Guitar Tutorial – Minor Scales

girl_playing_guitar_and_singingWhat you need:

1/ To have completed TUTORIAL #1

2/ A guitar

3/ 40 minutes of your time

Scope: In this tutorial, you will learn two kinds of minor scale. You will be able to relate them to each other and a major scale by adjusting your starting position rather than changing what notes you play. You will continue to form chords by extracting notes from the scale as before.

Experience Level: Some experience & playing ability will go a long way. If you can play scales with confidence, that is ideal.

Method: The intention of this & subsequent tutorials is to gain maximum applied understanding from minimal study & practice. Therefore nothing that follows should be 'skipped over'.



As in the last Tutorial, we continue with a table of scales. Table #1 shows the chromatic and C major scale once again, this time extended to 2 octaves of C major. Beneath this is a Minor scale of A.

Again blue highlighting shows where the notes of the scales occur within the chromatic one. If we play these hightlighted notes (1 to 7) between A and G we are playing an A minor scale.

1/ All the notes of A minor share the same highlighting as C major, therefore these 2 scales share the exact same notes. So why do the two scales sound distinct and different? By shifting the starting & end points of course, and by begining at A we get a different pattern of intervals. It is only our perception of where the 1 lies that makes any difference at all.

2/ Note that A is the 6th of C major. This is a constant, meaning that by finding the 6th of any major scale, you establish the root note of the relative minor one. It works just as well the other way around of course. The 3rd of this minor scale will be the root note (1) of the major one. Study table #1 to see how this works. Its easier to understand that way.


Table 1



This pattern of intervals identifes the above minor scale:-

tone, semitone, tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone

In the A minor example in Table #1, you can see that the 7 notes of the scale are A, B, C, D, E, F, G. The 3rd = C, the 5th = E etc.

As with the C major example in tutorial #1, the above pattern of intervals is a template for the scale. Choose your starting point, apply the 'pattern of intervals template', and you can find this minor scale in any key.

In this example, we know A minor shares the same notes as C major, so we can borrow from our C major guitar phrasing to practice A minor scales. Your fingers have learned the phrasing for one key already. It is much easier to adapt it rather than drilling all new phrasing into those fingers. Is this cheating? Yes it is, but be careful you dont outsmart yourself by soloing this way too early! Try to remember where the root note is at all times.

Practical Application

An example: You need to use a A minor scale in a guitar solo. You can use your C major scale phrases for this purpose with the confidence that you will play all the correct notes. The main thing to beware of is that you dont try resolve the solo on C. The root note is now A.

The final exercise (exercise #4), will demonstrate this better than I can describe it.

It should be apparent by now that the pattern of intervals is at the heart of this method of teaching. Its more important than that though, it is a useful model for analysing, and understanding conventional music as a whole.

There are more than just two types of scale though. Another very useful variant of the minor scale is introduced below. Why do we need more than one kind of minor scale? Well we dont, but they can be used to great effect, so why not add them to your musical vocabulary? Instead of showing you another table now, look at the pattern of intervals below.

tone, semitone, tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone this is the pattern for the minor key introduced already.

tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone, tone this is another one with the 6th altered.

To hear what the 'new' minor scale sounds like, play these notes:- A B C D E F# G A

Just one changed note (interval) produces a different mood again. You may notice that this is the first time I have used a sharp (#).

To compare the original A minor scale again, play these notes:- A B C D E F G A

The 'new' minor scale is called the Dorian Mode (sometimes the Dorian Scale). It is more frequently used in contemporary music. If you wish to expand upon a blues scale (the 5 note scale called 'Pentatonic') this is a logical extension. Put another way, it can have more practical use than the regular minor scale.

The good news is you can still extract the Dorian Mode from the scale already practiced. The starting position within the C major scale is D. Take a look at this familiar chart extended yet again:-


Table 2





Following on from TUTORIAL #1, this part will be pretty easy. Exactly the same principle applies. Look at the green highlighted notes in Table #3 below. Within the minor scale, It identifies C as the 3rd and E as the 5th. Play those notes in unison with the A root (1) to produce a A minor chord.

Once again, this formula of Root, 3rd and 5th is universal and constant for chord creation. Use the pattern of intervals to find the scale of a selected key, identify the 3rd and the 5th within it and you have the chord. You now know how to contruct any minor chord (& major of course too).


Table 3

Play the scales of G# min & E min on your guitar. Use the phrasing examples on the fret-board charts if you wish. Use the note locator on the bottom reference chart to find your starting position if you need to.

Identify the 3rd, 5th and root notes in the scale of B minor. Create your own chord shape anywhere you wish on the fretboard. Check it against the note reference chart.

Repeat exercise #1 but use the dorian mode for G# and E instead. If you wish, use the fretting examples

There is a small Midi file available for download link to file. It consists of three chords repeated in cycle.


The chords are:-

C major

A minor

D minor

Of course, these are the chords of the very scales we have been learning; here assembled into a pattern. All you need do is use your guitar to play the C major scale notes over this music. You can play the scale directly, but its nicer to improvise the note order if you can. Note that when the underlying chord changes, the mood of your own playing is transformed completely. Of course it doesnt actually matter if you play the scales of C major, A minor or D Dorian here, because they are all the same notes. This example is a peek at the 'payoff' value of this type of study.

If for any reason, you dont use the Midi file provided, take the trouble to create your own, because its worth understanding this at a practical level as early as possible. Heres how:-

Record and playback a C major chord, an A minor chord, and a D minor chord, possibly using your PC. Sustained organ or brass sounds would be suitable. Its preferable to record them as a 3 part sequence. A rhythm accompaniment is not neccessary.

The chord base underneath has determined the effect your playing has. First cheerful and then sombre. From a composers point of view, this is a useful bit of knowledge. Many songs use these major / relative-minor chords together. They have a special relationship. They share the all the same notes but shift in mood.



Hopefully this tutorial has got some important principles across quickly and painlessly. Sadly, there are fewer ways to speed up playing practice. I will leave up to you how much work you put in to consolidate.

Whatever you manage to do, the practice will also better prepare you for the tutorials to follow, which are built upon this one, and each other.

Tutorial #3 will introduce one more (modal) scale, and introduce some advanced chords.


About Rudi Samborski

Logo-dark-bg-square-170A self taught guitar player, Rudi began playing in 1970, and began teaching in 1973. He plays all main technical styles except flamenco. Essentially a `live' gigging musician, both solo and within bands. Written only about 30 songs, many of which are forgotten, but a committed composer nevertheless. Currently in a soul/ska/rock 7 piece band called Blown Out.

Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.”
Ludwig van Beethoven