In music theory, minor scale may refer to a heptatonic scale whose first, third, and fifth scale degrees form a minor triad, that is, a seven-note scale in which the third note is a minor third (three semitones) above the first, and the fifth note is a perfect fifth (seven semitones) above the first.

This includes (among others) the natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor scales. A minor scale differs from a major scale in that the third degree in a major scale is a major third (four semitones) above the first degree. In other words, the third degree in a major scale is one semitone higher than in a minor scale.

the natural minor scale, also known as Aeolian scale, taken by itself. When a major scale and a natural minor scale have the same key signature, they are relative keys. A natural minor scale has the same notes as its relative major scale, but is built starting from the sixth note of the relative major scale.

the functional fusion of natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor scales, as is used in Western classical music (see major and minor). A harmonic minor scale differs from a natural minor scale in that the seventh note is raised one semitone both ascending and descending. Melodic minor scales raise both the sixth and seventh notes one semitone when ascending, and descends like the natural minor scale.

Natural minor scale

The A natural minor scale.

This pattern of whole and half steps characterizes the natural minor scales.

The natural minor scale follows the sequence of steps:

  • W, H, W, W, H, W, W
  • W = Whole step
  • H = Half step

In semitones, this is

  • two, one, two, two, one, two, two (2 1 2 2 1 2 2) (or T S T T S T T)

If the white keys on the piano are played beginning on the sixth step of the C-major scale, which is A, to the A an octave above, then a natural minor scale is produced. In this case the minor scale is called A-minor, and this minor scale has no accidentals (sharps or flats). A-minor is called the relative minor of C. Every major key has a relative minor, which starts on the sixth scale degree or step. For instance, the sixth degree of F major is D, and thus its relative minor is D minor. The relative natural minor of a major key always shares the same notes: for example, F major consists of F, G, A, B♭, C, D, and E, while D natural minor consists of D, E, F, G, A, B♭, and C.

The natural minor scale can also be represented by the notation:

  • 1 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 ♭7 8

Each degree of the scale, starting with the tonic (the first, lowest note of the scale), is represented by a number. Their difference from the major scale is shown. Thus a number without a sharp or flat represents a major (or perfect) interval. A number with a flat represents a minor interval, and a number with a sharp (though there are none in this example) represents an augmented interval. In this example, the numbers mean: 1=unison, 2=major second, ♭3=minor third, 4=perfect fourth, 5=perfect fifth, ♭6=minor sixth, ♭7=minor seventh, 8=octave. So, the natural minor scale consists of: 1, the tonic, followed by 2, a note a major second above the tonic, ♭3, a n

The A harmonic minor scale. Its seventh note is raised by a semitone.

The notes of the harmonic minor scale are the same as the natural minor except that the seventh degree is raised by one semitone, making an augmented second between the sixth and seventh degrees. The seventh degree, in a similar way to major scales, becomes a leading tone to the tonic because it is now only a semitone lower than the tonic, in contrast to the seventh degree in natural minor scales, which are a whole tone lower than the tonic (subtonic). It is also called the Aeolian ♯7. The harmonic minor scale follows the sequence of steps:

  • W, H, W, W, H, WH, H
  • W = Whole step
  • H = Half step
  • WH = Whole-and-a-half step

See also






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