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Lewis Turner - Back To Basics Part 11: Relative Major and Minor Scales

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 35 **

We have covered much to do with the minor pentatonic scale, and last month we looked at the major pentatonic scale in all positions. In doing so it was noted that this scale is exactly the same as its minor brother just viewed from a different starting point. For example shape 2 of A minor is exactly the same as shape 1 of C major, they contain the same notes. Therefore, A minor can be viewed as being the relative minor of C major and vice versa. We have been dealing in pentatonics (5 note scales), but if we look at the larger 7 note scales this is how it works “on paper”.

C Major = 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

                Root Tone Tone semi-tone Tone Tone           Tone

      C D E F G A B

These are the notes in a C Major scale, now if we start from the 6th degree of the scale, in this case A, we end up with an A minor scale that is constructed like this:

A minor = 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

                Root Tone semi-tone Tone Tone           semi-tone       Tone

    A B C D E F G

There we have it, exactly the same notes but we now get A minor, so technically C Major and A minor are the same scale, this can also be seen with key signatures in music;

C Major and A minor = no sharps or flats

G Major and E minor = 1 Sharp

D Major and B minor = 2 sharps

F Major and D minor = 1 flat

These are just some examples and in the future we will cover the cycle of 4ths and 5ths, but hopefully you begin to see the relationship between scales, how we use them over a certain harmony is what gives them their sound, happy or sad etc. In the video I demonstrate quick fire ways of finding relative major and minors rather than having to think “what's the 6th degree of this scale”, but its best to be given all the options so you can find a method of remembering that's best for you. Many players like to “minorise” when improvising. This is the concept of finding the relative minor if you are having to improvise in a major key, as most players (certainly at the start) are more comfortable with finding the minor pentatonic shapes, and using good old shape one. It's a method that's been used for many years especially in the Country world. Try playing an E minor pentatonic improv over a G Major chord, and hey presto its hillbilly land!

Having a good understanding of relative major and minors will improve your overall theory knowledge and your ability to solo in any key, because even if you're not yet comfortable with the major pentatonic scale you can apply the minorising method mentioned above.

As always check out the accompanying video for demonstrations and more ideas, start to make music with it straight away, you already know the shapes it’s just a new way of thinking about things.


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