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Minor Scales

The minor scale is a series of seven notes laid out into a specific order.


From the technical point of view, the scales are used to train the fingers that run through them in a mechanical and rhythmic fashion.



The Relative Minor Scale


Think that the minor and major scales can be related, as they share a similar structure. The minor and major share the same notes as the minor can be seen as a permutation of the major scale structure.

There is an easier method of understanding and memorizing the minor scales, and this is done by calculating the relative minor of a major scale, explained below.

The trick is to pick a major scale and then jump down an interval of a minor third (3 SEMITONES). That note will be the tonic of your minor scale. This set of notes will give you the so-called "Natural minor scale”.

For example: If we take D Major, which has F# and C#. Then, go down an interval of a minor third so you would reach B. Finally, play from B up an octave to the next B using the same accidentals as D major has. Therefore you will end with a scale as the following:



B, C#, D, E, F#, G, A, B

This B minor is the relative minor of D major. It has the same key signature as its relative major.

See the example below.


The Three Types of Minor Scales


As opposed as in the major scales, the first, the third and the fifth scale degrees form a minor triad, while in the major scales it forms a major triad.


Within the scales, we have three dominant groups, the harmonic minor, the natural minor(also known as an aeolian mode) and the melodic minor scales.


The Harmonic Minor Scale



The harmonic minor scale comes with the same notes as the natural minor scale, but in this case, the seventh degree is raised by half step and instead of having a flat 7.


A harmonic minor scale is shown in this notation:


1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7

This scale has a special characteristic as its structure makes the seventh degree to be the leading tone to the tonic. This is because this seventh degree is a half step away from the tonic.

This type of scale is called “harmonic” because its structure also creates a significant change in its harmony. While if we play the fifth chord (dominant) in the natural minor scale it would sound minor, but in the harmonic minor scale, the fifth chord would sound major.


Look at the example below:




In C natural minor, the scale degrees are 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7


But in C harmonic minor the scale degrees are 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, and natural 7. Therefore in the example of the right, the fifth chord appears to be major as the B is natural instead of flat.


The Melodic Minor Scale



The Melodic Minor scale is similar to the natural minor scale. However, it changes when played in ascending and descending motion.

The Ascending Scale has the following intervallic structure:


1, 2,♭3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 1


The Descending Scale is presented as:


8,♭7,♭6, 5, 4,♭3, 2, 1


Altogether, the scale appears like this example below:




The Piano Technique Applied to the Minor Scales


The technique of playing these minor scales and their variations is very similar to the technique used in the major scales.


Each hand will have to perform a thorough technical study on the finger movement (according to the Scaramuzza technique) in order for the scale to sound smooth.


Below you can find an article that expands this topic:


https://www.piano-composer-teacher-london.co.uk/post/2016/02/12/piano-lessons-resources-finger-movement

Remember to start with the forearm:


https://www.piano-composer-teacher-london.co.uk/post/2017/11/11/forearm-movement



We will now analyse in-depth C, Eb and Bb natural, melodic and harmonic minor:


1. The Natural Minor Scale:


A natural minor is a straightforward scale to remember because it is all white notes. The key is composed of 7 notes, and they are played exactly like the major scales, however with its popper notes.


The Right-hand fingers will be 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 5 (one octave). If we want to extend it to two or more octaves, we will do 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 (1) and then repeat the sequence.


The Left-hand fingers will be 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 (one octave). If we want to extend it to two or more octaves, we will play 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 (4) and then repeat the sequence.



Take a look at the examples below:

Right Hand:


Left Hand:


Right Hand 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 (1) 2 3 1 2 3 4 5


Left Hand 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 4 3 2 1 3 2 1

2. The Harmonic Minor Scale:


A harmonic minor differs slightly from the A natural minor. This scale is also composed of seven notes. However, we will experience one accidental placed in G#. This note is the leading tone to the tonic. Therefore it is also easy to remember the sound of this scale.

The Right-hand fingers will be 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 5 (one octave). If we want to extend it to two or more octaves, we will do 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 (1) and then repeat the sequence.


The Left-hand fingers will be 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 (one octave). If we want to extend it to two or more octaves, we will play 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 (4) and then repeat the sequence.

Take a look at the examples below:


Right Hand:



Left hand:





Right Hand: 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 (1) 2 3 1 2 3 4 5


Left Hand: 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 4 3 2 1 3 2 1



3. The Melodic Minor Scale:

A melodic minor is quite an intricate scale because it has different accidentals on the way up and down; however, the hand technique remains the same.

The Right-hand fingers will be 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 5 (one octave). If we want to extend it to two or more octaves, we will do 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 (1) and then repeat the sequence.


The Left-hand fingers will be 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 (one octave). If we want to extend it to two or more octaves, we will play 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 (4) and then repeat the sequence.

Take a look at the examples below:

Right Hand, (Going Up) :



Left Hand (Going Up):




Right Hand: 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 (1) 2 3 1 2 3 4 5

Left Hand: 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 4 3 2 1 3 2 1

Remember on the way down, the scale uses all the natural notes (the ones that belong to the minor natural scale) and doesn’t have those accidentals in F# and G#.


4. C Natural Minor Scale:


Just like A natural minor, C natural minor scale behaves in the same manner. However, it has different accidentals.

C natural minor has three flats located in Eb, Ab and Bb.


The Right-hand fingers will be 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 5 (one octave). If we want to extend it to two or more octaves, we will do 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 (1) and then repeat the sequence.


The Left-hand fingers will be 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 (one octave). If we want to extend it to two or more octaves, we will play 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 (4) and then repeat the sequence.

Take a look at the examples below:



Right Hand:


Left Hand:



Right Hand: 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 (1) 2 3 1 2 3 4 5


Left Hand: 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 4 3 2 1 3 2 1

5. C Harmonic Minor


C harmonic minor differs slightly from the C natural minor. This scale is also composed of seven notes. However, we will experience one change; B becomes natural. This note is the leading tone to the tonic. Therefore it is also easy to remember the sonority of this scale.


The Right-hand fingers are 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 5 (one octave). If we want to extend it to two or more octaves, we will do 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 (1) and then repeat the sequence.

The Left-hand fingers are 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 (one octave). If we want to extend it to two or more octaves, we will play 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 (4) and then repeat the sequence.

Take a look at the examples below:

Right hand:



Left hand:





Right Hand: 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 (1) 2 3 1 2 3 4 5


Left Hand: 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 4 3 2 1 3 2 1



6. C Melodic Minor


Like the A melodic minor, it has different accidentals on the way up and down. However, the hand technique remains the same.


The Right-hand fingers are 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 5 (one octave). If we want to extend it to two or more octaves, we will play 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 (1) and then repeat the sequence.


The Left-hand fingers are 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 (one octave). If we want to extend it to two or more octaves, we will play 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 (4) and then repeat the sequence.

Take a look at the examples below:



Right hand (going up):



Left Hand (going up):



Right Hand: 1 2 3 1 2 3 4 (1) 2 3 1 2 3 4 5


Left Hand: 5 4 3 2 1 3 2 1 4 3 2 1 3 2 1

Remember on the way down, A and B are not flat anymore.



Conclusion



Many methods help pianists play the scales. The minor scales are much more intricate in pattern and performance.

Each scale has its unique sonority and use and this creates a large spectrum of color and variety when composing music pieces.


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© 2012 by Juan J. Rezzuto. All the tracks, scores and articles you can find in here are copyright.