• Who Else Wants To Learn The Natural Minor Scale?

    in Piano,Scales,Theory

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    Our focus in today’s lesson is on the natural minor scale.

    Every serious musician should know the natural minor scale because it is one of the long-established scales (aka – “traditional scales“) in music.

    So many teachers emphasize the natural major scale because it is an everyday scale. However, considering that there are two tonalities – the major and minor key – it is equally important to know the natural minor scale (the traditional scale of the minor key.)

    The A natural minor scale:

    …contains all the notes in the key of A minor, consequently, you can have a knowledge of the notes in the key of A minor by looking at the A natural minor scale.

    In this post, you’ll be exposed to the definition of terms like scale, whole step, half step etc., and most importantly, you’ll learn how to form the natural minor scale.

    Right before we get into all that, let’s take a look at the term note.

    “What Is A Note?”

    A note is a music sound of a definite pitch. The term pitch here refers to the degree of lowness or highness of a musical sound.

    On any piano, you can hear notes when every finger key is depressed, from the lowest to the highest. These notes, irrespective of their number on the piano (which is usually 88), can be classified into 12 sets of pitch classes.

    This twelve-tone set can be divided into natural and accidental pitch sets…

    7 natural pitch sets

    5 accidental pitch sets

    The 7 white notes below:

    …are the naturals while the 5 black notes:

    …are the accidentals.

    If you do the math, 7 natural pitch sets + 5 accidental pitch sets = 12 pitch sets. These 12 pitch sets lie within the compass of one octave.

    Naming of Notes

    These pitch sets are named using alphabets, numbers, and sound syllables (aka – “solfa”), but permit me to focus on the use of alphabets in the naming of notes in this lesson.

    The white notes are named using the first seven [roman] alphabets – A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. However, for the sake of simplicity, here are the notes from C to C:

    The black notes are named with sharp (#) and flat (b) symbols.

    Sharp Symbol Accidentals

    C#:

    D#:

    F#:

    G#:

    A#:

    Flat Symbol Accidentals

    Db:

    Eb:

    Gb:

    Ab:

    Bb:

    Suggested Reading: Naming Notes Correctly (“Musical Spelling Bee”).

    In Jermaine Griggs’ words, “Notes form scales…” and that’s in line with our goal in this lesson, which is the formation of the natural minor scale.

    Basic Distances Between Pitches

    Between the 12 pitch classes are distances and in this segment, we’ll be exploring two [out of the several] types of distances – the whole step and the half step.

    These distances will be required of you in the scale formation of the natural minor scale.

    The Natural Perception Of The Whole Step

    Attention: At this point, feel free to perceive the whole step as the distance between two white notes that have a black note in-between.

    The distance from C to D:

    …is called a whole step. Note that in a whole step from C to D, you can see a black note in-between C and D…

    D to E:

    …is also a whole step and of course, there’s a black note in-between them.

    Other whole step distances between white notes across the keyboard include…

    F to G:

    …G to A:

    …and A to B:

    The Natural Perception Of The Half Step

    The half step is the distance between two successive white notes that are adjacent to each other.

    The distance from E to F:

    …is a half step because they are adjacent to each other. Between B to C:

    …is also a half step.

    The Half Step and Whole Step Explained

    Beyond our basic perception of the half step as the distance between adjacent white notes (with no black note in-between), it is the distance between two adjacent notes, whether white or black.

    Adjacent to C:

    …is C#:

    …which is equivalent to Db.

    Adjacent to C#:

    …is D:

    Here are the remainder half steps…

    D to D#:

    D# to E:

    E to F:

    F to F#:

    F# to G:

    G to G#:

    G# to A:

    A to A#:

    A# to B:

    B to C:

    It takes the distance of two half steps to make one whole step.

    C to D:

    ..is a whole step apart because of the two half-step distances in-between them…

    C to C#

    …and C# to D:

    Let me show you what to do if someone walks up to you and asks, “What note is a whole step above Eb?”

    A whole step is a distance of two half steps. Eb to E:

    …is a half step, then E to F:

    …is another half step. Therefore, from Eb to F:

    …is a whole step.

    Here are the remainder whole steps…

    From C to D:

    …is a whole step.

    From C# to D#:

    …is a whole step.

    From D to E:

    …is a whole step.

    From Eb to F:

    …is a whole step.

    From E to F#:

    …is a whole step.

    From F to G:

    …is a whole step.

    From F# to G#:

    …is a whole step.

    From G to A:

    …is a whole step.

    From G# to A#:

    …is a whole step.

    From A to B:

    …is a whole step.

    From Bb to C:

    …is a whole step.

    From B to C#:

    …is a whole step.

    “What Is A Scale?”

