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One Scale or Three?

We learned earlier that there is one pattern of seconds that creates a major scale – all other patterns are not a major scale.  Minor scales behave differently – there are actually 3 forms of the minor scale, each form having a different pattern of seconds, including an augmented 2nd in one pattern!

The three forms of minor scales are:

  • Natural
  • Harmonic
  • Melodic

Natural Minor Scale

A natural minor scale is formed by the following pattern of major and minor seconds (or whole steps and half steps):

   Major/minor:    Major   minor     Major    Major    minor    Major    Major  

   Whole/Half: Whole   Half      Whole   Whole    Half     Whole   Whole  

The natural minor scale uses the key signature as it occurs naturally; in other words, without adding any accidentals.

Here is the c natural minor scale written using a key signature; notice that no additional accidentals are needed to form the natural minor scale pattern.

Noteworthy:  Major scale names are written using upper case letters (C Major); minor scales use lower case (c minor).

Harmonic Minor Scale

The harmonic minor scale alters one note from the key signature – the seventh note of the scale is raised.  The raised 7th produces an Augmented second interval with the 6th degree of the scale; in c harmonic minor, the Augmented second (A2) occurs between Ab and B.

  Major/minor:    Major   minor     Major    Major    minor  Augmented minor

   Half/Whole/Aug: Whole   Half      Whole   Whole    Half     Augmented Half

Noteworthy:  The harmonic minor scale is named because the raised 7th changes the harmony created on the second most common chord in Western music, the V (five) chord.  Raising the 7th degree of the scale changes the V chord from a minor chord (in natural minor) to a major chord (in harmonic minor), which creates a stronger musical pull to the I (one) chord.

We will learn more about chords later, but it is helpful to distinguish the forms of the minor scale by understanding the reason for each name.

Melodic Minor Scale

Just when you thought it could not get any more strange than a type of scale (minor) having three different forms, we introduce to you the melodic minor scale, which is different ascending (going up) than it is descending (going down).

Major/minor:    Major   minor     Major    Major    Major Major    minor

   Whole/Half: Whole   Half      Whole   Whole    Whole Whole   Half

When ascending in melodic minor, the 6th and 7th degrees of the scale are raised from the key signature.  This removes the augmented second that occurred in harmonic minor where only the 7th is raised.

When descending in melodic minor, it is just like natural minor – no notes are altered from the key signature.

Noteworthy:  The melodic minor scale is named because scale always leads to the first note of the scale, or tonic note (e.g., C in c minor), to create a strong melodic line. 

When ascending, the last two notes are raised to give a feeling of lift in the melody up to the tonic.  Notice all of the Major seconds toward the end of the scale, followed by the strong lead of a half step at the end of the scale to the tonic.  When the note before the tonic is a half step lower, it is called a leading tone because it leads so well to the tonic.

When descending, the notes are lowered to point down to the lower octave tonic.

Keep Playing!

Play the natural, harmonic and melodic forms of the melodic scale in all keys and listen to the patterns of Major, minor and Augmented seconds.

<< Play Major Scales

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