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Please explain the minor scales for me

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Joe Nerve, Dec 29, 2005.

  1. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    Arite - time to humble myself. I can jam up a storm and have been doing so for many many years, but on paper I still don't know what I'm doing, and I've comitted to knowing this stuff inside out. I'm working right with scales in the bass grimoire and it's got me confused. The minor scales:

    In practicality (not theory) what's the difference btwn the harmonic, the melodic, and the pantatonic? How would you know which to use, and are there musical styles which always use one, and rarely another, or are more common, etc?

    How come the minor scales I've been using aren't even in this book? The pentatonic comes closest but how come an A isn't included in the G minor scale? I'm confused. The A works -as do C# & F#. What scale is that? I'm sure I didn't make it up. In short, my rock and roll minor scale - in the key of G has always included G-A-A#-C-C#-D-F-F#.

    Please de-mystify this stuff for me - It's stuff I should have known 20 years ago. Thanks.
  2. edfriedland


    Sep 14, 2003
    Austin, TX
    The Pentatonic Minor Scale is 1-b3-4-5-b7-8, or in G - G Bb C D F G. It has only 5 notes, hence the name Penta-tonic. If you add the C#, it's called the Blues Scale. You can also add the F# as a passing tone between F and G. These scales don't have an A in them (scale degree 2), but... it will work, sounds fine.

    The other minor scales - Harmonic, Melodic and Natural are all built differently.

    Harmonic is: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7 8 - do the transposition to G on your own. It has a Gypsy or Middle Eastern vibe. Think Dick Dale's version of Miserlou.

    Melodic is: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 7 8 going up, and 8 b7 b6 5 4 b3 2 1 going down. This is the traditional melodic Minor taught in classical schools. "Jazz" Melodic minor is just 1 2 b3 4 5 6 7 8 both ways. This gets used in jazz frequently.

    Natural Minor is also the Aeolian Mode, it's: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 8. Rockers use this alot because it has a very easy fingering pattern, 1 2 4 1 2 4 1 3.

    The thing they all have in common is a b3, that's what makes a scale or chord minor. Which one you use depends on the chords you're playing too. Rock, power chords, etc would work best with Minor Pentatonic or Blues Scales. Minor triads sound cool with either harmonic or melodic, and minor seventh chords with natural, or minor pent or blues scales.

    Hope that helps.
  3. Alvaro Martín Gómez A.

    Alvaro Martín Gómez A. TalkBass' resident Bongo + cowbell player

    Hey Joe! Although you're not asking for theory, and just trying to complement Mr. Friedland's great explanation on minor scales, I think it's a good idea to read this thread. :)
  4. Eli M.

    Eli M. Life's like a movie, write your own ending

    Jul 24, 2004
    New York, NY
    I'm not sure if anyone has mentioned that the A# there should be a Bb. That's because the third degree of the scale has to be spelled as a third (G-Bb is a minor third while G-A# is an augmented second). Similarly, the third in C minor is Eb not D#, etc.
  5. ii-v


    Mar 27, 2005
    SLC, UT
    I like the grimoire book. After you are done there grab Mark Levine's "The Jazz Theory Book". It will give insight to the many ways you can use these scales over chords and changes.
  6. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Good Sir, are you suggesting that rockers play certain things purely because they are easy on the fingers? E Jam blues anyone? :eyebrow:

    Also worth mentioning, I think, is the reason for these different minor scales..

    Natural minor is just that, the minor scale found naturally at the 6th degree of the major scale. I.e. C major and A natural minor use the same notes

    Harmonic minor is only one note different from natural minor - the 7th is raised to a Major 7th so that when harmonised, it creates a dominant 7 chord on the 5th degree and increases the pull to the tonic to strenghten cadences in minor keys. The distinctive sound in this scale is the augmented 2nd interval between the minor 6th and Major 7th degrees - it's a very strong sound.

