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Music

Minor Scale Guide: Learn the Natural Minor Scale

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 9, 2020 • 2 min read

Minor chords and minor-key music use notes from minor scales. There are three types of minor scales in music theory: the natural minor scale, the harmonic minor scale, and the melodic minor scale. Of these, the natural minor scale is most common in Western music.

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What Is the Natural Minor Scale?

In music theory, a natural minor scale is a seven-note musical scale characterized by a minor third scale degree (also known as a flat third), a minor sixth scale degree (or flat sixth), and a minor seventh scale degree (or flat seventh). Natural minor scales abound in classical music, jazz, and many styles of popular music, including rock, hip hop, and R&B.

Natural minor scales share a key signature with a relative major key that has the same diatonic notes. For example, the A minor scale is the relative minor of the C major scale, the D minor scale is the relative minor of F major, and the G minor scale is the relative minor of B♭ major.

What Are the Notes of the Natural Minor Scale?

A natural minor scale is constructed from seven notes spaced either one or two semitones apart. A natural minor scale is similar to a major scale, but it features a few half steps where the major scale would have whole steps. Here is a breakdown of each degree of the scale:

  • First scale degree: the root of the scale
  • Second degree: a whole step up from the root
  • Flat third degree: a half step up from the second
  • Fourth degree: a whole step up from the third
  • Fifth degree: a whole step up from the fourth
  • Flat sixth degree: a half step up from the fifth
  • Flat seventh degree: a whole step up from the sixth

The scale concludes with one final whole step to get back to the root, an octave higher than before. Natural minor scales consist of the same notes whether played in ascending form (going up the scale) or descending form (going down the scale).

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Natural Minor vs. Harmonic Minor: What’s the Difference?

There is a one-note difference between the natural minor scale and the harmonic minor scale: In the harmonic minor scale, the seventh scale degree is raised. While a natural minor scale has a minor seventh (or flat seventh), the harmonic minor scale has a natural seventh.

For example, the E natural minor scale consists of the following notes: E-F♯-G-A-B-C-D; the E harmonic minor scale is nearly identical, but with a raised seventh degree: E-F♯-G-A-B-C-D♯. The only difference between the two is that the D is raised by one semitone to D♯. This makes that seventh degree a leading tone, just like you’d have in a major scale.

What Is the Minor Pentatonic Scale?

The minor pentatonic scale is a variation on the natural minor scale. To turn a natural minor scale into a minor pentatonic scale, eliminate the second and sixth scale degrees. This leaves the following five scale degrees: first, flat third, fourth, fifth, flat seventh.

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