The Natural Minor Scale
Jul 22 2007, 11:26 PM
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The Natural Minor Scale

Introduction

Second only to the Major scale, minor scales are an important part of the music we listen to. Notice that I said "minor scales" - plural. The reason for this is that although there is really only one major scale there are a number of different scales that have the term minor attached to them. Of these the most common is the natural minor scale, which we will be learning about here. For interest, the others are the Harmonic Minor and the Melodic minor. The reason that 3 different scales are all called minor (an indeed some chords are called minor) all hinges on a very important relationship within the scale.

In a future lesson we'll be looking at this in a little more detail, but the important note of the scale is the 3rd note. When comparing Major and minor scales, the minor version of the scale will always have a 3rd note one semitone below the corresponding note in the major scale (we call this a flatened 3rd, a minor 3rd, or a b3 for short). Although the 3 scales I mentioned differ in other ways (to see how exactly check the lessons later in the series), they all share this flattened 3rd, so they all qualify as minor scales. The natural minor is the most common, and we will focus on this, but the other two are interesting, especially the Harmonic minor which is used a lot in neo-classical compositions.

The Natural Minor Scale

The Natural Minor scale is a 7 note scale, built using the formula: 2 1 2 2 1 2 2

You should be familiar with scale formulae from the previous lessons. Lets have a look at how we would build a scale of G natural minor (or G Minor for short). Obviously our root note is G, and building up from the formula we get the following notes:

G + 2 semitones = A
A + 1 semitones = Bb
Bb + 2 semitone = C
C + 2 semitones = D
D + 1 semitones = Eb
Eb + 2 semitones = F
F + 2 semitones = G

So there you have it - a scale of G minor has the notes G, A, Bb, C, D, Eb, F, and as usual you can apply this formula with any other root note to get the exact scale that you want.

On the Fretboard

How do we play this on the guitar? Well, sticking with our G Minor scale, as with the Major scale we can construct 7 different boxes, and by convention we simplify this to 5 boxes, separated by either 2 or 3 semitones.

Here they are:

And that is the natural minor scale.

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This post has been edited by Andrew Cockburn: Oct 16 2008, 12:39 AM

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Jul 23 2007, 09:55 PM
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Awesome. Ive been wanting to learn this. Thanks

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Dec 25 2007, 02:02 PM
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how and why do you simplify this to 5 boxes?

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Dec 25 2007, 02:46 PM
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Although there are always the same number of boxes in the scale as there are notes, a couple of the boxes are only one fret different (because of the 2 semitone steps in this scale). So we tend to leave those 2 out, leaving a 3 semitone gap between the remaining boxes, so that the coverage is a little more even. This is really just for convenience though, there is nothing stopping you from using theose extra 2 bixes, and you can use the formula to figure them out

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Dec 26 2007, 10:33 PM
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oh, yeah, i understand;)
thank you:)

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Jan 1 2008, 11:30 PM
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Hello,

Are the boxes the same as the ones in the major scale?

I checked both this natural minor and the major, and it seems to me that the box patterns are the same, only shifted one position due to the root note, is that right?

Is it the same thing that happens with the minor/major pentatonic boxes?

Thanks

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Jan 2 2008, 02:05 AM
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Yes, they are the same, but the minor scale is shifted 6 patterns up (bear in mind that there are 7 patterns in the Minor scale in total but we only use 5 of them for regular boxes as a couple of them are very close to each other).

The reason that the boxes are shared is because the Natural minor scale is mode 6 of the major scale - check my lesson on modes here.

The same holds true for pentatonic, but the rule is that major pentatonic is one box up from the minor pentatonic, because major pentatonic is mode 2 of the minor pentatonic scale.

Also bear in mind, that although the boxes are reused, the resulting scales are in a different key and have a different root note. For instance, Box 6 of the C major scale is box 1 of the A minor scale.

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Jan 2 2008, 03:38 AM
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Ok I think I get it, after checking the lessons on major/minor scales again. I replied in my other similar thread though

As I said, I will have to read that part on modes someday or I will forever be lost!, but I guess that I already have enough work to do learning the natural minor scale.

Funny thing is that I like how the minor scales sound better, and as they have the same "boxes" I'm learning the penta minor + natural minor, instead of the major scales. Is that a bad approach?

I guess I will have to practice a little bit both major scales too, and I hope it will be easy, because they share the same box patterns after all, am I right?

Thanks Andrew

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Jan 2 2008, 01:38 PM
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Yes, definitely practice both!

The fact that they share boxes will make it easier, but you need to train your ear to distinguish the difference between them, as they ARE in fact different scales. If you always say to yourself "ah, key of G, I can use an E minor scale" - that is the wrong approach. If however you say "ahh, key of G, I think I'll use box 6 of the major scale, because that is identical to box one of the major scale and I know it well, but I understand that the root notes will be different", that is fine. In order to do that successfully you need to have trained yourself in the difference in sound between a major and minor scale, so that your musical perception is correct about what you are doing.

At this point, a lot of people say, "well if they share the same notes they are the same right?" - the answer is a resounding no. They sound similar because you are not comparing like with like. You can compare a G major and E minor scale and notice little difference, but try a G major and a G minor scale and you will soon see the difference - that is comparing like with like because they have the same root notes. When you understand that, you should be able to pick up on the more subtle difference between E minor and G major.

