Meet the Major Scale’s Little Cousins…

… the Minor scales!

They might be named “minor,” but there is nothing small or insignificant about the minor scales, which are closely related to the major scales. In fact, without the flavor of the three main minor scales and their diatonic chords, the music we know today will be quite bland and one dimensional. Jazz music especially relies on the minor scales a lot for its chromaticism or color.

In contemporary music, there are altogether three types of minor scales, i.e. Natural, Melodic and Harmonic. Each of these scales are as important as the other in terms of its scale as melody sources and its diatonic chords as rich harmonic sources.

Natural Minor Scale and its Diatonic Triads

By starting on the sixth degree of a major scale and playing every note until it reaches the next octave of the same note, we form the natural minor scale. This is the purest form of the minor scale. The other two are variations of this.

Natural Minor Scale-1

A Natural Minor Diatonic triads-1

Chords I, IV and V are minor; III, VI and VII are major; and chord II is diminished.

Harmonic Minor Scale and its Diatonic Triads

The major scale is also famously known for its DO-RE-MI-FA-SO-LA-TI-DO (these are the solfege names of the scale notes) — thanks to the popular song “Do-Re-Mi” from the wonderful musical The Sound of Music. Try this: Sing out loud the first five notes, i.e. DO-RE-MI-FA-SO, your ears will naturally be drawn to complete the rest LA-TI-DO! This demonstrates that our ears have been influenced by the natural and organic sound of the major scale and how it completes itself. Notice how the seventh degree of the scale, i.e. TI has an especially strong pull back to the first note.

Now, if we take the natural minor scale and try to end the scale with the same strong TI-DO sound, this will form the harmonic minor scale. Observe how the unique sound of the harmonic minor scale comes from the movement from the sixth degree to the seventh, LE-TI (a span of three halfsteps).

A Harmonic Minor Scale-1

A Harmonic Minor Diatonic triads-1

We have an interesting mix of chord qualities from the harmonic minor scale. Chords I and IV are minor; V and VI are major; II and VII  are diminished; and chord III is augmented. As you can see this scale actually contains all the four basic triad types, i.e. major, minor, augmented and diminished.

Melodic Minor Scale and its Diatonic Triads

Moving along, we can further smoothen the movement of the sixth to the seventh degree in harmonic minor by changing the LE to LA, essentially reverting to the LA-TI-DO sound of the major scale. Doing this will create the melodic minor scale.

A Melodic Minor Scale-1

A Melodic Minor Diatonic triads-1

The melodic minor scale also contains all the four basic triad types. Chords I and II are minor; III is augmented; IV and V are major; and chords VI and VII  are diminished.

Notice the first five notes of all three minor scales are the same. They differ only  in the sixth and seventh degrees. So if you put all the available notes together, you actually form a composite minor scale.

Composite Minor Scale

A Minor Composite Scale-1

A song in minor will use any or all of the three minor scales at one time, so the composite scale is very useful.

Compiling all the available diatonic triads from all three minor scales is just as important.

Chord/Scale Natural Minor Harmonic Minor Melodic Minor
I Ami Ami Ami
II Bdim Bdim Bmi
IV Dmi Dmi D
V Emi E E
VI F F F#dim
VII G G#dim G#dim

Now, break it down further by chord degree and you will find a few chord qualities for each.

Chord Degree Chord Qualities
I Ami
II Bdim, Bmi
IV Dmi, D
V Emi, E
VI F, F#dim
VII G, G#dim

This is a lot of information to digest. In the next article, I’ll take a look at a minor piece or two and put all these together!


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