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Guitar Tutorial - Minor Scales

This is the first part in a two part guitar tutorial covering minor scales.

Minor Scales

What you need:

1/ To have completed TUTORIAL #1

2/ A guitar

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3/ 40 minutes of your time

Avoid anyone or anything demanding your attention. Take your phone off the hook, and switch off your mobile. 

Electric guitar practice minor scales
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Table of Contents

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’.

Part 1: Minor Scales

Just as in the Major Scales 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.

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

 

A Minor Scale
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 & ending points of course, and by beginning 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.

A Minor Guitar Scale
A Minor Guitar Scale

This pattern of intervals identifies 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 don’t outsmart yourself by soloing this way too early! Try to remember where the root note is at all times.

Practical Application

You need to use an 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 don’t try resolve the solo on C. The root note is now A.

An example: 

The final exercise (exercise #4 in minor scales, part 2), 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. It’s more important than that though, it is a useful model for analysing and understanding conventional music as a whole.

More Than One Kind Of Minor Scale

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 don’t, 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

 

Dorian Mode

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 practised. The starting position within the C major scale is D. Take a look at this familiar chart extended yet again:-

Dorian Mode
Dorian Mode
Dorian Mode On Guitar
Dorian Mode On Guitar

Related Articles

If you want to find out more about playing or maintaining the guitar? If so, you can find articles and tutorials on our Guitar Articles page.

Check out the second part of the minor scale guitar tutorial:

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