Natural Minor Scales

A comprehensive guide to the dark side of music

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Natural minor scales are another common scales in Western Music.

Natural Minor Scales

These are diatonic scales in which the notes follow this pattern of whole steps and half steps:

Whole-Half-Whole-Whole-Half-Whole-Whole

On higher and lower octaves this pattern repeats. However this pattern only occurs on an ascending natural minor scale. The pattern of a descending natural minor scale is reverse of this. For each major scale there is a corresponding natural minor scale. Also we call it relative minor scale. One thing you should know is that the relative minor scales have the same key signatures as their corresponding major scales.

There are several ways to build a natural minor scale. We can place the notes of a scale and maintain the natural minor scale step pattern between them. Also, we can build the corresponding major scale, find the sixth degree of it and build the natural minor scale on it. Of course, we can build them with tetrachords method. Let’s see some examples.

A Natural Minor Scale

C major scale
C major scale

In this example, you can see C major scale. If we want to build the relative minor scale of C major scale, we should first find the sixth degree of it. It is A. Then we place eight consecutive notes from A to A.

Steps of A natural minor
Steps of A natural minor

When you look at the steps between the notes of this scale, you realize that they already have the natural minor scale pattern. Why? Because the relative minor scale C major scale is A natural minor scale. They have the same note names. But their tonic note and thus their degrees are different. The tonic of C major scale is C whereas the tonic of A natural minor scale is A. Let’s see another example.

B Natural Minor Scale

D major scale
D major scale

This is D major scale. Now let’s find the relative minor of it. We should first find the sixth degree of this scale. It is B. Then we place the exact same notes of D major scale but not from D to D. This time, it is from B to B. So the scale will be like this now.

B natural minor scale
B natural minor scale

B natural minor is the relative minor of D major scale and notice how it has the same accidentals as D major scale. Relative minor scales have the same amount of sharps and flats as their corresponding major scales. D major scale has two sharps which are F sharp and C sharp. Thus, B natural minor scale has the same sharps. This is why a major scale and its relative minor scale share the same key signature.

Building Natural Minor Scale with Tetrachords

Now, let’s build a natural minor scale with tetrachords. Just as the major scales, natural minor scales have two tetrachords with whole steps between them. But this time, they don’t have major tetrachords. They have minor and upper minor tetrachords. Let’s look at A natural minor and its tetrachords.

A natural minor scale with tetrachords
A natural minor scale with tetrachords

All natural minor scales have minor tetrachords (with Whole-Half-Whole step pattern) as lower tetrachords and upper minor tetrachords (with Half-Whole-Whole step pattern) as upper tetrachords with whole steps between them. If we start with any note and maintain this pattern, we can build a natural minor scale in no time.

E Natural Minor Scale

Let’s say we want to build E natural minor scale now. First thing we should do is building the lower tetrachord which is the E minor tetrachord. Place the notes of the tetrachord first: E, F, G, A.

E Minor Tetrachord

Building E minor tetrachord
Building E minor tetrachord

The step pattern between these notes is H-W-W which is actually an upper minor tetrachord. But we want this to be a minor tetrachord pattern which is W-H-W. The intervals between E and F and F and G are problematic. We should enlarge the interval between E and F to a whole step and narrow the interval between F and G to a half step. If we think about the interval between E and F, we can enlarge it by either placing a flat to E or a sharp to F. But if we place a flat to E, the name of the tetrachord will change from E to E flat. This is why we should alter the F by placing a sharp.

E minor tetrachord
E minor tetrachord

When we place a sharp to F the interval between E and F sharp will be a whole step and the interval between F sharp and G will be a half step. So you don’t have to do anything extra to the interval between F sharp and G. We maintained the pattern and here is the E minor tetrachord. This will be our lower tetrachord for the E natural minor scale.

B Upper Minor Tetrachord

As you know, the upper tetrachord starts with the note right after the lower tetrachord. Our lower tetrachord ends with A, so our upper tetrachord starts with B. We add three more notes: C-D-E.

B upper minor tetrachord
B upper minor tetrachord

As you can see, it has already the upper minor tetrachord pattern (H-W-W steps) So we don’t have to alter anything here. Now let’s add the B upper minor tetrachord to the E minor tetrachord to finalize building the E natural minor scale.

E natural minor scale
E natural minor scale

All Natural Minor Scales

Let’s have a look at all relative minor scales of all major scales in a table.

MAJOR SCALES

RELATIVE MINE SCALES

ACCIDENTALS

C Major

A natural minor

None

G Major

E natural minor

F♯

D Major

B natural minor

F♯, C♯

A Major

F♯ natural minor

F♯, C♯, G♯

E Major

C♯ natural minor

F♯, C♯, G♯, D♯

B Major

G♯ natural minor

F♯, C♯, G♯, D♯, A♯

F♯ Major

D♯ natural minor

F♯, C♯, G♯, D♯, A♯, E♯

C♯ Major

A♯ natural minor

F♯, C♯, G♯, D♯, A♯, E♯, B♯

F Major

D natural minor

B♭

B♭ Major

G natural minor

B♭, E♭

E♭ Major

C natural minor

B♭, E♭, A♭

A♭ Major

F natural minor

B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭

D♭ Major

B♭ natural minor

B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭

G♭ Major

E♭ natural minor

B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭, C♭

C♭ Major

A♭ natural minor

B♭, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭, C♭, F♭

As I mentioned before, natural minor scales use the same sharps or flats of the corresponding major scales. Let’s see all natural minor scales with their key signatures now.

A natural minor scale
A natural minor scale
E natural minor scale
E natural minor scale
B natural minor scale
B natural minor scale
F sharp natural minor scale
F sharp natural minor scale
C sharp natural minor scale
C sharp natural minor scale
G sharp natural minor scale
G sharp natural minor scale
D sharp natural minor scale
D sharp natural minor scale
A sharp natural minor scale
A sharp natural minor scale
D natural minor scale
D natural minor scale
G natural minor scale
G natural minor scale
C natural minor scale
C natural minor scale
F natural minor scale
F natural minor scale
B flat natural minor scale
B flat natural minor scale
E flat natural minor scale
E flat natural minor scale
A flat natural minor scale
A flat natural minor scale

Circle of Fifths

As you may realize, natural minor scales have sad, melancholic or romantic mood in comparison with major scales. The circle of fifths can be applied to all natural minor scales too. Because they are relative minors for corresponding major scales, we can easily place them in the circle of fifths.

Now let’s have a look at the circle of fifths one more time with all major scales and their relative natural minor scales. This time uppercase letters represents major scales whereas the lowercase letters represents their relative natural minor scales.

Circle of fifths with minor scales
Circle of fifths with minor scales

Notice that all enharmonic equivalents have appropriate natural minor scales. If a major scale has flats in its key signature, then its relative natural minor scale has flats too. For example D flat major scale and b flat natural minor scale or F sharp major scale and d sharp natural minor scale.

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