In music theory, a minor scale (also known as aeolian scale) is made up of seven distinct notes, plus an eighth which duplicates the first one an octave higher. These notes are assigned different names:
|Degree name||Solfege syllable||Example (A minor)|
Please note that the 7th degree cannot be called “leading tone” unless it is raised by a semitone with a sharp (or a natural when the 7th degree has a flat in the key signature).
The minor scale is one of the diatonic scales, meaning that it is made up of five whole steps and two half steps. The sequence is the same for all minor scales: one whole step, one half step, two whole steps, one half step, two whole steps (W, H, W, W, H, W, W). For example, consider the A minor scale:
Here you can see all the notes in the modern twelve-tone equal temperament (explaining what this is and where it comes from is far beyond our scopes — just be content to know that all western music is based on this twelve-note system). The highlighted notes form the A minor scale. You'll immediately notice that there are no notes between B and C: that's what we meant by “half step”. The same thing happens between E and F. On the other hand, if you take C and D, there's C# in between: they are separated by a “whole step”. So there's a total of five whole steps (you can count them). By the way, these notes that fall in between the notes of a scale without belonging to it are called chromatic notes.
You may observe that there's a relation between the schemes on which major and minor scales are built. That's because every minor scale has a relative major. This means that when playing a minor scale you start on the note the scale is named for just like for a major scale, but you use the key signature of its relative major. To figure out a minor scale's relative major, just count up three half steps from the name of the minor scale. For example: To find the key signature of D minor, count 3 half steps up from D: Eb, E, F. So the relative major of D minor is F major. This means that the key signature for D minor is the same used to play F major. So if you know the key signatures of all the major scales you can derive the key signature of any minor scale by using this procedure.
There's also another method to figure out the key signature: you play the major scale that begins on the same note, but flatting the third, sixth, and seventh notes.
The simplest minor scale to write or play is A minor, since it's the only minor scale that requires no sharps or flats (its relative major is C major).
Natural, harmonic, melodic
Now, to be more precise there are actually three different kinds of minor scale.
- The natural minor scale, which is the one we have discussed so far.
- The harmonic minor scale, in which the seventh degree is raised by a half step.
- The melodic minor scale, in which both the sixth and the seventh degrees are raised by a half step.
To complicate things even further, the melodic variant is usually played only when going up the scale (ascending scale), but is replaced by the natural scale when going down (descending scale).
Below you can find all the minor scales, with all the possible alterations.
- To play the natural minor scale, ignore the parenthesized alterations.
- To play the harmonic minor scale, ignore only the first parenthesized alteration.
- To play the melodic minor scale, play both parenthesized alterations when going up, and ignore both when going down.
Two-octave minor scales can be found here:
Arpeggios (or arpeggi, which is the correct plural of the Italian term arpeggio) are like scales, but only made up of the first, third and fifth notes of a scale.
One-octave minor scales follow.