    The melodic minor scale has the 7th raised for the same reasons as harmonic minor, to create a dominant 7 chord on the 5th degree, but it also has a raised (major 6th). This softens the sound of the scale by removing that distinctive augmented second interval.. making it more melodic :)

    Pentatonic is just a cut-down version of natural minor for rockers and jazz pianists ;)
  7. edfriedland


    Sep 14, 2003
    Austin, TX
    Why of course not! I'm sure that's never happened.....

    Thanks for the details behind the names of the minor scales, I never knew that. When I was a little boy, I used to ask my mama - "Mama, why is the Harmonic Minor Scale harmonic?" And she'd look at me and say "Son, someday, you'll understand."

    That day has come! :hyper:
  8. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    To go a bit deeper into melodic minor many composers of the baroque era felt that they preferred a "major" sound in ascending melody lines therefore they changed pure minor to what we know as melodic minor. They used melodic minor for ascending passages but always used pure minor for descending passages.

    EDIT: IF you are a classical musician practicing melodic minor you play melodic minor ascending and pure minor descending. IF you play jazz then melodic minor ir referred to as "jazz minor" and you play melodic minor both ascending and descending.
  9. Snarf


    Jan 23, 2005
    Glen Cove, NY
    Okay, this one's a big no-no. 7-tone scales (ie modes) are always spelled so that there is never a repitition of a letter if it's a scale tone. Your G dorian scale should look like: G A Bb C D E F G. The passing tones are the C# and F#. And in your post, you skipped the 6th, not sure why since it's a great tone to hang onto.
  10. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    A couple of other minor scales I haven't seen posted here would be the Phrygian scale which is a natural minor scale with a lowered 2nd (1, b2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7). This is a pretty scale and sounds nice in descending lines. This is as minor as you can get before heading into diminishedland

    Another minor would be your Be-bop minor: 1, 2 b3, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7. This is for melodic lines while soloing. Avoid playing M3 on downbeat. And play really fast :kidding:

    As edfriedland said all the minor chords have the b3 in common. It's interesting moving the other intervals around to see what colors or flavors (sounds) these different scales produce. Of course a LOT of which minor scale is going to sound good is determined by the chord underneath it. With that in mind one can have fun stretching rules here.

    Q: So on the ascending melodic minor where the 7 is raised to create a dom V, was the 6 raised to create a dom on the IV as well, or was it the sole idea to get rid of the aug2 interval 'tween b6 and M7?
  11. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    Hi Ed & thanks. Never noticed you were here before. I'm soon to be diving back into your jazz bass book for a 3rd attempt in about twice as many years. When I get stuck this time on something I'm going to take my questions to the source. :) Hope ya don't mind. I'm determined to get past whatever mental blocks I've got with music theory, reading, jazz... all of it. I'm finally making some progress too.

    Thanks all you other guys too. Thanks also for not going hard on me, I was expecting a little ribbing for some reason. Not that I can't take it of course. :cool:
  12. JimmyM


    Apr 11, 2005
    Apopka, FL
    Endorsing: Ampeg Amps, EMG Pickups
    I was gonna say, Joe! Anyone who can pose naked with a bass for pictures can take just about anything, I would think ;)

    Anyhow, sounds like you're well on the road, so I'll confine myself to the good natured ribbing you so desperately need and want.
  13. edfriedland


    Sep 14, 2003
    Austin, TX

    Good luck. Theory is not so confusing, it's actually very logical. The big problem is finding a clear explanation. Using books can be helpful, but often it raises more questions than answers. Keep asking questions, you'll figure it out.


  14. I've never been more confused in my entire life.
  15. tim99

    tim99 Supporting Member

    Jan 28, 2003
    In music harmony, the V7 (five dominant seventh) to IM7 (one major seventh) is the most powerful tension-release chord sequence we have.

    In a major key, say in the key of C, V7 to IM7 is G7 to CM7. Very powerful harmony. You can hear it. This is where theory is simply used to describe what we hear. We do not do it because the math tells us to, we use the math to describe what we hear, so we can translate what we hear into other keys and other situations. And so we can talk about it using english words.

