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A Minor and other Music Scales

The A minor scale and other music scales is part 24 in a 31 part series on musical notation and basic music theory.

Ok, we know the pattern for a major scale (WWHWWWH) and we know that there are 8 notes that make up an octave. What if we start from a different scale degree (or note) and go up the octave?

If we use the same notes from the C major scale but we go up the octave from A to A, what's the pattern?

*Remember, there are only 7 unique white keys and 5 unique black keys on a piano, and they repeat over and over again.

NOTE: See Part 23, C Major Scale for a review on Whole (W) and Half (H) steps.

If we begin on A on the piano and only hit the white keys, the pattern changes to W-H-W-W-H-W-W. Although there are many kinds of minor scales, W-H-W-W-H-W-W is the basic minor scale pattern. In this case it is A minor.

It is the relative minor to C major because it uses all the same notes. However, if you play C to C it sounds different than A to A. C major sounds bright. A minor sounds dark.

Other names for this scale are Natural Minor or Aeolian.

Now, because we have changed the pattern, the solfege syllables (do, re, mi etc) change. It becomes do, re, me, fa, sol, le, te, do. I explain why in part 26 and 27, Music Theory Course / Chromatic Scale.

Music Scales called Modes

There are actually 7 different music scales that you can create just using the 7 notes in C major. If you start each scale from different degrees (or notes) and go up the octave you will hear 7 different scales or textures. Each has an ancient name originating from Greek.

Next to the scale name, I have also included how the whole/half step pattern changes with each scale. This is cool stuff!!!

Try this on a piano (remember, only white keys):

C to C (C Ionian) major scale - W-W-H-W-W-W-H

D to D (D Dorian) minor scale - brighter than A minor - W-H-W-W-W-H-W

E to E (E Phrygian) minor scale - has a Spanish flavor - H-W-W-W-H-W-W

F to F (F Lydian) major scale - brighter than C major - W-W-W-H-W-W-H

G to G (G Mixolydian) Ok, now we’re getting bluesy! - W-W-H-W-W-H-W

A to A (A Aeolian) Welcome to the world of ROCK! - W-H-W-W-H-W-W

B to B (B Locrian) Sounds weird, huh? This is called a diminished scale that sounds unresolved. It’s not really used for writing melodies but rather to create moods or textures, think of tense scenes in movies or dramatic scenes in daytime tv - H-W-W-H-W-W-W

Below the video, see how these scales look on a treble staff.


If you're into patterns this is how these music scales look stacked against each other:

HWWWHWW Phrygian
WWHWWHW Mixolydian
WHWWHWW Aeolian (or natural minor)
HWWHWWW Locrian (or diminished)

Let's see how we build chords from this!

Continue to Part 24b, Music Theory Intervals

Return to Top of A Minor and other Music Scales

Return to Musical Notation and Basic Music Theory

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