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Minor scale

A minor scale in musical theory can be viewed as the sixth mode of the major scale.

Minor scales are sometimes said to have a more interesting, possibly sadder sound than plain major scales.

Table of contents

Constructing and recognising minor scales

Finding key signatures

Like major scales, minors are named after their tonic (first) note. However unlike majors, minor scales do not have their own set of key signatures. Instead it is necessary to use the key signature of a minor's relative major scale. The relative major is found by raising the minor tonic note by 3 semitones(an interval of a minor third); for example the relative major of E minor is G major. We know that the key signature of G major has one sharp (see major scales for how to find this,) therefore E minor also has one sharp in its key signature.

This table illustrates the relative major key signatures for minor scales.

 Key Sig.  Major Scale          Minor Scale
 0#        - C     major           - A     minor
 1#        - G     major           - E     minor
 2#        - D     major           - B     minor
 3#        - A     major           - F#    minor
 4#        - E     major           - C#    minor
 5#        - B     major           - G#    minor
 6#/6b     - F#/Gb major           - D#/Eb minor
    5b     -    Db major           -    Bb minor
    4b     -    Ab major           -    F  minor
    3b     -    Eb major           -    C  minor
    2b     -    Bb major           -    G  minor
    1b     -    F  major           -    D  minor

Types of minor scales

Descending melodic minor scales

Scales produced from just the key signature of the relative major are sometimes called natural minors. The simplest natural minor scale is A natural minor:

 A  B  C  D  E  F  G  A'

This variant is sometimes referred to as the descending melodic minor scale as it is often used in descent from the tonic.

Ascending melodic minor scales

The ascending melodic minor scale is constructed by sharpening the 6th and 7th scale degrees of the minor scale (or, equivalently, flatting the third degree of the major scale). This variation is used primarily for ascending lines, since it has strong motion towards the tonic.

For example, in the key of A minor, the ascending melodic minor scale is:

 A  B  C  D  E  F# G# A'

Harmonic minor scales

Harmonic minors are constructed by sharpening the 7th degree of the minor scale.

For example, in the key of A minor, the harmonic minor scale is:

 A  B  C  D  E  F  G# A'

This scale is used in constructing harmony as it contains the major dominant chord and the minor subdominant chord.

See also: musical mode

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