The Minor Mode

Unlike the major scale, the minor scale has three different types: pure/natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor. Therefore it is very common to see the term mode used when discussing minor, which is a general term that incorporates all three possibilities of the minor scale. Typically when a song or piece is built using the minor mode (also referred to as a minor key), we expect it to have more of a sad or dark character.

We will begin our study of the minor mode with the pure/natural (these two terms are used interchangeably) minor scale, and later discuss harmonic and melodic minor scales as variants of natural minor. 

Pure/Natural Minor = W-H-W-W-H-W-W

Like major scales, pure/natural minor can be constructed using a whole and half step pattern. As you might recall, the major whole and half step pattern is W-W-H-W-W-W-H. The minor scale uses the pattern W-H-W-W-H-W-W. Like major, it is best to place all the letters that belong in the scale, then adjust the notes with accidentals to create the desired whole and half step pattern. We will begin with a C major scale: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C.

Next, we will move from left to right (or bottom to top) and check each step in the scale. You will see that the C major scale does not fit the whole step/half step pattern for the pure minor scale. We need to adjust the notes with accidentals to create the pure/natural minor pattern of whole and half steps. As you can see after clicking the button, the C pure/natural minor scale has three notes flatted, whereas the C major scale would have no sharps or flats. 

Let's summarize creating pure/natural minor scales in a few steps:

  1. Begin by drawing the eight notes of the scale in order, starting and ending on the name of the scale you want to create
  2. Work from left to right, making sure each step fits the pure/natural minor whole/half step pattern: W-H-W-W-H-W-W
  3. All natural minor scales contain only one type of accidental, if you find you are using both flats and sharps at once, then there is an error somewhere in your scale

Click the example button to see the notes of a scale, then do your best to figure out the correct accidentals in your notation program, or by hand on your music manuscript paper, then click the answer button below it to reveal the correct answer. *Keep an eye on the clef!