I. Fundamentals

7. Minor Scales


7.1 Introduction

In tonal music, the major scale is undoubtedly the most important and frequently used organization of pitches:

As you know from Chapter 6, the major scale is built using a specific pattern of whole steps and half steps: W-W-H-W-W-W-H. This pattern is used in every manifestation of the major scale.

The diatonic minor scale, on the other hand, is built using a different pattern of whole steps and half steps. As a result, it has a distinct and recognizable sound. In this brief chapter we will discuss the construction of a minor scale and its relationship to the major scale that begins on the same pitch class.

Note: Unlike the major scale, which is typically found only in the form described above, there are several common variants of the minor scale. We will discuss these variants at length in Chapter 17. For the time being, however, we will differentiate between these altered versions and the basic form of the scale by here using the term “diatonic minor scale.”

7.2 The diatonic minor scale

Because the major scale is so prevalent in tonal music, it is helpful to think of minor scales as being derived from the major scale that begins on the same pitch class—what is commonly referred to as the parallel major. Compare Example 7–2 and Example 7–3:

The majority of the members of each scale are the same. A major scale and its parallel minor will share scale degrees [latex]\hat1[/latex], [latex]\hat2[/latex], [latex]\hat4[/latex], and [latex]\hat5[/latex] (C, D, F, and G in this case). The minor scale is distinguished from the parallel major by its lowered scale degrees [latex]\hat3[/latex], [latex]\hat6[/latex] and [latex]\hat7[/latex] (Eb, Ab, and Bb instead of E, A, and B).

Activity 7-1

Activity 7–1

A major scale and its parallel minor share the majority of their pitches. The minor scale is distinguished by its lowered scale degrees [latex]\hat3[/latex], [latex]\hat6[/latex], and [latex]\hat7[/latex]. In this activity, you will be presented with a series of major scales. For each example, you will be asked to identify which pitches need to be altered to create the parallel minor scale.

Take the following D-major scale, for example:

The parallel minor scale would therefore have F# lowered to F§, B§ lowered to Bb, and C# lowered to C§:


Exercise 7–1a:

Question

G-major scale:

Adjust the pitches as necessary to create a G-minor scale.

Hint

Remember, major and minor scales differ at scale degrees [latex]\hat3[/latex], [latex]\hat6[/latex], and [latex]\hat7[/latex].

Answer

Exercise 7–1b:

Question

Eb-major scale:

Adjust the pitches as necessary to create an Eb-minor scale.

Hint

Remember, major and minor scales differ at scale degrees [latex]\hat3[/latex], [latex]\hat6[/latex], and [latex]\hat7[/latex].

Answer

Exercise 7–1c:

Question

D-major scale:

Adjust the pitches as necessary to create a E-minor scale.

Hint

Remember, major and minor scales differ at scale degrees [latex]\hat3[/latex], [latex]\hat6[/latex], and [latex]\hat7[/latex].

Answer

Exercise 7–1d:

Question

Bb-major scale:

Adjust the pitches as necessary to create a Bb-minor scale.

Hint

Remember, major and minor scales differ at scale degrees [latex]\hat3[/latex], [latex]\hat6[/latex], and [latex]\hat7[/latex].

Answer

The result of this construction is a different pattern of whole and half steps. While a major scale has a W-W-H-W-W-W-H pattern, the diatonic minor scale has W-H-W-W-H-W-W. This pattern gives the minor scale its distinctive sound. Comparing the character of Example 7–2 with that of Example 7–3 we find that these three small changes to scale degrees [latex]\hat3[/latex], [latex]\hat6[/latex], and [latex]\hat7[/latex] make a big difference!

7.3 Summary

The diatonic minor scale is built of a unique pattern of whole steps and half steps: W-H-W-W-H-W-W. It may be thought of as being derived from the parallel major. The difference between the two lies in scale degrees [latex]\hat3[/latex], [latex]\hat6[/latex], and [latex]\hat7[/latex], each of which is a semitone lower in minor. These alterations give the minor scale is unique, dark sound. The minor scale often appears in variant forms, to be discussed in Chapter 17.

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Fundamentals, Function, and Form by Andre Mount is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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