The minor scale

Recall that a scale is a collection of notes within an octave usually not played at the same time. (May 3rd's lesson)

Recall that a step pattern of a scale is the pattern of the notes in the scale (strictly ascending). (May 3rd)

Recall also that we are using numbers to describe notes in relation to the root note ( the letter used in a particular chord/scale/etc.)(May 3rd)

Recall that a minor chord is a chord made up of the notes 1,b3,5. (May 31th)

A minor scale is a scale that contains a minor chord built on its root note. In other words, the scale contains 1,b3,5.

THE Minor scale we are discussing (and everyone else talks about) contains the notes 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,b7. It's step pattern is W-1/2-W-W-1/2-W-W. In the key of Am, it would be the notes A-B-C-D-E-F-G.

The minor scale belongs to a modal family of scales that includes the major scale and 5 others (more on this in june 7ths lessons.)

Let's start by learning the 5 moveable positions we've been studying (E-shape, D-shape, C-shape, A-shape, G-shape) (see may 10th)

Minor scale "E-shape" (root note on 6th string)


Minor scale "D-shape" (root note on the 4th string)


Minor scale "C-shape" (root note on the 5th string)


Minor scale "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)


Minor scale "G-shape" (root note on the 6th string)


These shapes will allow you to play in box positions across the neck.
Recall that you can use "lead patterns" to move through a scale up or down the neck (may 24th). Here are two such patterns for the pentatonic minor scale:



Breaking it down to two strings we can come up with two patterns for standard tuning (whose strings are tuned in perfect 4ths [6 to 5, 5 to 4, 4 to3, 2 to 1] and a major third [3 to 2]).

For a perfect 4th:


For M3:


And regardless of tuning, on a single string we have:


(useful for tapping and playing in any tuning)

Ok. So practice (and memorize your scales), practice, practice your scales. I'd start with two shapes- oh say "E-shape" and "A-shape" and memorize those first. Then add another shape to practice, and concentrate on that till it's memorized, then switch positions between the three for awhile, then add a 4th one, etc.
Sing with every note you play. I can't emphasize this enough. It is the practice that will lead you to the place where you can play what's in your head.

While you're learning these shapes, it would be helpful to recall the minor chords and consider how the scale contains the chord within it and how it fits around it. For example, the "A-shape":

Minor scale "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)


minor "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)


Try fluttering around the chord shape within the scale (hammer-on, pull-off between chordal and non-chordal tones, or you could trill, or slide, etc.)

Also consider while looking at these two that there is a half-step between the 2 and b3, and between the 5 and b6. you could play with the dissonance between these chordal and non-chordal tones (this is heard more commonly with the harmonic minor scalewhen the 7 is a 1/2 step away from the 1.)

New scales from old...
Ok for historical reasons, it was deemed desirable that the minor scale should have a major sventh (leading note) so that its v chord would instead be a V chord (major instead of minor). So they altered the scale for harmonic reasons. The new scale is called harmonic minor. Then someone decided that the m3 interval between the harmonic minor's b6 and 7 notes sounded awkward, so they raised the b6 to 6, giving a more melodic scale. They call that new scale the melodic minor. here's the rub... for whatever historical reasons, classical composers gennerally make it their style to only play melodic minor when ascending, then while descending they play harmonic minor. Now, in jazz you would play harmonic minor both ascending and descending. It's sometimes refered to as jazz minor. The last one I really like, it's often called gypsy minor or oriental minor.

Aeolian = 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,b7
Harmonic minor = 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,7
Melodic minor (jazz minor) = 1,2,b3,4,5,6,7
Gypsy minor (oriental minor) = 1,2,b3,#4,5,b6,7

So just which chords do go with the minor scale (aeolian mode)?
Here are some chords you can string together in almost any combination to form aeolian progressions. You should be sure that the progression somehow emphasizes some form of the i chord (there is a lesson on creating chords from scales next week).
i, i7, i9, i11, i11b13, iio, ii7b5, ii7b9b5, ii11b9b5, bIII, bIIImaj7, bIIImaj9, bIIImaj11, bIIImaj13, iv, iv7, iv9, iv11, iv13, v, v7, v7b9, v11b9, v11b13b9, bVI, bVImaj7, bVImaj9, bVImaj9#11, bVImaj13#11, bVII, bVII7, bVII9, bVII11, bVII13.

So take any of these chords, string them together into a progression (you should probalbly include a i chord of some type and play the progression so that it resolves, or is drawn back to the i). Tape your progression (or have a friend play it) and play over the progression in i-Aeolian.
Some common progressions in Aeolian are:
i-iv, i-v, i-iv-v, i-bIII, i-bVI, bVII-bVI-i, bIII-bVII-i, iio-v-i

It should be noted that these are the same derned chords that appeared in the major scale just with different functionalities ( so the I in major is now bIII in minor, ii in ionian is now iv in aeolian, etc.). more on this in an upcoming lesson on modes.

