Minor scales provide a change in scenery from their major counterparts, however they are related in more ways than you might think. There are three types of minor scales: natural, harmonic, and melodic.
The natural minor scale can be thought of as a major scale with the 3rd 6th and 7th notes lowered by one half step. By altering these notes we also change the intervals which make up the scale. Also, most of the time when we refer to a ‘minor’ scale we’re generally referring to the natural minor. Minor scales provide a darker, and often more complex sound than major scales. As before with the major scales, you can figure out any natural minor scale (or any scale for that matter) by knowing it’s ‘interval formula’. Here’s the one for the natural minor scale:
Natural Minor Scale Formula
W H W W H W W
And here’s what the C natural minor scale looks like:
If you’re looking at the formula for the natural minor scale above and thinking to yourself “I’ve seen this before” then you’re on to something! Check out this comparison between the A natural minor and the C major scales below:
Natural Minor & Major Scale Comparison
A Minor: A B C D E F G
C Major: C D E F G A B
These scales are actually the same! The only difference is the A minor scale starts on the sixth note of the C major scale. The A minor scale is called the relative minor scale of the C major scale. It’s also true to say that the C major scale is the relative major of A minor; it can go both ways. Because of this relationship relative minor scales share the same key signature as their major counterparts and vice versa. Understanding this concept will save you loads of time when learning scales since once you know the major scales in all keys you’ll also know all the natural minor scales. Just remember: the relative minor scale is built from the major scale’s sixth degree.
For a visual helper check out the circle of fifths. It’s all tied together.
The harmonic minor scale is just like the natural minor only without the lowered 7th. Now, in this case the C harmonic minor scale, the B natural acts as a leading tone up to the C and emphasises it as a final note. Also, you’ll notice scale has an exotic sound, particularly between the Ab and B. The most common use of the harmonic minor scale presents itself in chord progressions in a minor key. Just think of the harmonic minor being used for it’s harmonic functions. To learn how it’s implemented check out the chords section.
The melodic minor scale, as it’s name implies, is used mainly in melodic lines. What’s interesting about this scale is that it’s different going up than it is coming down. In it’s acending form the only lowered note is the 3rd. As it decends, it’s a plain old natural minor scale; a lowered 3rd, 6th, and 7th. Notice that when you play the full scale, on the way up it feels like it is pulling towards the top C, in this case. As it goes down it pulls back down to the bottom C.