In this tutorial, we’re looking at the three different types of minor scales, what they’re composed of, their uses within music, and how you can borrow chords from minor scales to use within major keys and vice versa. 

There are three forms of minor scale: the natural minor scale, the melodic minor scale, and the harmonic minor scale.

It’s important to note that the minor scale and major scale are related, and it’s just as vital to be able to see the correlation between them. If you think of the major and the minor scales as two separate things that have nothing to do with each other, it can make your musical development much harder. But if you can see that the major scale is the minor scale and the minor scale is the major scale, it will make your life a little easier for you.

Finding the Relative Minor of a Major Key

There are two ways we can find the relative minor of a major key:

If we start in the key of C and descend by a minor 3rd (count down C – B -Bb – A), the note that you have landed on is the relative minor for that specific major key. Remember that when you’re counting a third below, you’re counting a minor third (three semitones), not a major third (four semitones). 

The second method is by counting up by a major 6th (C – D – E – F – G – A) because the 6th degree of any major scale is always where the relative minor scale starts from. 

Another essential thing to note is that the root note of the relative minor belongs to the original major scale (e.g., A belongs to the C major scale). If you don’t land on a note belonging to your original major scale once you’ve finished your calculations, you’ve made an error in your counting. You will always find your relative minor note within the major scale you started with.


Natural Minor Scales

Now that we’ve established that A minor is the relative minor of C major, all we simply have to do now is play all the notes belonging to the C major scale, starting on A.

Play the following scale:

A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A (ascending)

A – G – F – E – D – C – B – A (descending)

Now look at this scale in comparison to the C major scale:

C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C 

C – B – A – G – F – E – D – C

You’ll notice how the C major scale and its relative minor scale of A minor share the same notes, containing no sharps and no flats.

This scale, A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A, is the A natural minor scale, the first of the three types of minor scales. The natural minor scale will consist of the same notes as the major scale but starting on the relative minor note instead. There are no alterations to this rule.

Let’s jump to the key of G major, which is formed of the notes G – A – B – C – D – E – F#. We can find the relative minor key of G major by using the minor 3rd technique from earlier (G – Gb – F – E) or the major 6th technique (G – A – B – C – D – E) to get to the note E. This makes the relative minor of G major: E minor. 

Try playing the E natural minor scale below, both ascending and descending:

E – F# – G – A – B – C – D – E

E – D – C – B – A – G – F# – E

Again, you’ll notice how the E natural minor scale contains the same notes as its relative G major scale but starts on the note of E instead. Both scales share the F# note and all remaining white notes. 

Harmonic Minor Scale

The second type of minor scale is the commonly used harmonic minor scale.

When playing a harmonic minor scale, we have to introduce a raised seventh within the natural harmonic minor scale.

So, going back to our main key of C major, with our relative minor key of A minor, we can use this raised 7th technique to find the A harmonic minor scale:

A – B – C – D – E – F – G# – A

A – G# – F – E – D – C – B – A

The 7th, the G note, has been raised by a half-step to G# to form A harmonic minor. Try playing this scale, both ascending and descending, to get a feel for its unique sound compared to the natural minor scale. 

Next, I will show how you can slot a harmonic minor chord into an otherwise normal progression to give it some flavor. Try playing the following chord progression:

Am  (LH: A – A,  RH: A – C – E)

Dm  (LH: D – D,  RH: A – D – F)

E major  (LH: E – E,  RH: B – E – Ab – B)

Am  (LH: A – A,  RH: E – A – C)

When we get to the E chord, we can introduce a raised 7th (the note Ab) to make the harmonic minor while transforming the chord from its expected E minor position into an E major instead. This resolves back to the root Am chord nicely.

Melodic Minor Scale

The third type of minor scale is the melodic minor scale. The rule for this scale states that you need a sharp 6th and a sharp 7th when ascending, which are both restored or lowered back to natural while descending.

This plays as follows:

A – B – C – D – E – F#G# – A  (ascending)

A – GF – D – E – C – B – A  (descending)

It’s easy to see that the melodic minor is the same as the natural minor when descending. The only difference in the melodic minor is that it contains a sharp 6th and a sharp 7th note as it ascends.

To recap:

The natural minor has no sharps or flats and carries precisely the notes as its relative major.

The harmonic minor has a raised 7th, ascending, and descending.

The melodic minor has a raised 6th and a raised 7th ascending and descends as a natural minor. 

Each major scale and its relative minor are relatives because they share the same key signature and the same notes. The exceptions are the alterations of the raised 7ths in the harmonic minor scale and the raised 6th & 7th in the ascending melodic minor scale.

