The (Natural) Minor Scale

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What is the minor scale? What makes it minor vs major? In this lesson we’ll break down the natural minor scale and it’s qualities and take a look at how it is applied to the fretboard.

If you haven’t already read the lesson on the major scale and you’re not familiar with the major scale, I would recommend doing so now and coming back to this lesson. This lesson will make much more sense if you first have an understanding of the major scale.

Minor Scale Theory

Unlike the major scale that is bright and happy, the minor scale has a sad and emotional feel to it. Like the major scale, it, too, is a diatonic scale consisting of 7 notes and an octave note. So what makes this scale different? The difference lies in the 3rd degree of the scale. The major scale contains a major 3rd. That is, the 3rd of the major scale is 2 whole steps away from the root. The minor scale, however, contains a minor, or flattened 3rd degree that is 1 1/2 steps away from the root.

Interval1234567
G MajorGABCDEF#
G MinorGAB♭CDE♭F

In comparing the minor scale to the major scale, you see that the minor scale is consists of a flat 3rd, 6th, and 7th interval.  Compare the neck diagram of the two scales and notice the position of the 3rd, 6th, and 7th intervals between the two. You learned that the major scale follows a pattern of whole and half steps. The minor scale, too, follows a set pattern of whole and half steps as follows:

Major Minor Scale Interval Comparison

Whole Half Whole Whole Half Whole Whole

  • From G to A is a whole step (2 semitones) (G G# A)
  • From A to B♭ is a half step (1 semitone) (A B♭)
  • From B♭ to C is a whole step (B♭ B C)
  • From C to D is a whole step (C C# D)
  • From D to E♭ is a half step (D E♭)
  • From E♭ to F is a whole step (E♭ E F)
  • From F to G is a whole step (F F# G)

You can construct the minor scale in any key by following this formula of whole/half steps.

Applying the Minor Scale to the Guitar Fretboard

Using the G minor scale from above, below is the first position of the scale. Again, in these examples we are using the CAGED system. You can find the positions for 3 notes per string in the resource section at the end of the lesson.

Minor scale position 1

Starting with the G note on the 6th string, play each note ascending and descending across the fretboard. The remaining four patterns are as follows:

Minor scale patterns for positions 2 - 5

Play all of these patterns ascending and descending across the neck, being sure to play all notes and ending on the root. Like the major scale, these patterns are connected via shared notes above and below the position.

5 minor scale patterns connected

Similar to the major scale, these patterns hold true for any minor scale. If you examine these patterns closely, you’ll also notice they are exactly the same as the patterns for the major scale. The only difference is the root note for the pattern. This is because of the relationship between the relative major/minor scales, which we take a look at in the following lesson: The Relative Major/Minor.

Wrap Up

In this lesson we learned about the natural minor scale and how it is created by lowering the 3rd degree of the major scale. By doing this, we end up with flattened notes at the 3rd, 6th, and 7th degrees of the scale. This, in turn, produces a tonality that is more dark and sad than that of the major scale.

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