There is a good reason for it though, and it has to do with relative major and minor.

Relative major and minor-
There are two terms used when comparing major and minor scales, relative and parallel.
Relative major and minor is when the two scales share the same (named) notes, but with different emphasis (different root notes).
Parallel major and minor is when both scales have the same root note.

Example: Parallel major and minor
C major and C minor both have the same root note (C) but the 3rds, 6ths, and 7ths are different.
C major = C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C.
C minor = C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C.

Recall, that we've defined the major and minor scales as:
major = 1,2,3,4,5,6,7
minor = 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,b7

Example; relative major and minor
C major and A minor scales have the same (named) notes but different root notes.
C major = C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C
A minor = A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A

The relative relationship between the major and minor scales is that of the ionian to aeolian mode. So if you're in the major scale (ionian mode), then the minor scale (aeolian mode) starts on the 6th degree (note) of the major scale. (A minor starts on the 6th note of C major. Check it above.) If you're in the minor scale, then the major scale starts on the 3rd degree (note) of the minor scale (Cmajor starts on the 3rd note of A minor).

Note that a key is based on the notes in a major scale with the same name, so if the relative major and minor scales share the same notes, then they share the same key. If the song is in a minor scale, then the key is refered to by the minor key name.

Minor keys
Here is a listing of minor keys names, their notes, and number of sharps/flats.

Am = A,B,C,D,E,F,G (no sharps or flats)
Em = E,F#,G,A,B,C,D (1 sharp)
Bm = B,C#,D,E,F#,G,A (2 sharps)
F#m = F#,G#,A,B,C#,D,E (3 sharps)
C#m = C#,D#,E,F#,G#,A,B (4 sharps)
G#m = G#,A#,B,C#,D#,E,F# (5 sharps)
D#m = D#,E#,F#,G#,A#,B,C# (6 sharps)

Dm = D,E,F,G,A,Bb,C (1 flat)
Gm = G,A,Bb,C,D,Eb,F (2 flats)
Cm = C,D,Eb,F,G,Ab,Bb (3 flats)
Fm = F,G,Ab,Bb,C,Db,Eb (4 flats)
Bbm = Bb,C,Db,Eb,F,Gb,Ab (5 flats)
Ebm = Eb,F,Gb,Ab,Bb,Cb,Db (6 flats)


Limited palette study
Pick a shape (I'd start with E or A) and pick two adjacent strings. VERY slowly, start playing the notes in the scale on those two strings, and sing every note as you play it. When you can comfortably do this, add a string adjacent to the two, and repeat. When you have all six strings going in a position, and you'recomfortable with that (you're singing every note at the same time, remember), then slightly increase the speed. When you've tackled one, start learning another shape.

I've been giving this same application for some time now, so here's an additional exercise that's built off this one:

Get a jamming buddy/student/teacher/whatever. Someone interactive. Agree on the same scale/shape/range. One person starts by playing a phrase (a couple of notes), then the other person repeats what the first person played. After awhile change who goes first.
Some variations could be:
1.) Switching leader every phrase.
2.) Gradually extending phrases.
3.) Not specifying range/shape/scale.

An example of this sort of thing can be seen at the end of the movie "Crossroads" where Steve Vai and Ralph Machio (guit parts played by Vai)"cut heads".

This could also be an exercise in call and response, where the 1rst person plays a phrase, and the 2nd person repeats the phrase and then answers it.

Articulation ideas posted for major scale, and pentatonic major, pentatonic minor scales can be applied to the minor scale substituting 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,b7 (minor scale) for 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 (major scale), etc.
For example, here is E minor (open, E-shape) in phrases of 4 notes: (1-2-b3-4)-(2-b3-4-5)-etc. In TAB:



Which would look on a fret board (open position) like:


You could try mixing in arpeggios to create articulations with skips.

ex. (1-b3-5)-4-b3-2-(b3-5-b7)-b6-5-4-(5-b7-9[2])-8[1]-b7-8[1]-etc.

ex. (1-b3-5-b7)-b6-5-4-b3-(2-4-b6-8)-b7-b6-5-4-etc.

Articulations will help break up the monotony in practicing scales and will help you experience them with a deeper understanding than just playing them straight up and down.