    A scale is a regular succession of notes in ascending or descending order, which is usually based on a fixed formula. Jermaine Griggs

    The term scale is derived from scala – a Latin word which means ladder or staircase.

    The concept of the scale in music is related to the climbing of a staircase. A musical scale consists of a collection of notes (think of them as steps in a staircase) that one can ascend or descend on.

    Forming a scale is as easy as starting on a given note, and moving in steps until its octave.

    Here’s a typical example…

    Starting from A:

    …we’ll move in steps to B:

    C:

    D:

    E:

    F:

    G:

    …and then to A:

    …the octave.

    If you play all white notes on the keyboard from A to A:

    …you’ve played a musical scale.

    Also take note that a scale can move in a descending fashion – from A:

    …to G:

    …to F:

    …to E:

    …to D:

    …to C:

    …to B:

    …and back to A:

    A scale, [according to our definition in the beginning] is a regular succession of notes that can either ascend or descend.

    Let’s expound this definition.

    “…a regular succession of notes…”

    In music, playing a succession of notes like we did, moving from A:

    …to B:

    …to C:

    …etc., creates a melody. Consequently, musical scales are said to be melodic.

    “…can ascend or descend…”

    There are two directions in music – the ascending and the descending direction. Musical scales can move in both the ascending and descending directions.

    Attention: Leaving out the part that says “…based on a fixed formula” is intentional. We’ll cover it subsequent segments that will take us further into the formation of the natural minor scale.

    Definition of the Natural Minor scale

    The natural minor scale is a scale of eight degrees having half steps between its 2nd & 3rd and its 5th and 6th degrees, and whole steps between the other adjacent degrees.

    The source of the melodies played in the minor key are derived from the natural minor scale. In a nutshell, the natural minor scale is the traditional scale of the minor key.

    The easiest natural minor scale to get started with is the A natural minor scale:

    …having all white notes from A to A (eight degrees in all.)

    A is the first degree

    B is the second degree

    C is the third degree

    D is the fourth degree

    E is the fifth degree

    F is the sixth degree

    G is the seventh degree

    A is the eighth degree

    Always remember that the distance between adjacent degrees of the natural minor scale is a whole step, save between the 2nd & 3rd and 5th & 6th degrees.

    Scale Formation of The Natural Minor scale

    Formation of the natural minor scale depends on whole steps and half steps. Consequently, it’s easier to form the natural minor scale if you know whole steps and half steps.

    Here are two guidelines that can help you form any natural minor scale on the keyboard.

    Guideline #1 – Determine the key and make it your first degree.

    Guideline #2 – Ascend a whole steps, save between the 2nd & 3rd and the 5th & 6th degrees of the scale.

    “Let’s put these guidelines to work in the key of C minor”

    Guideline #1 – Determine the key and make it your first degree.

    Key C:

    …is the first degree.

    Guideline #2 – Ascend a whole steps, save between the 2nd & 3rd and the 5th & 6th degrees of the scale.

    Ascending by a whole step from C:

    …the first degree, takes us to D:

    …the second degree.

    Attention: Considering that in between the 2nd and 3rd degrees of the natural minor scale is a half step, we’ll be ascending by a half step.

    Ascending by a half step from D:

    …the second degree, takes us to Eb:

    …the third degree.

    Ascending by a whole step from Eb:

    …the third degree, takes us to F:

    …the fourth degree.

    Ascending by a whole step from F:

    …the fourth degree, takes us to G:

    …the fifth degree.

    Attention: In between the 5th and 6th degrees of the natural minor scale is a half step, and we’ll be ascending by a half step.

    Ascending by a half step from G:

    …the fifth degree, takes us to Ab:

    …the sixth degree.

    Ascending by a whole step from Ab:

    …the sixth degree, takes us to Bb:

    …the seventh degree.

    Ascending by a whole step from Bb:

    …the seventh degree, takes us to C:

    …the eighth degree.

    Following the same procedure, you can form the natural minor scale in all twelve keys.

    Attention: Please always remember that while other adjacent scale degrees are a whole step apart, the 2nd & 3rd degrees and the 5th & 6th degrees of the natural minor scale are a half step apart.

    The Natural Minor scale In All Twelve Keys

    Here are the minor scales in all twelve keys…

    C minor scale:

    C# minor scale:

    Here are the rest of the natural minor scales…


    D minor scale:

    Eb minor scale:

    E minor scale:

    F minor scale:

    F# minor scale:

    G minor scale:

    G# minor scale:

    A minor scale:

    Bb minor scale:

    B minor scale:

    Final Words

    The natural minor scale is the traditional scale of the minor key and every serious musician should learn how to play it in all twelve keys.

    Thank you for your time.

    P.S

    We’re introducing a complete guide on how to master scales completely. If you join our mailing list, you’ll be among the first to be notified.

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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