Minor Scales Jazz Piano Tutorial
There are three types of minor scale: the natural minor scale , the harmonic minor scale and the melodic minor scale. Each minor scale has a different use and application in jazz piano and so learning how to construct and apply each one is a vital skill.
Similar to learning 7th chords, at this stage do not worry about memorising the 3 different minor scales in all 12 keys, this will come with time. However, ensure that you understand the formulas to construct each minor scale and why and how each scale is used in jazz piano.
In the upcoming beginner courses we will learn how to construct the minor 251 progression using the harmonic minor scale.
What Is The Natural Minor Scale?
The natural minor scale – also known as the relative minor scale – is a 7 note scale which contains a minor 3rd, a minor 6th, and a minor 7th. The natural minor scale is most likely the first minor scale that you will come across. The natural minor scale contains the exact same notes as the major scale that starts a minor 3rd above.
Above we can see the C Natural Minor Scale and the characteristic notes of the scale are highlighted in red. The single note that differentiates the natural minor from the other minor scales is the b6.
What Is The Harmonic Minor Scale?
The harmonic minor scale is the same as the natural minor scale but with a raised 7th degree. Raising the 7th degree by half a step gives the scale a much stronger harmonic foundation and allows you to create more interesting harmonic possibilities in minor keys.
The characteristic notes of the harmonic minor scale are the b6 in combination with the natural 7 as seen in the image above. The flatten 6th and natural 7th degree creates an ‘middle-eastern’ quality at the top of the scale which is a very distinctive sound.
To build a minor 251 progression, we must use notes and chords derived from the harmonic minor scale
The Melodic Minor Scale
Finally, the melodic minor is the same as the natural minor but with the 6th and 7th degrees raised. The raised 6th and 7th degrees removes any awkward intervals in the scale making it flow very smoothly.
This makes the melodic minor scale particularly suited to melodic development. In classical music, the melodic minor scale has a raised 6th and 7th ascending and then a flat 6th and 7th descending. In jazz we ignore this approach and play the scale the same ascending and descending.
Downloadable PDF Resource:
Download this printable lesson resource containing the 36 minor scales:
36 Minor Scales Notation File Type: pdf
The minor scales will take longer to learn that the major scales as there are 36 minor scales.
If you are just starting out, it is not vitally important to have all these scales memorized in every key. But you should understand the difference between the scales and know the formulas for constructing them:
- Natural Minor: major scale with b3, b6 & b7
- Harmonic Minor: major scale with b3, & b6
- Melodic Minor: major scale with b3
Considering you understand those 3 formulas, you now know how to construct the minor scales in all 12 keys.
Try to work out the scale using the formulas instead of becoming over-reliant on the notation. This gives us a functional understanding of the scales and the tones that they contain.
Hi Hayden, though I just started your online course I’m already addicted to it! I think it’s really great and quite understandable for a novice like me! But I already have a question. I just started the second lesson of the Jazz Piano Foundations course about the minor scales. When you’re talking about the natural minor scales you give the example of the G major scale and it’s natural minor scale. Above you write a scale in musical notes and there is written a F#, while on the piano part you write Gb. Why is that? Greetings, Joyce
Welcome to PianoGroove Pro!
That’s great to hear you are enjoying the course so far… I will send you a personal welcome email shortly with some more information on how we can help you get started.
That’s a good question…. what you are seeing is ‘enharmonic equivalents’ – this basically means it’s the same note, but spelled differently.
The software I use to generate the light-up keyboard has 3 options for the black keys:
1) all flats (Db, Eb, Gb, Ab & Bb)
2) all sharps (C#, D#, F#, G#, A#)
I chose to use ‘all flats’ because the majority of jazz standards are written in flat keys such as the keys of Bb, Eb & F and it’s much less common for jazz standards to be written in sharp keys such as the keys of B, E or A.
Because of this, the light up keyboard will get the right notes most of the time, but as you quite rightly pointed out, it is displaying the enharmonic equivalent of F# in the key of G Major.
So basically it’s just a limitation of the software I use. Unfortunately, the software cannot understand what I am playing 100% of the time. It will give you the right note, but just spelled differently.
I hope this helps… kinda confusing I know but hopefully that makes sense 🙂
Look out for an email from me.
Thank you so much, Hayden. This really makes sense! And, by the way, I’ve got your very welcoming mail. It sounds very nice and motivating. I’ll send you some information about my musical background. Have a nice day!
Hi Hayden, I just started the minor scale exercises. Thanks a lot for the great instructions. One question: is there any download PDF available with fingering information ? That would be great – I would like to start learning the scales with correct fingerings from the beginning. Bests, Olli.
Fantastic lesson. I just realized the significance of the harmonic minor scale and the jazz sound associated with it
Need your help to validate my understanding to ensure that I play the common scales in Blues major / minor improvisations correctly –
Natural Minor: major scale with b3, b6 & b7
Harmonic Minor: major scale with b3, & b6
Melodic Minor: major scale with b3
Dorian Minor: major scale with b3, & b7
What is the correct nomenclature name for the 2nd chord (D) built using C (harmonic) minor with an added 7th?
The basic triad is (I believe) Dm˚. Does it become a Dm7♭5?
I have a question about how to think about the minor scales. In one place you say to build the harmonic from the natural, and then to build the melodic from the resulting harmonic. I just want to clarify the goal. Is it to think of the melodic as “the same notes as the major scale, but starting on the sixth degree, with the 6th and seven degrees raised a half step.” Or is the goal to simply understand that this is how the melodic scale is derived, and, in practice, I can simply think of the melodic minor as a major scale with a b3rd? Sorry if that is confusing. Thanks in advance.