Borrowed chords
Recall, from above that we have parallel major and minor scales. Recall also that there are chords that go with certain scales. A more appropriate wording would be that we can build chords out of scales. (I'll explain this in detail in the next lesson).
Looking at triads built off the major scale, we have: I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi-viio ( in the key of C: C-Dm-Em-F-G-Am-Bo). Other chords listed in the major scale lesson are these same chords with extensions added.
Triads built off the minor scale would be:
i-iio-bIII-iv-v-bVI-bVII ( in the key of Cm: Cm-Do-Eb-Fm-Gm-Ab-Bb).
Taking all these possibilities together we have as possible triads:
I,i,ii,iio,bIII,iii,IV,iv,V,v,bVI,vi,bVII,viio. (with a tonal center of C: C,Cm,Dm,Do,Eb,Em,F,Fm,G,Gm,Ab,Am,Bb,Bo.)

We could now create progressions from these chords where we would call the chords not usually found in the key "borrowed" (from another key or scale).

Here is an example to solo over in Cmajor/Cminor:
||: C-F-C-Eb-Bb/D :||
You could use C major to solo over C-F-C (I-IV-I), and C minor over Eb-Bb/D-[C] (bIII-bVII-[1])

notice: the chords I-IV-I are built off the major scale (above), and the progression bIII-bVII-i is in the minor scale (the progression never makes it to i, but instead starts the I-IV-I progression again).

First let me put in a plug for Jamey Aebersold's play-a-long series that is intended to help you learn to solo. Excellent series geared twords jazz music but applicable to other styles ( Specifically, he has one book (w/CD or cassette) that deals with major and minor scales. It's vol.24. Well worth the investment. I understand there may be some stuff on mp3 as well under "jam tracks". try doing a search for jam tracks.
Here are some links to previous thoughts expressed on soloing from earlier posts. The same ideas apply, just with a different scale. (Pentatonic major scale, Pentatonic minor scale,Major scale)

Best advice I can give you is to sing with every note you play. this is the key to being able to play what you hear in your head. the only downside to this is that you are only going to get out of your mind what you put into it. So listen to everything you can to increase your potential. (GIGO).

It may help you to think of soloing as an extension of the voice. So think about the analogy for a moment.
You say something (play a solo). That something is usually expressed in words (phrases are smaller parts of the solo). Those words are made up of letters (phrases are made up of notes). These letters are all contained within the alphabet (these notes are found in the chromatic sclae in the western system).
Ok. Now working back up; given a word, there are many ways to say it - different inflections/speeds/accents, etc. Given a sentance you can create different impressions by emphasizing certain words over others, saying them with different emotions, etc. And finding yourself in a context to give a statement, you could use many different sentances (containing the same or different words) to say the same thing. Sometimes in speaking we use letters or words to describe/release an emotion. (ex. Arrghh !) Sometimes we use words that sound like a sound (onomotopeia).(ex. splish-splash)

So using this analogy to gain insight and practical thought on soloing. Note selection (choosing which notes to play) though important, is only one of many aspects to a solo. In the process of communicating, it's not only what you say but also how it's said.
Given a musical phrase of say 4 notes, You can vary your finger pressure on different notes. You can vary your attack on those notes. You could use a pick, or your fingers, or fingerpicks, or magnets (on electric) to attack the string with. You could try muting, left or right hand. you could try varying the length of time the note is held. you could change the time that you're counting in. You could play with syncopation. How does the rhythm you're playing affect your mood. Try tapping it out, how do you respond to that? You could play the notes legato, staccato, portamento. You could accent one or more notes. You could use volume swells (on electric). You could use hammer-ons, pull-offs, trills, slides, tapping, vibrato, and various ornaments on the notes or inbetween notes. If you are amplified, that opens a whole other can of worms of possibilities of ways to affect the sound of your guitar. You could play the same notes in a different tuning , with or without a capo. Where you play a note on the neck affects the tone. So all of that and more could happen in one phrase of a set number of specific notes.
Given multiple phrases, the same and more considerations. You could do call and response stuff. You could use repition of phrases. You could use tension and release (plan a climax somewhere and move twords it and fall away from it). You could play silence, play with silence. you could change any and all the things you used on one phrase when going to another phrase.
So the question, "how do I solo?" is profound. It is a question of how do I communicate myself in (usually) a short amount of time.

It is my opinion, that for a beginner, this stuff is secondary, and that a beginner should be focusing on learning to play and apply scales. it is their job to make sure that they can get their fingers to play and learn how notes relate to each other and how a note sounds against other notes.
I believe it is an intermediate level question to deal with all the things that affect your tone and timing.
And IMO it is an advanced opportunity to deal with silence, and finding your own voice to pull out of the silence.
Beyond that you could set your sights on affecting the world with your song.

Listen to every note carefully.

Christopher Roberts

How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart

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Last updated January 1, 2003
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