chord.

Melodic Minor

This scale uses both Natural 6th and Natural 7th to create even more upward movement:

1 2 b3 4 5 6 7

It’s basically a Major Scale with the only difference being a flatted 3rd. Here is it in A Minor:

A B C D E F# G# A

The chords are also slightly different:

Im ii bIII+ IV V vio viio

Chords Chords and more Chords!!!

When you put the chords of all three Minor Scales together, you get:

im iio ii bIII bIII+ iv IV v V bVI vio bV viio

In the key of Am:

Am Bo Bm C C+ Dm D Em E F F#o G G#o

That’s a lot of chords! Now, let’s try taking the key of C Major and putting it up against all the chords in not the Relative Minor, but the Minor scales with the same root! (duplicate chords not included)

C Dm Em F G Am Bo
Cm Do Eb Eb+ Fm Gm Ab Ao Bb

This creates an even bigger palette to choose from when writing songs. We already discussed the iv in the last post, but now we have the popular bIII, bVI, and bVII. The others also come up on occasion!

On my next post, I’ll discuss how to get even more chords, using Modulations and 7th Chords (yes you can add 7ths to any of these)! For now, try this attached exercise to test what you learned.