You need to be able to distinguish these scales, not only by sound but also by the rules behind them, so that you can play your minor scales no matter what key you’re in.

Practice identifying each relative minor scale and its parent major scale. Once you begin to see the relationships between major and minor scales, playing in a minor key becomes easier than playing in a major key because you constantly see the connection between the notes. I recommend practicing the three types of minor scales separately before mastering them on both hands together.


Building Chords in the Minor Scale

The key signature of Am is the same as C. It has no sharps, no flats, and only uses the white keys unless we’re playing a harmonic or melodic minor scale. 

Here’s a reminder of the chords found in the C major scale:

1 – C major (C – E – G)

2 – D minor (D – F – A)

3 – E minor (E – G – B)

4 – F major (F – A – C)

5 – G major (G – B – D)

6 – A minor (A – C – E)

7 – B diminished (B – D – F)

Chords of the A Natural Minor scale

In the key of C major, the Am chord is the 6th chord because A is the 6th note in the C major scale. But in the key of Am, it shifts to become chord number 1: 

1 – A minor (A – C – E)

2 – B diminished (B – D – F)

3 – C major (C – E – G)

4 – D minor (D – F – A)

5 – E minor (E – G – B)

6 – F major (F – A – C)

7 – G major (G – B – D)

Chords of the Harmonic Minor scale

In the harmonic minor scale, the chords will start the same. But when we get to Chord 3 (C), we have to account for the raised 7th, which the harmonic minor scale requires. By changing every G note in the chords above to a G#, we can form the A harmonic minor chords:

1 – A minor (A – C – E)

2 – B diminished (B – D – F)

3 – C augmented (C – E – G#)

4 – D minor (D – F – A)

5 – E minor (E – G# – B)

6 – F major (F – A – C)

7 – G# diminished (G# – B – D)

When you’re thinking about chords belonging to the minor key, you should still try to look at it from a major perspective:

The 7th chord, Bb, is diminished in the key of C major. But since Am is now the 1st chord, B diminished becomes the second chord of the A minor scale. Relative major and minor keys contain the same chords but just arranged in a different order, starting from the 6th chord instead. Everything else stays the same. You can scroll back to the charts above if you want to take another look at them.

To demonstrate this point further, the 2nd chord is Dm in the key of C. In the relative key of A minor, D is still a minor chord but has shifted in place to become chord number 4, which you can see below:

Chords in C major: C – Dm – Em – F – G – Am – Bdim – C

Chords in A minor: Am – Bdim – C – Dm – Em – F – G – Am

Chords of the A Melodic Minor scale

We don’t usually build chords using the melodic minor. But we can still build them using the ascending sharp 6th and 7th, as follows:

1 – A minor (A – C – E)

2 – B minor (B – D – F#)

3 – C augmented (C – E – G#)

4 – D major (D – F# – A)

5 – E major (E – G# – B)

6 – F diminished (F# – A – C)

7 – G# diminished (G# – B – D)

Again, it’s unusual to build chords in a melodic minor scale like this. It’s much more common to use the natural or harmonic minor scales. However, the melodic minor can be used as an improvisation tool in jazz and soul music, where you can slide in the melodic minor and it will naturally sound great over certain chords.

Parallel Minors

It’s possible to pull out chords from minor keys and use them in a piece, even though you are playing in a major key.

Try playing the following chord progression:

C | Am | Dm | G | Ab  Bb |C

The key of C is supposed to have no sharps and no flats, but as you can see, the progression above contains the chords Ab major and Bb major, which lead back to the root, C major. You might recognize hearing this end section, Ab – Bb – C, used in many songs. 

This progression uses the parallel minor. A parallel minor scale is not a different minor scale. As we confirmed earlier, there are only three types of minor scales, the natural, the harmonic, and the melodic.  We call it a ‘parallel’ minor because the scales share the same tonic note: C.

C major has a relative minor of Am. But if we stay on C and play a C minor scale (C – D – Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C), this is a parallel minor. This means that C minor is the parallel minor of C major.

In the chord progression above, all we did was pull the 6th and the 7th chords from the parallel minor and place them into a usual C major chord progression. This gives a deceptive sound as if it’s going to resolve to a minor, but instead, the parallel minor trick turns it around to go to the major. This way, it’s easy to pull chords from the parallel minor and resolve them back to the major key.

As you learn more about chords and scales, you’ll realize that you can borrow chords from other scales and place them within a song to give a unique effect. Spend some time practicing these examples, understanding their sound as well as their theory, and it will help you tremendously throughout any style of music you want to play.

Learn The Correct Fingering For All 12 Minor Scales

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