Minor Keys and Scales"> Minor Keys and Scales
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Minor Keys and Scales
By Catherine Schmidt-Jones
Feb 25, 2006, 09:22 PST

Minor Keys and Scales

By: Catherine Schmidt-Jones

Summary: The interval pattern for minor scales is different from that of major scales. Every minor key shares a key signature with its relative major. There are three different types of minor scales: natural minor, melodic minor, and harmonic minor.


Music in a Minor Key

Each major key uses a different set of notes (its major scale). But the notes in every major scale are arranged in the same way and build the same types of chords that have the same relationships with each other. (See Beginning Harmonic Analysis for more on this.) So music that is in, for example, C major, will not sound significantly different from music that is in, say, D major. But music that is in D minor will have a different quality, because the notes in the minor scale are arranged differently and so have different relationships with each other. Music in minor keys has a different sound and emotional feel, and develops differently harmonically. So you can't, for example, transpose a piece from C major to D minor (or even to C minor) without changing it a great deal. Music that is in a minor key is sometimes described as sounding more solemn, sad, mysterious, or ominous than music that is in a major key. To hear some simple examples in both major and minor keys, see Problem 1 in "Major Keys and Scales".

Minor Scales

Minor scales sound different from major scales because they are based on a different pattern of intervals. Just as it did in major scales, starting the pattern on a different note will give you a different key signature, a different set of sharps or flats. To create a minor scale, start on the tonic note and go up the scale using the interval pattern: whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step.



Minor Scale Intervals
Figure 1



Listen to these minor scales.



Problem 1
Write one octave of the ascending (going up) minor scale that begins on each note.
  1. A in the treble clef
  2. G in the treble clef
  3. B flat below the treble clef
  4. E in the treble clef
  5. F below the bass clef
  6. F sharp below the bass clef
Scroll down for the solutions when you have written your answers.












Solution 1
Figure 2

Relative Minor and Major Keys

Because they follow different interval patterns, C minor and C major do not have the same key signature. Instead, C minor has the same key signature as Eb major. Because they have the same key signature, C minor is called the relative minor of Eb major, and Eb major is the relative major of C minor. C is three half steps lower than Eb, and in fact a relative minor is always three half steps lower than its relative major.

Figure 3: The C major and C minor scales start on the same note, but have different key signatures. C minor and E flat major start on different notes, but have the same key signature. C minor is the relative minor of E flat major.



Problem 2
What are the relative majors of the minor keys in problem one?
Scroll down for the solutions once your have written your answers.















Solution 2
  1. A minor: C major
  2. G minor: B flat major
  3. B flat minor: D flat major
  4. E minor: G major
  5. F minor: A flat major
  6. F sharp minor: A major


More Minor Scales

All of the scales above are natural minor scales. They contain only the notes in the minor key signature. There are two other kinds of minor scales that are commonly used, both of which include notes that are not in the key signature. The harmonic minor scale raises the seventh note of the scale by one half step, whether you are going up or down the scale. Harmonies in minor keys do often use this raised seventh tone in order to make the music feel more strongly centered on the tonic. In the melodic minor scale, the sixth and seventh notes of the scale are each raised by one half step when going up the scale, but return to the natural minor when going down the scale. Melodies in minor keys often use this particular pattern of accidentals, so instrumentalists find it useful to practice melodic minor scales.


Figure 4



Listen to the differences in the different types of minor scales.



Problem 3

Rewrite each scale from exercise 1 as an ascending harmonic minor scale.
Scroll down for the solutions once your have written your answers.













Solution 3
Figure 5



Problem 4
Rewrite each scale from exercise 1 as an ascending and descending melodic minor scale.
Scroll down for the solutions once you have written your answers












Solution 4
Figure 6


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