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> Minor Scales 101, Part 1 - Relative Minors
Andrew Cockburn
post Feb 27 2007, 11:13 PM
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Relative Minors


Hi All,

By special request from Radarlove1984, here is a lesson on relative minors.

Relative minors, what are they? First I'll give you a woolly description and then a more technical one.

A relative minor is a scale that is "related" to a major scale. You can regard them as being in the same family in that harmonically they work together well. Use of relative minors is a powerful tool in songwriting, as they provide a great way to move from a major to a minor key without too much of a jump or use of complex chord sequences. Some examples of major keys and their relative minors are:

C -> Am
G -> Em
D -> Bm
E -> C#m

Try playing these as pairs of chords and you will see that they fit well together.

So much for woolliness, here is a more technical description:

The relative minor of a particular major scale is a scale that shares all of the same notes, but starts 6 intervals up. Firstly, what is an interval? That's tricky to answer exactly, and there will be a lesson on it shortly, but for now just treat an interval as a note in a scale. An example will make this a little easier to understand.

Let's look at the scale of C - a particular favorite of mine because it has no sharps or flats. It has the notes

C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C

An example of the scale on open strings looks like this:

Attached Image

Going up 6 notes, (C-D-E-F-G-A), we find that A is the relative minor of C. So the notes we will use for A minor are A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A. Let's look at that scale:

Attached Image

As you can see, although we start on the note of A, all of the notes also exist in the C major scale.

Taking it a step further, looking at the scale in terms of half and whole notes, as in the Major Scale 101 lesson, for a relative minor we would use the formula:

W H W W H W W, or

2 1 2 2 1 2 2

You can use this formula to work out the relative minor scale for any major scale by starting at the 6th note and applying it.

Now, to wrap up, we will briefly mention a couple of fascinating facts about Relative Minors. Firstly, in western music there are actually three different minor scales - they differ slightly in the formula they use. The scale above is actually a "Natural Minor" or "Pure Minor" scale - two names for the same thing. In case you are wondering, the other two are called "Harmonic" and "Melodic". Since these two differ in their formulae, they do not share the same notes as the associated relative major scale and are harmonically speaking not such a good match as the Natural Minor.

And finally, the Natural Minor (or Relative Minor) scale of a particular major scale, is also known as the "Aeolian Mode". Modes are a concept that we will discuss in a future lesson, but for now, you can tell everyone that you now understand Relative Minors, Pure Minors, Natural Minors, and the Aeolian mode - not bad for one short lesson!

Enjoy relative minors, and as ever, all and any feedback is welcome!

This post has been edited by Andrew Cockburn: Jun 26 2007, 02:31 PM


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radarlove1984
post Feb 28 2007, 03:42 AM
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QUOTE (Andrew Cockburn @ Feb 27 2007, 02:13 PM) *
...but for now, you can tell everyone that you now understand Relative Minors, Pure Minors, Natural Minors, and the Aeolian mode – not bad for one short lesson!
cool.gif You said it!


PERFECT job explaining it, once again. Thanks for doing this.
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kapp
post Aug 28 2007, 07:02 AM
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OK, I have a few questions. ohmy.gif

I know that for the pentatonic scales I just move the boxes a specific number of frets to go from E minor to E major pentatonic. (Three frets down I believe)

So using that logic, can also do the same thing with the major scales? I already know the 5 box patterns of the major scale. To play in a minor scale do I use the same box patterns moved a certain amount of frets or do I have to learn a whole new set of box patterns? If so, are these patterns listed somewhere on the site?


If you had a diagram that would show the connection between them, that would be awesome!

I had an instructor that told me I could use the different patterns, but just move them to the root note to get that mode. For example, Dorian is making our actual root note of chord 2nd note of scale - so Bm chord we could play A scale over it to make it a Dorian scale instead of using standard 1st pattern on Bm. I hope that makes sense, if not, just an answer to the top part would be appreciated!
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Andrew Cockburn
post Aug 28 2007, 08:34 AM
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QUOTE (kapp @ Aug 28 2007, 02:02 AM) *
OK, I have a few questions. ohmy.gif

I know that for the pentatonic scales I just move the boxes a specific number of frets to go from E minor to E major pentatonic. (Three frets down I believe)

So using that logic, can also do the same thing with the major scales? I already know the 5 box patterns of the major scale. To play in a minor scale do I use the same box patterns moved a certain amount of frets or do I have to learn a whole new set of box patterns? If so, are these patterns listed somewhere on the site?
If you had a diagram that would show the connection between them, that would be awesome!

