Relative Minor Scale

To understand the Relative Minor scale, we must first understand the basic concept of Modes. Modes may be a confusing term at first but dont let the unfamiliar intimidate you. Modes are simply a group of scales that are related to each other.

Modes in Music

Modes may not be as unfamiliar as you think. Have you ever listened to a piece of music and thought it sounded a little different? You were probably listening to a piece of music written using modes. Some modes sound more familiar, while others sound very different. There is a very good reason for this. In later lessons we will look at modes in detail but for now modes are simply scales, relative to each other.

Before moving on, it's worth exploring the use of the term relative and its definition. When we use the term relative it is considered in relation or in proportion to something. With the Relative Minor scale, that something is the major scale; the minor scales relative.

Lets look again at the major scale for the purpose of assisting in the understanding of related scales. The major scale is a group of seven repeating notes. Each major scale is constructed by starting with the root note and its construction follows the defined order of notes found from the musical alphabet.

The C Major Scale

The C Major Scale

Consider spelling out the major scale starting at the sixth degree, A, instead of the root note, C. Doing so reveals the following:

The A Natural Minor Scale

The A Minor Scale

This scale is referred to as the A natural minor scale and is directly related to the C major scale, as it shares the same note construction. The A natural minor scale is a mode of C major.

This point is important and worth repeating. Spelling out the major scale starting at the sixth degree gives you the relative minor scale (natural minor form) and is directly related to the C major scale, because as stated, it shares the same note construction.

Three strikes and youre in, not out!

Finding the relative minor of the major is done by counting up six diatonic steps from the root note of the major scale. A short cut is to count back three diatonic steps. Three is the number to use as your device. It can be used to determine both the relative major and relative minor by changing direction. For example:

Counting back three diatonic steps in C major gives you A.

Counting back 3 diatonic steps to A

Counting forward three diatonic steps in A minor gives you C.

Counting 3 diatonic steps to C

Although the major scale and its relative minor scale share the same notes, music that is created using a major scale will sound significantly different from music that is created using its relative minor scale.

Music in minor keys will have a different sound quality because it follows a different pattern of half-steps and whole-steps. Music in minor keys has a different emotional feel and is sometimes described as sounding solemn, sad and mysterious.

Minor Scale Construction

Using the chromatic scale as a reference, the minor scale can be constructed using the following pattern of half-steps and whole-steps:

A Natural Minor Construction

The A Minor Scale built using half-steps and whole-steps

Minor Key Signatures

Because the natural minor scale shares the same notes as its relative major, it stands to reason that it should share its Key Signature. For example, if we consider the G major Scale:

The G Major Scale

G major has 1 sharp with a Key Signature, F#.

The relative minor scale, derived from the sixth degree of G major is E minor and has the same Key Signature, F#.

The E Minor Scale

With this information, we can now revisit the Circle of Fourths and Fifths, including the relative minor scales:

The Circle of 5ths Showing Major and Minor Keys

Below is a list of the relative minor scales

Scale Name Notes
C natural minor C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C
G natural minor G, A, Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G
D natural minor D, E, F, G, A, Bb, C, D
A natural minor A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A
E natural minor E, F#, G, A, B, C, D, E
B natural minor B, C#, D, E, F#, G, A, B
F# natural minor F#, G#, A, B, C#, D, E, F#
C# natural minor C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A, B, C#
G# natural minor G#, A#, B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#
Eb natural minor Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, Cb, Db, Eb
Bb natural minor Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb
F natural minor F, G, Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F