The Minor Scale

Topics covered on this page: The natural minor scale – The harmonic minor scale – The melodic minor scale – Diatonic and chromatic intervals

Now that we have covered the major scale and have a good foundation of intervallic, modal, and tetrachord understanding, we will examine the minor scales now. There is only one major scale in what we are concerned with but there are three minor scales. These minor scales are called natural, harmonic, and melodic. See the pictures below for the intervallic pattern:
Natural minor – half/whole step pattern: W H W W H W W

Melodic minor
– Notice that this scale has a different ascending and descending form. Ascending it has half steps between 2&3 and 7&8, descending it the same as the natural minor. Ascending half/whole step pattern: W H W W W W H. Descending half/whole step pattern: W W H W W H W



Harmonic minor
– half/whole step pattern: W H W W H W H W
We notice that if we start on the note A of basic scale (basic scale has no accidentals) we have an interval pattern of half steps between 2&3 and 5&6. We are working within the 6th scale degree of the major scale, or the Aeolian mode. This is the Natural minor scale and is represented in the following picture.
Let’s talk about the tetrachords of the natural minor scale. The lower tetrachord has the interval pattern whole-half-whole (or WHW). The upper portion of the tetrachord has the interval pattern of half-whole-whole (or HWW). Both the major scale and the natural minor tetrachord upper and lower halves are separated by a whole step.
Take a look at the following examples below showing the natural minor scale but on different starting notes. Note the accidentals needed to create the intervallic pattern of W H W W H W W.

Natural minor in the key of E:
Natural minor in the key of D:
Natural minor in the key of B:
Natural minor in the key of G:
Natural minor in the key of F#:
Natural minor in the key of C:
The minor scale with three half steps between scale degrees 2&3, 5&6, and 7&8 is the harmonic minor scale:
This scale has an interval called an augmented 2nd between the 6th and 7th scale degrees. This interval is the same as a whole step plus a half step:
When looking at the tetrachords of the three minor scales, we notice that each has the same lower tetrachord. That is, a whole step – half step – half step.

Natural/harmonic/melodic minor lower tetrachord:
The upper tetrachord for each or the three minor scales is as follows…

Natural minor upper tetrachord:
Harmonic minor upper tetrachord:
Melodic minor upper tetrachord:

Remember, when the melodic minor scale descends, the half steps are located between scale degrees 2&3 and 5&6. So in comparing the ascending and descending patterns, the half steps in the upper tetrachord change from between 7&8 to between 5&6. If the descending melodic minor scale is compared to the natural minor scale it becomes apparent that they are the same pattern of half steps.

Descending C natural minor scale:
Ascending C melodic minor scale:
Descending C melodic minor scale:


Next section is Key Signatures