I had an instructor that told me I could use the different patterns, but just move them to the root note to get that mode. For example, Dorian is making our actual root note of chord 2nd note of scale - so Bm chord we could play A scale over it to make it a Dorian scale instead of using standard 1st pattern on Bm. I hope that makes sense, if not, just an answer to the top part would be appreciated!


Hi Kapp, the answer to both is yes, but it is confusing to think of it that way.

Move a minor pentatonic up to the next box and it becomes major pentatonic, but in a different key (E minor becomes A Major for instance). The same is true of Major and minor - move C major down a box (3 semitones) and it becomes A minor, so yes you can reuse the patterns as long as you are clear tha they are different scales.

This is not a typo by the way - its up one box UP to go from pentatonic minor to pentatonic major. DOWN one box to go from Major to Minor, however the language here is decieving. For pentatonic it really is one box. For Major/Minor its technically 2 boxes, but we rarely if ever use the box that starts one semitone down from the root, so ignore it.

The reason for all of this is Modes as you have touched on, but this is not an explanation of what modes are. A lot of people get confused at this stage, so either take that info at face value and ignore modes, and think of relative minors, or do the background work to understand modes in full now - don;t try and base your understanding of modes on this or you may end up getting it backwards (I did for a long time!)

You can read my lessons on modes here and here. Its worth reading both as there are two different perspectives there.

Let me know if you have any more questions!


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kapp
post Aug 28 2007, 03:26 PM
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QUOTE (Andrew Cockburn @ Aug 28 2007, 12:34 AM) *
Hi Kapp, the answer to both is yes, but it is confusing to think of it that way.

Move a minor pentatonic up to the next box and it becomes major pentatonic, but in a different key (E minor becomes A Major for instance). The same is true of Major and minor - move C major down a box (3 semitones) and it becomes A minor, so yes you can reuse the patterns as long as you are clear tha they are different scales.

This is not a typo by the way - its up one box UP to go from pentatonic minor to pentatonic major. DOWN one box to go from Major to Minor, however the language here is decieving. For pentatonic it really is one box. For Major/Minor its technically 2 boxes, but we rarely if ever use the box that starts one semitone down from the root, so ignore it.

The reason for all of this is Modes as you have touched on, but this is not an explanation of what modes are. A lot of people get confused at this stage, so either take that info at face value and ignore modes, and think of relative minors, or do the background work to understand modes in full now - don;t try and base your understanding of modes on this or you may end up getting it backwards (I did for a long time!)

You can read my lessons on modes here and here. Its worth reading both as there are two different perspectives there.

Let me know if you have any more questions!


Thanks! I liked the links about modes. I understood the theory behind modes and why the different tone/semitones change the sound (mode) laugh.gif of the scale. I guess a good question at this point would be how do I put these modes to use. Obviously when you are playing your guitar you aren't thinking "I will now move to a dorian by starting with a semi-tone".

For example, let's just take a basic blues riff of E - A - B I - IV - V

1. I could play an E minor pentatonic - which I believe is the same as the G major pentatonic.
I like to picture myself playing the G major pentatonic that way my root notes are in the same spots rather than moved around. (If that makes sense) Using the caged method I know the G chord shapes vs. the box patterns and connecting points of the 5 boxes and so on.

2. If I wanted to try some other modes, what ones would sound good and how should I picture them. Should I work them backwards off of the E just like in your lesson?
Since I am in a minor E key, should I be using modes that are minor. I didn't think I saw this particular point in the lessons, but I have this sheet that had the maj-min progressions which you obviously know. Would I want to mainly stick with the minor modes for fairly "in-the-box" blues jamming?

I = maj II=min III=min IV=maj V=maj VI=min VII=min
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Zephyr
post Aug 28 2007, 03:47 PM
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Thanks, this is very helpful!
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Andrew Cockburn
post Aug 28 2007, 09:11 PM
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QUOTE (kapp @ Aug 28 2007, 10:26 AM) *
Thanks! I liked the links about modes. I understood the theory behind modes and why the different tone/semitones change the sound (mode) laugh.gif of the scale. I guess a good question at this point would be how do I put these modes to use. Obviously when you are playing your guitar you aren't thinking "I will now move to a dorian by starting with a semi-tone".


Cool - glad you are off along the right path smile.gif For a slightly more practical take on modes you could have a look at my Modal Chord Progressions lesson - this ties in well with a couple of Dave Wallimans lessons on modes.

