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Learning Music Theory for the Guitar

By Joseph, published on 30/01/2019 Blog > Music > Guitar > Minor Scales for Guitarists

“I’m only myself when I have a guitar in my hands.” – George Harrison

If you’re also only yourself when you have a guitar in your hands, you’ll need to work on your technique if you want to define yourself as a guitarist.

Almost everyone in the UK likes music in some way or another. But if you want to learn guitar and more about scales, you’re going to need to persevere.

With pentatonic scales, major scales, chords, modes (Mixolydian, Dorian, Phrygian, etc), there are plenty of things for guitarists to learn.

In this article, we’re going to look at how beginners can familiarise themselves with the fretboard by learning the minor scale.

What Is the Minor Scale?

The minor scale, after the major scale, is arguably the second most important guitar scale to learn.

How do you improve your guitar playing? Make sure you’re one with your instrument. (Source: Pexels)

It’s the second mode of the major scale. A mode is defined by the intervals separating the fundamental and the different degrees.

The interval is the distance between two notes: usually a tone or a semitone. On a guitar, a tone is usually separated by two frets and a semitone is separated by one fret. To play a scale, you have to apply a mode.

The minor relative scale is built from the 6th degree of the major scale. The sixth degree of C is A. To better understand a minor scale, you need to focus on the interval between the tonic (the first note) and the third.

In the major scale, there are two tones in the interval whereas there are three semitones in the minor scale. The minor third gives the minor scale a more melancholic feel whereas a major key feels more optimistic.

To be fair, there’s no such thing as the minor scale. In fact, there are several minor modes that produce minor scales.

All minor scales have an altered third. The other notes that are altered are the sixth and sevenths. Each major scale has a relative minor scale, the scale that it shares all its notes with. The difference is in the order of the notes that are played.

How Can You Recognise a Relative Minor Scale?

The recognise a minor scale, you need to check that there are three semitones between the tonic and the third. When the third is minor, it’s almost always a minor scale. This is true of all minor relative scales.

There are three minor scales each with their own structure: the natural, the harmonic, and the melodic, which we’re all going to look at in more detail. The three minor scales are very similar. There are only a few differences between each of them. They’re very useful for improvising, composing, and also harmonising and making chords.

The Natural Minor Scale on the Guitar

The natural minor scale is also called the Aeolian mode. This is the first minor scale you should learn.

How long does it take to learn guitar? Work on your guitar playing whenever you can. (Source: FirmBee)

Just like the major scale, the natural minor scale is made up of seven notes. There are 6 notes between the first and last notes. Each note is no more than a full tone apart (be it a tone or a semitone). Here’s the structure of the minor natural scale:

  • I to II: A tone.
  • II to III: A semitone.
  • III to IV: A tone.
  • IV to V: A tone.
  • V to VI: A semitone.
  • VI to VII: A tone.
  • VII to I: A tone.

There are two ways to remember the scale:

  • 1T – 0.5T – 1T – 1T – 0.5T – 1T – 1T
  • 2 – 1 – 2 – 2 – 1 – 2 – 2

The second of these two methods is the intervals in the scale in terms of frets. If you remember the structure, you can play the scale in any key. You should need to remember that certain notes will become either sharps or flats and vice-versa. For example, the A minor scale is the following: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A. These are exactly the same notes as in the C major scale.

How to Practise the Natural Minor Scale on the Guitar

If you’re a beginner, focus on the fingering from the pentatonic scale, learning the rhythm, the basic chords, and barre chords. Come back to minor scales after you’ve studied the guitar for a while. It’ll be simpler!

Should guitarists study music theory? You’ll need to study a bit to get the hang of scales. (Source: Free-Photos)

Start by learning the structure of the natural minor scale. Then try playing the scale by starting from any note on the neck, then across one or two strings, then on three, working your way up until you can play it across all six strings. It’s a great way to practise using your plectrum and your fingering with your left hand (the reverse if you’re left-handed).

To improve your guitar playing, here’s a way to remember the C natural minor scale:

  • 1T – 0.5T – 1T – 1T – 0.5T – 1T – 1T
  • C D Eb F G Ab B C

The reason we don’t say D# because you can’t have two Ds in the same scale, that’s why you say Eb (they’re the same notes, after all). Try to do the same starting from F (answers at the end of the article).

