We’ve talked about major scales and minor triads, now what about minor scales? Minor scales tend to sound darker when used in composition that major scales, which leaves them pigeon-holed as the “sad” sounding scales. Though this is a generalization, it is a fair assessment of the scales quality, and, historically, minor has been used to convey sadness, tension, and malice. But really, it’s just another compositional color you can use to generate a bit of difference in your compositions.
On to the discussion!
The natural minor scale is derived from the major scale. You arrive at the natural minor by starting the major scale from the 6th degree. This is also called the relative minor. For example, in C Major the 6th scale degree is A; therefore, the relative minor is A minor. Let’s take a look at the A natural minor scale:
A natural minor.mp3 A Natural Minor
This scale, in half-steps and whole-steps, follows the pattern- WHWWHWW. Notice, the root, third, and fifth of the scale create an A minor triad.
The harmonic minor scale is very close in relation to the natural minor scale, with one important change: the 7th scale degree is raised by one half-step. This creates an augmented second interval (more commonly referred to as a minor third interval), which in turn creates a “leading tone”, a the 7th degree of the scale which wants to resolve to the root. Listen for the leading tone sound in the scale example below:
A harmonic minor.mp3 A Harmonic Minor
This scale, in half-steps and whole-steps, follows the pattern- WHWWHH.
The melodic minor scale is an oddball. Ascending, it is, essentially, a major scale with a flatted third. Descending, it is the natural minor scale. However, in use, the descending portion is often changed to a harmonic minor, or is disregarded altogether. Jazz musicians have based a large portion of harmonic theory around the eschewing of the descending portion of melodic minor.
A Melodic Minor.mp3 A Melodic Minor
This scale, in half-steps and whole-steps, follows the pattern- WHWWWWH. The distinguishing sound of the melodic minor ascending is sequence of 4 whole steps after the first three degrees of the scale (this creates an augmented triad from the flatted third!).
Listen well to how each of these scales sounds. Though these scales are all minor, they all have unique sounds. Utilizing minor scales will give a feeling of considerable depth to your compositions.