Minor scale


Audio: minor scale (0:12)

Minor scale
Figure: minor scale
Table: minor scale

minor scale plays three melodies on a classical guitar in the keys of A natural minor, A melodic minor and A harmonic minor respectively. The melodies all have the same rhythm. The minor scale figure shows the score and the table lists the notes in each of the three minor scales together with the sequence of semitones in each scale.

There is not just one minor scale, there are three of them:

  1. The natural minor scale or aeolian mode.
  2. The melodic minor scale.
  3. The harmonic minor scale.

The first five notes in all three minor scales are the same. The third degree, the mediant, is a minor third in all three of the minor scales. It is this feature that distinguishes the minor scales from the major scale. The features that distinguish the minor scales from each other are the sixth and seventh degrees of each scale.

The aeolian mode is the natural minor scale. It is the only minor scale that is also a mode. The aeolian mode contains a minor sixth and a minor seventh above the tonic which distinguishes it from the other two minor scales. In A natural minor these intervals are AF and AG respectively. The melody in the second bar of minor scale progresses E-F-G-A to emphasise the distinctive sound of the scale.

The melodic minor scale is a hybrid. It has two versions, an ascending scale version and a descending scale version. The ascending scale contains a major sixth and a major seventh above the tonic, which distinguishes it from the aeolian. In the key of A melodic minor these are the intervals AF# and AG# respectively, and are shown in the melody progression E-F#-G#-A in the fourth bar of minor scale. The descending melodic minor scale is exactly the same as the natural minor scale.

The harmonic minor scale contains a minor sixth and a major seventh above the tonic. This distinguishes it from the other two minor scales. The gap between the sixth and seventh note contains three semitones, an interval of an augmented second. In the key of A harmonic minor this is the interval FG#. This feature distinguishes the harmonic minor scale from every other scale and gives it a unique sound. No other scale, major or minor or modal, has a gap of three semitones between two consecutive notes.

The melodic minor scale is usually used to write melody, the harmonic minor scale to write harmony, and the natural minor scale to write both melody and harmony.

The melodic and harmonic minor scales are not modes, they are invented scales. They were both designed to solve perceived problems in writing melody and harmony using the sixth and seventh notes in the natural minor scale. They are excellent examples of adaptation and invention. If, as a music writer, you find that something does not work, then change it. There is nothing sacrosanct about the modes or, indeed, music in general, if something does not work, then try something else that does.