Relative Minor and Relative Major Scales

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The relative minor scale is great to use when improvising on your own because it gives you more options. Every improviser needs to know how to use the major and minor scales, but after that they should learn about the relative minor scale.

A few concepts in music theory have provided me with an “aha” moment quite like learning about the relative minor and relative major scales. Studying the relationship between major and minor scales is a great starting point for learning different scale patterns. This prepares you for understanding modes.

What Are Relative Major and Minor Scales

This is something you need to know. Every music theory I teach is linked to how it is used in real life. Some concepts are more valuable than others, and relative major/minor scales appear a lot. This video explains their use in music.

This powerful tool allows you to create basslines and compose your own music. The cool thing about relative minor and minor scales, is that if you already know one scale, you will also know the other. You can simply shift your position and play the same notes to get the other scale. For more information, read on or watch the video.

Why is it Useful to Know Relative Major and Minor Scales

Knowing the relationship between major and minor chords is a great way to memorize important music information. To be able to recognize all 24 music keys, you only need to remember 12 scales.

You’ll see the relative minor scales listed below the major scales if you have studied the harmony section’s circle of fifths. They are the same set and share the same key signature.

Not only are the notes identical between relative scales but so are diatonic chords.

It’s also common to see songs bounce between the major and its relative minor keys or vice versa.

Knowing the scale relationships will make it easier to remember many essential things, and will help you better understand keys, chord progressions and songs.

But what is the Relative Minor Scale

Consider a major scale as, for instance, the C major or C major scale. The A minor scale will be the C relative minor. The relative minor scale for a major scale will be the minor scale of the sixth grade of that tonality. Although it sounds confusing, this is actually quite straightforward in practice. We were already in C so the sixth degree is A. So, just play A minor.

Note: If you still have questions about degrees, please read the article “What degrees?” again.

As you can see, there are no new scales being learned here. This scale is nothing but the natural minor scale that we already know. We are creating a sixth degree link to the first. Soon you’ll see why.

If you take the C major scale and compare it with the A minor scale, they have exactly the same notes. And, the major scale has a relative minor scale that is identical to it. Pretty cool, right? That’s why they call it “relative”. For example, the C major x A minor scales and the G major x E minor scales are:

  • C major scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B
  • A minor scale: A, B, C, D, E, F, G
  • G major scale: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#
  • E minor scale: E, F#, G, A, B, C, D

This is great! You can use the A minor scale to solo a song whose tonality is C major. In other words, when you have major tonality, there are the two scales which it comes and the relative minor scale. In other words, this opens the door to the possibility of a soloЮ

Overview of the Basic Theory of Scale

The major and minor scales are built on 7 steps, or degrees, and both types of scale follow a pattern of whole & half steps. In the major scale each degree is 2 semitones apart from one another. In the minor scale, each degree is 1 semitone apart from one another.

Major Scale = W W H W W W H

Minor scale = W H W W H W W

Every degree of the scale creates a chord quality that is determined by the addition another third. For example, if we go up to an interval of A/C#, then it’s equal to an A#Maj7.

UPPERCASE = Basic

LOWERCASE = Secondary

1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Major I ii Iii IV V vi vii?5
Minor i ii?5 III iv v VI VII

Relative Minor and Relative Major

The two scales “relative” and “major” are kind of similar because they share the same chords and notes. Every major scale has a tonal counterpart, every minor scale has a relative major.

Finding the Relative Minor Scale

The 6th degree of any major scale is the relative minor. To find the relative minor of a scale, we need to list all the notes in it and find its 6th interval. Let’s check out some examples:

Relative Minor of C Major

To find the relative minor of C major, we can list the notes of the C major scale.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7
C D E F G A B

The table shows that the 6th grade of the C major scale is named A. This means that A minor is the relative major of C major.

You can see that the notes of A minor scale are identical to those of C major scale if you follow the half-step/whole-step pattern.

This is made clearer by looking at the two-octave pattern for C major and C minor on the fretboard.