The Harmonic Minor Scale on the Guitar

This is the second most common one. You’ll inevitably come across a style of music that you’ll want to play and want to learn how to improvise and compose. In this case, you’ll want to learn a scale as useful as the minor natural scale.

The minor harmonic scale is built on the minor natural scale. There are three semitones between the tonic and the third. The main difference is that there’s a semitone difference on the seventh. By starting from the A minor scale, the G will be altered: A B C D E F G# A.

Here’s the structure of the minor natural scale:

  • I to II: A tone.
  • II to III: A semitone.
  • III to IV: A tone.
  • IV to V: A tone.
  • V to VI: A semitone.
  • VI to VII: Three semitones.
  • VII to I: A semitone.

To better understand, here are two ways to remember it:

  • 1T – 0.5T – 1T – 1T – 0.5T – 1.5T – 0.5T
  • 2 – 1 – 2 – 2 – 1 – 3 – 1

This is a little complicated to remember but if you remember that it’s just the minor natural scale with the seventh raised by a semitone.

You can also learn more about the chromatic scale.

How Can You Practise the Minor Harmonic Scale?

The principle is the same for the minor natural scale. You need to just keep practising at a slow pace with the help of a metronome and work your way up. Your brain will take a bit of time to assimilate your new knowledge.

Start with the C minor natural scale, here’s the C harmonic minor scale and adding a semitone to the seventh note: C D Eb F G Ab B C.

Try to do the same starting from F (answers at the end of the article).

The Melodic Minor Scale on the Guitar

The minor melodic scale is even rarer in pop and guitar rock music it’s pretty common in metal, jazz, and even blues music.

Which is the best scale for blues music? The melodic minor scale is useful in a number of different genres. (Source: dotigabrielf)

To work out the minor melodic scale, you need to start with the minor melodic scale and augment the sixth.

By starting with the A minor harmonic scale: A B C D E F# G# A. The structure changes again:

  • I to II: A tone.
  • II to III: A semitone.
  • III to IV: A tone.
  • IV to V: A tone.
  • V to VI: A tone.
  • VI to VII: A tone.
  • VII to I: A semitone.

Here are a few ways to remember it:

  • 1T – 0.5T – 1T – 1T – 1T – 1T – 0.5T
  • 2 – 1 – 2 – 2 – 2 – 2 – 1

In comparison to the minor natural scale, the minor melodic scale has the sixth and seventh notes raised by a semitone. It’s quite easy to remember the minor natural scale and then transform it into the minor harmonic scale and the minor melodic scale.

You could also get guitar lessons!

How Can You Practise the Minor Melodic Scale?

The minor melodic scale is very similar to the major scale.

Consider the A major scale (A B C# D E F# G# A) and the A minor melodic scale (A B C D E F# G# A). It’s almost the same! The only difference is that the third is a semitone lower in the minor melodic.

You can work on the minor melodic alongside the major scale. For the C minor melodic scale, start with the C minor harmonic scale, and increase the sixth by a semitone. You’ll end up with: C D Eb F G A B C.

Try to do the same starting from F (answers at the end of the article). Practise transposing scales to other keys. Work on them regularly and don’t forget to never give up.

If you want to become an expert at the guitar, you just have to keep practising!

Here are the answers from earlier:

  • F minor natural scale: F G Ab Bb C Db Eb F
  • F minor harmonic scale: F G Ab Bb C Db E F
  • F minor melodic scale: F G Ab Bb C D E F

Did you get it?

Whether you’re interested in playing guitar solos, want to play guitar in a band, do a few licks, or create better chord progressions, every guitar player should learn to play scales.

Whether you want beginner guitar lessons, to study intermediate guitar techniques, or master some blues licks, there are plenty of great online guitar resources to get you through learning scales and improving your guitar playing.

Additionally, if you need help with a chord progression, fingering, strumming, or how to read tablature, you should consider enlisting the help of a private guitar tutor.

Private tutors tailor their lessons to their students so if you whether you want to learn blues guitar, jazz guitar, or rock guitar, your tutor can focus on the guitar licks and riffs that can help you learn how to play guitar in the style that you’re interested in.

A lot of the tutors on Superprof offer their first guitar lesson for free. Use this free guitar lesson to see if you get along with the tutor, work out whether you want to focus on music theory, improvisation, rhythm guitar, etc., and agree upon the conditions of your lessons.

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