QUOTE (kapp @ Aug 28 2007, 10:26 AM) *
For example, let's just take a basic blues riff of E - A - B I - IV - V

1. I could play an E minor pentatonic - which I believe is the same as the G major pentatonic.
I like to picture myself playing the G major pentatonic that way my root notes are in the same spots rather than moved around. (If that makes sense) Using the caged method I know the G chord shapes vs. the box patterns and connecting points of the 5 boxes and so on.


We need a little bit of care here ...

Firstly, E, A, B is a Major chord progression, the chord you mentioned all belong to the major scale. Putting an E minor pentatonic on top of that on paper at least doesn't make sense, However, this is a mainstay of the blues, and who can argue with that? This tension between Major and Minor is a large part of what the blues is.

Secondly, the Pentatonic has its own set of modes that don't relate to the modes of the major scale. Musically you can interchange Major with Major Pentatonic and Minor with Minor Pentatonic because each pentatonic scale is a subset of its repective full scale, but looking at major modes using pentatonics adds an additional layer of complecity and potential confusion.

So, now, to your point - E minor Pentatonic is not the same as G major pentatonic. They are Relative modes of each other (Minor Pentatonic is Mode I of the pentatonic scale, Major Pentatonic is Mode II of the pentatonic scale). This means they share the same notes, but they are not the same scale. For a start, they have completely different root notes - E and G respectively. So, yes, the patterns are the same, but don't regard tham as the same thing just because they share notes. When playing them as scales, you would practice them with different root notes, and they are a major vs a minor scale so cannot be regarded as the same thing.

Now, to put this another way - if you play E minor penta in the first box, and E minor penta in the second box, you are playing the same scale (and this pretty much comes to the same thing as you were saying). The mistake here is to then use modal thinking and equate G major penta with this second box - they are not the same. Yes, the patterns are identical, but they start with a different root note, This may seem like a subtle distinction but it makes all the difference in the world!

It actually all comes down to the way you percieve what you are playing. When playing in that second pentatonic box, if you are experienced enough to "hear" the missing E root note as the root of your scale, you are playing E minor pentatoinic. If you "hear" the G as your root note, you are playing G major pentatonic.

QUOTE (kapp @ Aug 28 2007, 10:26 AM) *
2. If I wanted to try some other modes, what ones would sound good and how should I picture them. Should I work them backwards off of the E just like in your lesson?
Since I am in a minor E key, should I be using modes that are minor. I didn't think I saw this particular point in the lessons, but I have this sheet that had the maj-min progressions which you obviously know. Would I want to mainly stick with the minor modes for fairly "in-the-box" blues jamming?

I = maj II=min III=min IV=maj V=maj VI=min VII=min


Yes, a lot of this is covered in the lesson I mentioned above smile.gif

Yes, I would start with the regular minor scale, then play with slight changes to get different modal effects. The easiest is to move from minor to Dorian (sharpen the 6th of the scale). This is a minor change to accomodate, but gets you playing modally very quickly. However, mixing this all with blues is a little confusing for the reasons I mentioned above - you have a major chord progression which works with minor pentatonic but will start to sound very wierd with a full minor scale. It might be better to start with a truly Dorian chord progression which you can find in that lesson.

Hope this helps - get back to me with any more questions!

This post has been edited by Andrew Cockburn: Aug 28 2007, 09:14 PM


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edgor67
post Sep 3 2007, 09:15 PM
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Aghhhhhh! When one checks out the Relative Minor boxes available they are an added challenge. I have nothing to do with the rest of my life except work. I guess I'll take the challenge and do Major, Pentatonic, and now minor scales. Don't even mention modes to me yet. Aghhhhhhh!

SHRED ON!
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Andrew Cockburn
post Sep 3 2007, 09:22 PM
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smile.gif The good news is that by the time you have done this you will know 2 of the 7 modes without even trying !


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edgor67
post Sep 4 2007, 10:30 AM
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QUOTE (Andrew Cockburn @ Sep 3 2007, 04:22 PM) *
smile.gif The good news is that by the time you have done this you will know 2 of the 7 modes without even trying !


I dabbled with the Relative Minor scales tonight. Very interesting. I have a book that gives me the patterns. I was doing Carlos Santana stuff Am Gm Am...Se Otavo (or what ever). The scales are in all the Major scales, every sixth note. Very interesting. I have to start practicing earlier now. I'll have to kick it up to three hours a night. My wife will say I'm addicted to guitar scales. I guess there are worse addictions.

Shred on!

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