Both scales have the same seven notes. Only the root note on which the scale is constructed is different.

Harmonizing the scale will reveal that the A minor scale contains the same chords and melody as the C major.

Scale Degree 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
C Major C Dm Em F G Am Bm? 5
A Minor Am Bm? 5 C Dm Em F G

Tonal Center

If these scales have the same notes, then what is the difference between playing in A major or C major? It is the tonal center, or the tone that the music is centered on, that makes the difference.

The exact same scales and chords can be used for both keys. Both keys can be used the exact same chords, scales, etc. but the key will be determined by the tonal centre.

The key would be C major if the music revolves around a C minor chord progression or melody. If the music is centered on an A minor chord progression, melody, or melody, then the key would be A major.

Finding the Relative Minor on the Fretboard

The guitar fretboard makes it easy to determine the relative minor of any major scale. Their intervallic relationship does not change because the relative minor is always 6th degree on the major scale.

This means that the root note for the relative minor scale is always at the same place relative to the root for the major scale.

The sixth-degree chord in the C relative minor key is, for example, Am or Am7. Another example is if the tonality of G major. The relative minor of G is Em (or Em7).

Relative chords are interchangeable, because they’re related to each other.

In guitar, the root of the relative minor is found three frets down from the major root. For example, in C major pentatonic scale, you need to go three frets down from F to find E.

With relative minors now under our belt, let’s take a look at a couple more examples.

Relative Minor of G Major

If we take the 6th note of the major scale of G and consider the relative minor, we find that the key is E minor.

Scale 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
G Major G A B C D E F#
E Minor E F# G A B C D

Relative Minor of A Major

Let’s list out all the notes of the A major: we find that its relative minor is F#.

Scale 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
A Major A B C# D E F# G#
F# Minor F# G# A B C# D E

Finding the Relative Major Scale

 

Taking the 3rd degree of the minor scale will give us the relative major. Remind you how to do that?

Relative Major of B Minor

To find the relative major of B minor, we’ll start by writing out its scale.

Scale 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
B Minor B C# D E F# G A

From the scale above, you can see that the 3rd note of B minor is a D, which means D is the relative major chord of B minor.

Finding the Relative Major on the Fretboard

By taking the major root, which is found three frets down on most guitars, you can find the minor root up three. This will give you the relative major chord and this can be used to find any relative chords whichever note your are looking for.

Using the B minor pentatonic scale, we can confirm.

Memorizing the Relative Scales

Musicians must be able to memorize all the scales (major and minor keys). You can find more information in the harmony section. There are 12 major and 12 minor keys. You will quickly be able to identify the relative minor keys if you know the 12 major keys.

It takes effort to remember the keys. There aren’t many shortcuts. It’s important to take the time to review them whenever you have the chance. Focus on one or two keys. Begin with the keys that you are most comfortable playing. You will find that guitarists tend to use many sharp keys (G. D. A. E. B). Horn players favor flat keys (F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db).

When you practice your scales, think about the note names. Don’t think only about finger patterns. Learn to read music. This will force you to focus on the note names and not fret numbers. When you are waiting in line, at the bathroom, or in the car, recite the key names. This will help you remember the keys.

Once you start to learn a few relative scales, it is easy to remember. You should already be aware that E major and G minor are relatives. They’re only a half-step below. C major/A major gives you the option of a Cb major or Ab minor, as well as a C# major or A# minor. They are just offset by one note. Find out which other notes you can find.

Relative and Composing Using Relative Keys Chart

It is very easy to determine the relative major/minor key. To be able use the keys in your composition, however, you will need to know how many flats and sharps are in them.

It is a great way to introduce contrast into a piece. This can give a piece a sense of structure.

Take a look at/listen to the following example. It’s a piano piece called Prelude 18-The Lily. It is possible to see/hear the beginning of the piece in A major. The piece then transitions to the relative minor, F sharp minor.

As the keys share the same key signature, I don’t need to use any modulating or pivot chord. This creates a contrast section that has a more melancholic feeling before returning to the relative major in the final section.

