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Theory 101 – Minor Scales

Posted by Ian on March 24, 2008

To explain minor scales, I will begin by giving you some more musical terminology that will help out a lot later on.

In any particular scale, there are 7 notes. These notes all have specific names.

1st note: Tonic
2nd: Supertonic
3rd: Mediant
4th: Subdominant
5th: Dominant
6th: Submediant
7th: Leading tone

Now, back to key signatures:

As you have learned, all major scales have a corresponding key signature. All minor scales also have a

corresponding key signature, which they share with a corresponding major key.

An example of this is F major and D minor, which correspond or are ‘related’.

In F major, the notes are…

F…G…A…Bb…C…D…E…(F)

To find its relative minor, take the submediant note (6th in the scale), and write out the notes that fall in the key of F major for an octave.

D…E…F…G…A…Bb…C…(D)

You have just constructed the relative minor of F major, D minor.

Now, the next step is to construct a Harmonic Minor of a Major key. To do this, you simply raise the leading tone (7th note in the relative, or natural, minor) by a half step, so you get…

D…E…F…G…A…Bb…C#…(D)

And lastly, we come to the construction of a melodic minor, which can be a tad confusing…

Take the natural minor…

D…E…F…G…A…Bb…C…(D)

And raise both the 6th and 7th notes (submediant and leading).

D…E…F…G…A…B…C#…(D)

Seems pretty straight forward, correct? Well… look at this next part.

When you are playing a melodic minor scale going up (ascending) you play it with the notes we just created.

However, when you descend in the scale, it becomes this.

(D)…C…Bb…A…G…F…E…D.

When descending a Melodic minor scale, you use the notes that correspond with a natural minor.

Transposing parts written for major scales to minor scales is a great way to practice with minor scales, and can be rather interesting, too… songs played in minor keys have a completely different, often sadder or darker, colour.

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2 Responses to “Theory 101 – Minor Scales”

  1. Mohana said

    I already understand what makes a melodic minor scale, but I have been searching for why, in other words, why is the melodic minor scale lowered to a natural minor scale on the way down, which is unique to that scale alone in all basic and jazz music theory. Is it still a melodic scale if you don’t lower the 6th and 7th on the way down?

  2. Ian said

    I honestly don’t know the answers to your questions… however I believe that it is still a melodic scale if you do not lower the 6th and 7th on the way down, as I have seen that done before…. but I am not by nay means certain.

    If I find an answer, I’ll include it in a future post of some sort…

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