    When playing in a minor key, we want to continue to use that V to I harmonic sound.

    We create a natural minor scale from the sixth degree of the major scale. This is simply because those notes, in that order, sound "minor". This is where we get the term "relative" minor. For C major (C D E F G A B C), the "relative" minor starts on the sixth degree, so is A Minor (A B C D E F G A). We call this the natural minor scale.

    In a natural minor key, say A, the notes are A B C D E F G A B C D E F G A, which is 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7. Looking at the V to I of this key, the V7 (five seventh) chord of the natrual minor is E G B D. Hmmm. Em7 (e minor seventh). I am sorry, but Em7 is just not the same as E7. The I (one) chord is A C E G, or Am7 (a minor seventh). So, Em7 to Am7 simply sounds like a chord change, not a tension-release situation. But, if we change the Em7 to E7, interestingly enough E7 to Am7 does have tension-release, and by continuing to use the one as a minor seventh continues the fact that we are in a minor key.*

    So, rasing the third of the V chord, which is rasing the seventh degree of the natural minor scale, improves the harmonic relationship of the V chord, and gives us the harmonic minor scale. So A harmonic minor would be A B C D E F G# A B C D E F G# A, which is 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7.

    Although we have solved the V problem, we now created a new problem. Notice the F to G# in the above A harmonic minor scale. This is an augmented interval, which is three half steps, more than the common one or two half steps that scales are typically built from, so we raise the sixth degree of the harmonic minor scale to make it more melodic, and get the melodic minor scale. So A melodic minor would be A B C D E F# G# A B C D E F# G# A, which is 1 2 b3 4 5 6 7.

    So, if music theory is math, why didn't we just lower the third of the major scale to create the minor scale? Because music theory is not just math, it is also history.

    Thinking parallel for C:

    C natural minor

    C - D - Eb - F - G - Ab - Bb - C

    C harmonic minor

    C - D - Eb - F - G - Ab - B - C

    C melodic minor

    C - D - Eb - F - G - A - B - C


    * We can use this concept to play a V7 before any minor chord. This is where the term "five of two" comes from. If we are playing a major chord progression that has a IIm7 (two minor seventh) in it, we can play the V (five) of that II (two) to get a small V7 to Im7 feeling. So if we are playing Dm7 G7 CM7 Dm7 G7 CM7, we can throw in a five of that Dm7 to get A7 Dm7 G7 CM7 A7 Dm7 G7 CM7. When you are looking at a chord progression, and there are chords that do not seem to fit, the chords that do not fit will often point to a chord that does fit by leading to the chord that fits with chords that would be in that chord's harmony.
  16. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    Yup. It's all just 3s and 7s.
  17. Phil Smith

    Phil Smith Mr Sumisu 2 U

    May 30, 2000
    Peoples Republic of Brooklyn
    Creator of: iGigBook for Android/iOS
    Let's not leave out the Dorian minor.

    C D Eb F G A Bb C
  18. malthumb


    Mar 25, 2001
    The Motor City
    Just had to let you guys know. I had to print out the discussions above this post. You guys have boiled it down to a level that I would not have been able to explain myself.


  19. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    Irony? From an American?! Now I've seen everything. :D

    Anyway, yeah I was being a bit of dillon not explaining myself fuily, I dont usually do that. I was just about to leave work :rollno:
  20. tim99

    tim99 Supporting Member

    Jan 28, 2003
    Yes. I am concerned that people who know and understand the history and the math of music theory think that all beginners need is a few technical rules to get started. So they include a few items in a book or on a web page that show in words and numbers a few music theory concepts, but leave out the good information that helps to understand why this stuff is important, how to use it, and where to use it.

    I remember that physics was not taught to me that way. My high school physics class was more history and biography and concepts than calculations. Later, in college, I was allowed to go into a test with all the equations I could fit onto both sides of one 3 by 5 inch card. Imagine if I now published the information on those small cards as a guide to beginning physics students. Of course they would be confused.