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Jan 2 2008, 03:29 PM
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Ok, I guess it all boils down to what kind of backing you can use each scale against.

I know that E minor sounds good with a blues backing, and I suspect that a G major would be the right choice with a rock backing?

And they would sound much different even though they are the same notes, because of the way they interact with the backing track.

Is that ok? (I know it's an over simplified explanation, but it's the way I felt the one and only time I tried playing a major scale, it was pentatonic major and it didn't sound good over a blues backing but sounded ok with a rock backing!)

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Jan 2 2008, 03:33 PM
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Thats a pretty good point actually

It depends totally on the backing because chords and scales are so intertwined that you can;t really separate them. The backing gives the context for the scale. So if you play a G major scale over an E minor chord, the root note is emphasized by the backing (as E) and it becomes an E minor scale. Play the same scale over a G chord and the reverse is true, the G is emphasized and you are really playing a scale of G major. Finally, if you play an E minor scale over a G major backing it really becomes a G major scale for the same reason - because the backing sets the root note.

As a skilled player though, you should be able to "hear" the root note in your head in isolation without the backing, and that is an important part of why we do scale training.

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Jan 2 2008, 09:59 PM
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Ok, I see it crystal clear now =)

I guess I'll have to practise paying more attention to the root notes from now on!

Thanks Andrew

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Apr 10 2008, 11:50 AM
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QUOTE (Fran @ Jan 2 2008, 03:38 AM)
Ok I think I get it, after checking the lessons on major/minor scales again. I replied in my other similar thread though

As I said, I will have to read that part on modes someday or I will forever be lost!, but I guess that I already have enough work to do learning the natural minor scale.

Funny thing is that I like how the minor scales sound better, and as they have the same "boxes" I'm learning the penta minor + natural minor, instead of the major scales. Is that a bad approach?

I guess I will have to practice a little bit both major scales too, and I hope it will be easy, because they share the same box patterns after all, am I right?

Thanks Andrew

my tip is to remember the pattern the WWHW... of the scales and get good at finding the boxes for yourself that will make it easy to remember and you will think of scales as notes that fit together rather than boxes

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Apr 10 2008, 03:48 PM
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Good plan - its great to actually understand why you are playing the patterns and even create them for yourself

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Dec 28 2008, 03:05 AM
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Good evening

I just have to be sure that I understand this. If I want to play a song which goes in the key of A Aeolian (minor), wont the "box/or the notes" be the same as in a C ionian scale? But if I use the ionian box which contains the same notes as the minor, would I still have a minor sound/feel over the solo/track?

Don`t know If I wrote that question particurlary easy to understand, but the clock here is 3.35 AM, and had to ask before I went to bed and forgot

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Dec 28 2008, 03:12 AM
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QUOTE (mhskeide @ Dec 28 2008, 03:05 AM)
Good evening

I just have to be sure that I understand this. If I want to play a song which goes in the key of A Aeolian (minor), wont the "box/or the notes" be the same as in a C ionian scale? But if I use the ionian box which contains the same notes as the minor, would I still have a minor sound/feel over the solo/track?

Don`t know If I wrote that question particurlary easy to understand, but the clock here is 3.35 AM, and had to ask before I went to bed and forgot

As Andrew explained earlier, the sound/feel of the scale comes from the chord/backing being played over. Boxes and notes are the same in A-aeolian and C-ionian. Hope that helps.

Monte

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Dec 28 2008, 04:18 PM
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Correct Monte!

The biggest difference is that the root note is A and not C - and that makes all the difference in the world (and also changes the chord progression as Monte says). A Aeolian is NOT the same as C Ionian even though they share notes, purely and simply because the root note is different, which means the scale starts at a different point in the sequence.

To prove to yourself that Aeolian is different from Minor, play A Aeolian, then play A Ionian - they sound completely different right? This is because you have to compare like with like, and that means using the same root notes.

Although there are reasons for these 2 scales sharing the same notes, its best to regard it as an interesting but unimportant piece of information until you start to understand how modes work, or you will become very confused!

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Dec 28 2008, 04:23 PM
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QUOTE (Andrew Cockburn @ Dec 28 2008, 04:18 PM)
Correct Monte!

The biggest difference is that the root note is A and not C - and that makes all the difference in the world (and also changes the chord progression as Monte says). A Aeolian is NOT the same as C Ionian even though they share notes, purely and simply because the root note is different, which means the scale starts at a different point in the sequence.

To prove to yourself that Aeolian is different from Minor, play A Aeolian, then play A Ionian - they sound completely different right? This is because you have to compare like with like, and that means using the same root notes.

Although there are reasons for these 2 scales sharing the same notes, its best to regard it as an interesting but unimportant piece of information until you start to understand how modes work, or you will become very confused!

Great explanation Andrew!! Once you know the 7 boxes of the diatonic scale I think the best way to practice them is to play them in a paralell fashion, like you were saying. Play A-Ionian, then A-Dorian, then A-Phrygian etc.. Then, as Andrew said, you will really hear the difference in the different modal sounds!!

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