Minor scales sound different to major scales because they are built on a different pattern of tones (whole steps) and semitones (half steps).
Many people think that minor scales sound sad, compared to major scales which sound happy.
Although there is only one kind of major scale, there are three kinds of minor scale – “harmonic“, “melodic” and “natural”.
- For the ABRSM Grade Two Online Music Theory exam you will only be asked about harmonic minor. You will not be asked about the natural or melodic minor scale.
- For the Trinity Grade Two Music Theory exam, you need to know the harmonic and natural minor scales.
Natural Minor Scales – A, E and D.
Natural minor scales are built on this pattern:
T – S – T – T – S – T – T
T=Tone (or “whole step”)
S=Semitone (or “half step”)
If you play a one octave scale on the piano, starting on A and using only the white notes, this is the “natural A minor scale”.
The descending scales uses the same notes, but in reverse order:
Using the same pattern of notes, we can make the natural minor scales in E and D:
This pattern of tones/semitones has another name – it is the Aeolian mode scale.
Harmonic Minor Scales – A, E and D.
Harmonic minor scales are built on this pattern:
T – S – T – T – S – 3S – S
“3S” = three semitones
Let’s start by building a scale of A minor harmonic ascending (going up):
And now let’s look at A minor harmonic descending (going down):
As you can see, it’s exactly the same notes, but in reverse order.
The harmonic minor scale is like the natural minor scale, but with one important difference – the 7th degree of the scale is one semitone higher in the harmonic minor.
Let’s look at the two other minor scales you need to know for Grade Two Music Theory, E minor and D minor.
Play them slowly on a piano, if you have one, and look carefully at how many semitones there are between each note.
Minor Scales Exercises
Point your mouse at the stave (tap on mobile devices) to reveal the answers.
1. Name each of these minor scales and say whether it is ascending or descending.
Add the missing notes to these minor scales.
a. D minor harmonic
b. A minor harmonic
1. Which degree of this scale would you need to change, to make it into a scale of D natural minor?
2. Write a one-octave scale of A natural minor going up, using semibreves (whole notes).
3. Mark the semitones on this scale using a bracket / \ on each pair. Name the scale.