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Fretboard Knowledge 5: Minor Scale on Guitar

Updated: Aug 20, 2018

Three of the main Minor scales are called Natural Minor (otherwise known as Aeolian), Harmonic Minor and Melodic Minor. Right now we are only concerned with Natural Minor/Aeolian, we will be looking at the other two scales later.

The reason we are starting with Aeolian is because combined with the Major Scale we can cover a vast majority of popular music using only these two scales.

Another reason we are just looking at Aeolian right now is because it is actually a MODE of the Major scale (Modes will be covered a bit later). To be specific the Natural Minor Scale sound is achieved by starting from the 6th degree of any given Major Scale.

To see what I’m talking about lets first look at the notes within the C Major Scale:

R 2 3 4 5 6 7


Now lets look at the notes for A Natural Minor (Aeolian):

R 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7


I’ll talk about the numbers in a second but just look at the notes. What do you notice?

Yes. They have exactly the same notes!

This is what we mean when we say a MODE of the major scale. Natural Minor is the 6th mode of C Major. All this means is that if we play the C Major scale starting and ending on ‘A’, we hear a minor scale. A Minor Scale is relative to the C Major Scale.

Now lets talk about the numbers, we have applied the numbering system to the C Major scale, but you will notice that the numbers on the A Minor Scale are slightly different. The reason for this is that the number system always relates to the scale degrees of the the notes OWN major scale. We are essentially saying “What are the notes for the A MAJOR SCALE, and how do I turn this into an A NATURAL MINOR scale?”...a formula if you will, one we can use to turn a major scale into any other scale.

In practice this looks like this:

The 3rd, 6th and 7th degrees of the Major scale need to move down a semi-tone to create the Minor sound. Hopefully this is making sense, the numbering system becomes particularly useful to understand when it comes to chords and more specifically how they get their names like we talked about in 'Basic Music Theory 3: Chords'.

For now all you really need know is that the Natural Minor scale is 6th mode of the Major scale. Yes, that means are seven modes built from the remaining notes of the Major scale, but more on that later, because Major and Natural Minor scales pretty much have you covered for the most part. The good news is that by learning the five major scale patterns in the previous section, you have by default learned the shapes for the Natural Minor Scale as well as all the modes of the Major Scale. Think of it as looking at the Major Scale from different perspectives.

To make these shapes work for us in Natural Minor we first have to locate where the 6th degree is located within each of the five shapes. To do this we are going to apply the numbering system on the diagrams.

Lets look at the key of C using the Pattern 5 (G Shape):

Now lets apply the numbering system:

Wherever the 6th falls is going to be your new “ROOT”:

Remember same shape…different perspective.

Check out the exercise below so you can hear how the sound of the scales seems to change its colour when playing ‘C’ chord and an ‘Amin’ chord:

Lets simplify this concept into the diagrams…

Often in chord charts for writing ease but also to make the chart look less congested we use symbols to indicate whether the chord is major or minor. There are a few ways to write major and minor chords on charts, check out the table:

We are going use these symbols to indicate where the ROOT of the major scale is and also where the ROOT of the relative Natural Minor is:

Lets apply this concept to the five patterns we’ve learn’t already:

In the previous chapter we looked at the five Minor ‘CAGED’ shapes. Lets apply these shapes to the scale patterns to find out where the 6th chord (VI) is located. If that last sentence confused you, refer back to the “Chords” section in chapter 1. Play though the shapes below and start memorising:

With all the information so far you have learnt all of the essential major/minor chord shapes in all keys, all the major and natural minor scales in all keys and can play the I and VI chord to start chord progressions within each of the patterns…in all keys! We’re doing pretty well. Work through the following exercises to help you identify Major and Minor ROOT notes, improve your aural perspective to the Major and Minor tonalities and to assist in internalising these shapes and patterns. Once familiar with the exercise, try it in other keys:

Thats all for the Natural Minor/Aeolian Scale for now, you are well on your way to mastering the fretboard. Next we will be talking about the Pentatonic and Blues scales. Don’t worry though. Same five shapes….different perspective.

I hope you have found this useful, let me know in the comments.


Taken from my book series 'Six String Enigma'

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