Minor Scales: Natural, Harmonic, and Melodic

Schoolboy (14-16) at desk writing music on stave, close-up
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In Western music, there are major scales there are also minor scales. A scale consists of eight notes starting and ending on the same one. The major scale is also known as an Ionian scale and is one of the most frequently used musical scales. The difference between the two is that notes on a major scale sound bright and cheerful, while notes on the minor scale sound solemn and sad. There are three types of minor scales: natural, harmonic, and melodic.

Basic Music Terms

  • #: Translating to sharp, when the note needs to be raised by one semitone
  • B: Meaning flat, the symbol for when the note should be diminished by a single semitone
  • Chord: Three to four notes that are played at the same time in harmony
  • Clef: The symbol at the start of the staff that defines the pitch of notes
  • Major: Music that is described with a positive affirming character
  • Minor: Defined by its dark and melancholic mood

Natural Minor Scale

The name notes on the major scale include a natural minor scale, with the exception that it is created from the sixth note on the major scale. When you play all the notes in a minor key signature, you are playing the minor scale. To guide you, here are the minor scales in every key:

C = C - D - Eb - F - G - Ab - Bb - C
D = D - E - F - G - A - Bb - C - D
E = E - F# - G - A - B - C - D - E
F = F - G - Ab - Bb - C - Db - Eb - F
G = G - A - Bb - C - D - Eb - F - G
A = A - B - C - D - E - F - G - A
B = B - C# - D - E - F# - G - A - B
C# = C# - D# - E - F# - G# - A - B - C#
Eb = Eb - F - Gb - Ab - Bb - Cb - Db - Eb
F# = F# - G# - A - B - C# - D - E - F#
G# = G# - A# - B - C# - D# - E - F# - G#
Bb = Bb - C - Db - Eb - F - Gb - Ab - Bb

To simplify, you can memorize this formula to form a minor scale:
whole step - half step - whole step - whole step - half step - whole step - whole step (or)
w - h - w - w - h - w - w

Harmonic Minor Scale

The harmonic major scale is found in music like jazz. Rimsky-Korsakov, the Russian composer, was a master of orchestration who named this scale.

This type of "super-just" musical scale extends intonation from the 5-limit to the 19th harmonic. To play a harmonic minor scale, you simply raise the seventh note of the scale by a half-step as you go up and down the scale.

For example:

  • Natural C Minor Scale: C - D - Eb - F - G - Ab - Bb - C
  • Harmonic C Minor Scale: C - D - Eb - F - G - Ab - B - C

Melodic Minor Scale

A melodic minor scale occurs when you raise the sixth and seventh notes of a scale by a half step, as you go up the scale, and then return to the natural minor, as you go down the scale.

For example:

  • Melodic C Minor Scale: C - D - Eb - F - G - A - B - C (as you go up the scale)
  • Natural C Minor Scale: C - D - Eb - F - G - Ab - Bb - C (as you go down the scale)
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Estrella, Espie. "Minor Scales: Natural, Harmonic, and Melodic." ThoughtCo, Aug. 11, 2017, thoughtco.com/the-minor-scales-2456564. Estrella, Espie. (2017, August 11). Minor Scales: Natural, Harmonic, and Melodic. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-minor-scales-2456564 Estrella, Espie. "Minor Scales: Natural, Harmonic, and Melodic." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-minor-scales-2456564 (accessed November 24, 2017).