How to Use Relative Minor in Your Music

1. Key change

It’s a great way for you to change the keys and keep your listeners interested.

However, it can be difficult to create smooth modulations. The relative minor is the easiest and most natural way to switch to mid-song.

The relative minor is the best option if you are looking for new harmonic areas and don’t know where to start.

2. Aeolian mode

As I said, the relative minor scale is the same as the natural minor or aeolian modes. It is derived from the major scale modes.

Aeolian can be used in your song as a distinct sound.

Due to its complete step intervals, and absence of leading tone, this scale sounds more static and neutral than either harmonic minor or melodic major.

You can also use some of the characteristic chords to help you meet listeners’ expectations and create interest.

The relative minor scale is the same as the natural minor without any alterations, or the aeolian mode.

This is an example of how a minor V chord in the Aeolian mod can give a song a new feel. It’s in the chorus of this timeless hit.

3. Borrowed chords

For your song to sound harmonious and pleasing, it is important that you play the chords in the home key.

However, songs written using diatonic chords can become a little boring after a while.

The best chord progressions are those that use chords from a different key. Borrowing chords from minor scales in the major home key is a common technique.

As I have shown, chords from relative minor are equivalent in pitch to diatonic chords in home key.

There are many other minor options! There are many options, such as the parallel minor (or the key with the same name of the home key) that offer some convenience.

You will most commonly choose the minor IV chord. However, you can also experiment with other chords as long as your chords are familiar and you have the right key. To choose which one to use, you can simply pick from any of the major keys.

Conclusion

The relative major and minor scales have the same chords and notes, and thus share the same key signature. The relative minor is 6th degree of a major scale, while the relative major 3rd degree is a natural minor scale.

The tonal center, or the dominant tonality, determines the key to a piece. This is an important fact to keep in mind when studying modes. The mode being played will be determined by the parent scale’s notes/chords and the tonal centre..

FAQ for Relative Minor and Relative Major Scales

What is a relatively minor scale?

A relatively minor scale is a minor scale that starts on the sixth degree of the major scale. It is also called a relative natural minor scale.

The relative minor key is the key in which the corresponding major key’s relative minor has its tonic note.

For example, if C is the tonic note of a C major scale, then A-flat would be the tonic note of an A-flat major scale.

What is a relative major scale?

A relative major scale is a major scale that has the same tonic as a given minor scale.

For example, if we have a C minor scale, then the relative major is a C major.

How are relative major and minor scales different from each other?

The major scale is a series of notes that are based on the sound of a major chord. The minor scale is a series of notes that are based on the sound of a minor chord.

The major scale is made up of seven different notes, while the minor scale consists of six different notes. The difference between these two scales is that the third note in the major scale is one semitone higher than the third note in the minor scale.

How are relative scales different from major scales?

Major scales are based on the major scale pattern of WWHWWWH. Relative scales are based on the major scale pattern of W-W-H-W-W-H. Relative scales and major scales are used to play melodies in Western music.

What are the steps for constructing a relatively minor scale?

There are a few steps to constructing a relatively minor scale.

1) Determine the root note of the scale.

2) Determine the interval for the first note of the scale.

3) Determine which key signature to use.

4) Follow these steps for all other notes in the scale:

a) Find the note on a piano keyboard, starting on C and going up one octave (C-D-E-F-G-A).

b) Find that note’s corresponding number on your list of intervals (1, 2, 3, 4).

c) Add that number to your root note and find its relative minor key signature.

Why is it important to know the difference between the relative minor scale and one relative major scale?

In music, the term “key” identifies a particular set of notes that can be used to form chords and scales. It is important to know the difference between them because one scale might sound better than another. For example, if you are playing in the key of C major, and you want to play a C minor chord, you need to know which relative minor scale is used in that key.

The relative minor scale is the same as the major scale but with a lowered 3rd and 7th note. This means that if you are playing in C major, then A minor is your relative minor.

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