Minor Scales and Modes

Minor Scales

In tonal music, each major scale has a relative minor.  It begins on the 6th scale degree of its relative major.  These two keys share the same key signature.  The 6th scale degree is a minor 3rd below the tonic in a major key, which is a shorter distance to measure.

Three types of minor scales are typically identified in tonal music.  Melodic Ascending, Melodic Descending (called Natural minor), and Harmonic minor.  The Harmonic minor is unusual because it has an Augmented second between the 6th and 7th scale degrees, which is enharmonically equivalent to a minor third.  In tonal music written in a minor key, the Ascending and Descending forms of the melodic minor scale dictate whether the 6th and 7th scale degrees are raised (major) or lowered (minor.)  These alterations differentiate minor keys from modes.

Each of these scales has a different order of Whole and Half steps, represented by the letters “W” and ”H.”  The Augmented second in the Harmonic minor is represented by the letter “A.”

Melodic Ascending: W – H – W – W – W – W – H
Melodic Descending: W – H – W – W – H – W – W (Natural minor)
Harmonic minor: W – H – W – W – H – A – H


Compared to a Major scale, the altered scale degree are identified below.  Alternatively, choose a key signature and play all the notes in the octave beginning on each scale degree, from 1 – 7.

  1. Ionian:  none (Major scale)
  2. Dorian:  m3, m7
  3. Phrygian:  m2, m3, m6, m7
  4. Lydian:  #4
  5. Mixolydian:  m7
  6. Aeolian:  m3, m6, m7 (Natural minor)
  7. Locrian:  m2, m3, d5, m6, m7

Music Courseware Activities

Visitors – Select the Activity Written: Scale Type

Visitors – Select the Activity Aural: Scale Type

Students – Take a test or quiz assigned by your instructor.

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