Robert Estrin - piano expert

What is a Minor Scale?

Understand the properties of the relative minor scale.

In this video, Robert approaches the minor scale and its most notable characteristics.

Released on January 15, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin. Today the second part: What Is a Relative Minor Scale? All right, last week we covered major scales. We discovered they're simply a series of half steps and whole steps. All whole steps, except between the 3rd and 4th and 7th and 8th notes. That's right, it's a series of notes going up by steps and you can start on any note so long as you have the whole steps and half steps in the proper arrangement. So what's a minor scale then? Well, minor scales share key signatures with major scales. We're gonna be discussing key signatures in a future video. For today, I'm going to take the scale that has no sharps or flats, C major, and talk about the relative minor. Once you know all your scales, your major scales, finding the relative minor will be very simple for you.

So let me show you the key here literally. Major scale, C major scale, no sharps or flats, a series of whole steps and half steps. Simple enough. Well, minor scales share key signatures with major scales. In the case of C major, there are no sharps and flats. So what's different about them? Well, it starts on the 6th note of the major scale. So the 6th note of a C major scale: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. So you just basically play a C major scale except starting on A and this is what you end up with. That is an A natural minor scale. However, the minor scale is often found in altered forms, namely the harmonic, which has a raised 7th. So we play exactly the same series of notes we did before, except the 7th note, which was a G, becomes a G sharp. So you get an augmented second between the 6th and 7th note. Listen to it. It gives a really eerie quality. You'll notice it right away.

So did you hear that augmented second? It's a step and a half there. So the accidental, the G sharp, would be written in the music. This is how you know when the piece is in the minor key. The 7th note is very often raised and you look for the 7th note of the minor scale and if it's raised, you probably are in the minor. Now there's another form of the minor you should know about called the melodic. The melodic has a raised 6th and 7th, but generally only goes up. And when it comes down, it reverts to the natural minor with no altered tones. So once again, we play the A minor scale, which is a relative of C major, so it's got no sharps or flats, but we're gonna raise the 6th and 7th note. So F becomes F sharp, G becomes G sharp. Coming down, it reverts back to the natural and it sounds like this. Another beautiful sonority, huh?

Now interesting thing about the melodic minor scale: if you study the notes, it's exactly the same as a major scale except for the 3rd. In other words, if I were to raise the C, the 3rd note, up a half step, we'd have an A major scale. If I play the melodic minor but with a raised 3rd, it is an A major scale. The raised 3rd. So the melodic minor is just like the parallel major except with a lowered 3rd. But the way to think of it, once again, is in the context of the key signature and in this case, there are no sharps or flats. You just play all the notes from A to A in the key signature of C major, no sharps, no flats. Raise the 7th for the harmonic. Raise the 6th and 7th for the melodic. Coming down, reverting to the natural minor with no altered tones. That's everything you need to know about minor scales. We're gonna discuss other scales in the future, pentatonic scales. We'll even talk about the modes. What's that all about? Well, that goes back hundreds of years and resurfaced in the impressionist music and used by great jazz musicians all over the place. Thanks for joining me. Robert Estrin here at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Ioannis Raftopoulos * VSM MEMBER * on October 5, 2016 @1:10 pm PST
hi! what is a "doublet"? I know "triplets" are to play 3 notes in a time but what is a doublet? I met them in Debussy "Clair de lune"! hope my question is clear! thank you!
Hope on January 15, 2015 @12:34 pm PST
This really helpful . I never thought I would ever understand what a major and relative minor scales were.
henri on January 16, 2014 @6:18 am PST
This is helpful for the students.
sue * VSM MEMBER * on January 15, 2014 @10:22 am PST
Thank you.
For teach the on the scales, very informative. Sue Fuller
kwoolno * VSM MEMBER * on January 15, 2014 @7:49 am PST
why are there 3 minors and only one major scale?
so the relative minor of F# major is E natural!
Robert - host, on January 17, 2014 @11:12 am PST
There are actually 15 major scales (3 are enharmonic equivalents, same notes with different spelling - like F-sharp major and G-flat major)

So, there are are an equal number of minor scales, each of which can be natural, harmonic or melodic. The minor scale always starts on the 6th note of the major scale, so the relative minor of F-sharp major is D-sharp minor.

This is totally separate from the fact that in each major key, there are 3 triads that are major, the I, IV and V chords. (In C major that would be the C chord, the F chord and the G chord, all with no sharps or flats since C major has nothing in the key signature.)

The II chord, III chord and VI chord are always minor in any major key. (In C major that is the D, E and A chords.)

The VII chord is the one diminished triad.

Hope this clears things up for you!
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