Build Minor Scales (Natural, Harmonic, Melodic)

Edited by Jacob, Anonymous, Dougie, bobn and 1 other

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A scale is a set of pitches with specific distances between them. They make music meaningful and give it character. In tonal music we have two kinds of scales. One is Major, which is always capitalized when written, and the other one is minor, which is never capitalized. Each of these scales has its own pattern, but in this article, we will only discuss the natural, harmonic, and melodic scales.

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To learn about how to build major scales, follow the link to our article. Otherwise read on to learn how to build minor scales.

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Natural minor Scale

The natural minor scale is one of the most used scales in western music.

The natural minor scale is also known as an Aeolian Scale. This scale has a very tragic and dramatic character. The simplest of these is the A natural minor because it is the only minor scale that does not require playing any sharp or flat notes. Sharp and flat notes are the black keys on your piano.

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Scale-Degree-Steps-do-re-mi.png

Follow the steps below to build the 'A natural minor scale':

  1. 1
    The A minor scale starts on 'A'.
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  2. 2
    From A, we take a whole step to B.
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  3. 3
    From B, we take a semi step to C.
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  4. 4
    From C, we take a whole step to D.
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  5. 5
    From D, we take a whole step to E.
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  6. 6
    From E, we take a semi step to F.
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  7. 7
    From F, we take a whole step to G.
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  8. 8
    From G, we take a whole step to A.
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  9. 9
    So, the A natural minor scale includes:
    A B C D E F G A.
    A-natural-minor.png
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If we examine the distance between each note, we discover a pattern for building all of the natural minor scales: T-ST-T-T-ST-T-T. A tone = a whole Step or two keys on the piano. A Semitone = a half Step or one key on the piano. When observing the piano keys, we can see that whole steps are between adjacent white keys, while half steps are the distance between adjacent white and black keys. The only exceptions to this are the keys 'B and C' and 'E and F', which are half steps. This is because there is no black key between them.

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Piano-Keys-intervals 2.png

Now let's try to use this pattern and build another natural minor scale. In this example we want to build the 'C natural minor' scale:

  • C+Tone=D
  • D+Semitone=E-Flat
  • E-flat+Tone=F
  • F+Tone=G
  • G+Semitone=A-flat
  • A-flat+tone=B-flat
  • B-flat+Tone=C
  • C natural minor scale includes: C D E-flat F G A-flat B-flat C
C-natural-minor-scale.png

Harmonic minor Scale

The harmonic minor scale is commonly used in Middle Eastern music and in Indian music.

The harmonic minor scale has a very Asian character. In most Arab nations, it is known as Nahawand-Hijaz, while India calls it Kirwani, and in Turkey it is know as Bûselik Hicaz. No matter what it's called, a harmonic minor scale sounds different than a natural minor, because it is different. The difference is that a harmonic minor has a sharp note in the 7th position on the scale, professionally known as an augmented 7th, or sharpened 7th, but a natural minor does not.

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A-harmonic-minor-7th.png

As you can see from the example above, there are seven notes in a scale. Looking at the example below, you can see how each note has a corresponding number, also known as the degree or step, which is dependent on its position in the scale. In the harmonic minor example we gave earlier, the 7th position or step is G#, or G-Sharp. In the example below, the 7th step in the 'A' natural minor is G.
Scale-steps-number.png

The reason for this change is that between the 7th step and the first step of each scale there is a naturally pleasing progression to the sound, as the notes compliment one another. In a natural minor scale, the distance between the 7th and 1st degrees is a whole step; therefore to increase the appeal of these notes to the ear, we sharpen the 7th degree.

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Considering the information provided above, follow the steps below to build an 'A harmonic minor' scale:

  1. 1
    Just like the 'A natural minor' scale, this scale starts from 'A'.
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  2. 2
    From A, we take a whole step to B.
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  3. 3
    From B, we take a half step to C.
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  4. 4
    From C, we take a whole step to D.
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  5. 5
    From D, we take a whole step to E.
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  6. 6
    From E, we take a half step to F.
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  7. 7
    From F, we take a whole step and a half step to G-sharp.
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  8. 8
    From G-sharp, We take a half step to A.
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  9. 9
    Now we have successfully built the 'A harmonic minor' scale:
    A B C D E F G-sharp A.
    A-harmonic-minor.png
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If we observe the intervals (distances) between each note, we find a pattern to build all the harmonic minor scales: T-ST-T-T-ST-T+ST-ST

Now try to build another harmonic scale using this pattern. In this example we choose the 'D harmonic minor' scale:

  • D+Tone=E
  • E+Semitone=F
  • F+Tone=G
  • G+Tone=A
  • A+Semitone=B-flat
  • B-flat+Tone+Semitone=C-Sharp
  • C-Sharp+Semitone=D
D-harmonic-minor-scale.png

Melodic minor Scale

In the melodic minor scale, the 6th note is a half step higher. This is because the composers wanted to smooth out the leading tone, instead of leaping a whole step and half. A leading tone is always the 7th step note of each scale

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Considering the augmented 6th and 7th steps, follow the steps below to build the 'A melodic minor' scale:

  1. 1
    A melodic minor starts with 'A'.
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  2. 2
    From A, we take a whole step to B.
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  3. 3
    From B, we take a half step to C.
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  4. 4
    From C, we take a whole step to D.
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  5. 5
    From D, we take a whole step to E.
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  6. 6
    From E, we take a whole step to F-sharp.
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  7. 7
    From F-sharp, we take a whole tone to G-sharp.
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  8. 8
    From G-sharp, we take a half step to A.
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  9. 9
    Now we've just built an 'a melodic minor' scale:
    A B C D E F-sharp G-sharp A.
    A-melodic-minor-scale.png
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Just like other scales, there is just one pattern for building all the melodic minor scales. This pattern is: T-ST-T-T-ST-T-T

The melodic minor scale is very similar to the melodic major scale. This is because the upper parts in both scales are the same. Because of this, understanding which of these two scales is minor and which is major can be tricky. The secret to understanding them is by paying attention to the first part of the scale.

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This is the pattern of the melodic Major scale In comparison to the melodic minor scale:

Melodic Major Scale: T-T-ST-T-ST-T-T

Natural minor Scale: T-ST-T-T-ST-T-T

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Questions and Answers

How do I construct a minor scale?

How to construct all the scales and where are the sharps and flats located? I have tried: I have tried but it gets really confusing. I think it was caused by: My teacher does not teach me properly.

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What are the basics of building minor scales?

I have to give a very brief presentation on minor scales. I do understand them, but I wanted to see if there are some pointers for keeping the explanation concise.

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Categories : Music

Recent edits by: bobn, Dougie, Anonymous

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