How to Build a Natural Minor Scale

INTRODUCTION

The natural minor scale is one of three minor scales (the others being the harmonic minor and melodic minor). Although not as common as the other two, it is extremely useful to know, at the very least because it provides the basis for deriving the other two minor scales. The natural minor scale follows a particular pattern of whole steps and half steps (i.e. formula) which  gives it the quality that we call “natural minor”. By the end of this lesson, you will be able to comfortably build a natural minor scale starting on any key. Ready? Let’s go!

TWO METHODS

In this lesson, we will look at two different ways to build the natural minor scale.

Method #1: USING A FORMULA

This method is more suitable for beginners and does not require much knowledge of music theory. It simply involves following a formula of whole steps and half steps. Here is the formula for the natural minor scale:

natural minor formula

Method #2: USING A RELATIVE MAJOR SCALE

This method requires you to be familiar with the key signatures of major scales. It involves using the relative major of a minor key to derive the natural minor scale. If you don’t know or have forgotten how to find a relative major of a minor key – I’ll cover this topic in this post. Read on!

Example #1: "A NATURAL MINOR" (Method #1)

Let’s begin with one of the easier minor scales – “A Natural Minor”. We will use our first method – the formula – to build it. Starting on A, let’s start applying our formula:

a natural minor from formula
A to B gives us a whole step, B to C is a half step, C to D is a whole step, D to E is a whole step, E to F is a half step, F to G is a whole step, and G to A is a whole step. This means that the “A Natural Minor” scale is made up of the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and A (we always repeat the tonic note when we play a scale). Just like the “C Major” scale, “A Natural Minor” uses only the white keys on the piano, which makes is quite easy to play.

Example #1: "A NATURAL MINOR" (Method #2)

Now, let’s build the same scale using our second method – the relative major scale. There are two steps to this process.

Step #1: Find the relative major of “A Minor”
The quickest way to find the relative major of any minor key is to simply count up 3 half steps.

relative major of a minor
Counting 3 half steps from A brings us to C, which means “C Major” is the relative major of “A Minor”.
Step #2: Apply the key signature of the relative major to the natural minor Remember: natural minor scales use the same key signature as their relative majors. Because “C Major” has no sharps or flats, we can conclude that “A Natural Minor” doesn’t either. So, our result looks like this:
a natural minor from relative major
As we can see, our resulting scale is exactly the same as the one we got using our formula method.

Example #2: "D NATURAL MINOR" (Method #1)

This time, let’s try to build the “D Natural Minor” scale. First – using our formula.

d natural minor from formula
D to E gives us a whole step, E to F gives us a half step, F to G is a whole step, G to A is a whole step, A to B is a half step, B♭ to C is a whole step, and C to D is a whole step. Therefore, “D Natural Minor” is made up of D, E, F, G, A, B♭, C, and D.

Example #2: "D NATURAL MINOR" (Method #2)

Let’s use our second method this time. I will not repeat the steps again here, as I hope you have already memorized them. So let’s just see the results:

d relative major result
The relative major of “D Minor” turns out to be “F Major”. “F Major” has one flat in it’s key signature, which is a B♭. Therefore, “D Natural Minor” will also have a B♭.
d natural minor from relative major

Example #3: "C SHARP NATURAL MINOR" (Method #1)

As always, we finish with a harder example. Let’s build “C Natural Minor” this time. Applying the formula gives us:

c sharp natural minor from formula
“C♯ Natural Minor” is made up of C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A, B, and C#.

Example #3: "C SHARP NATURAL MINOR" (Method #2)

Let’s figure out the relative major of our desired minor scale.

c sharp relative major
“E Major” has 4 sharps in it’s key signature: F#, C#, G#, and D#. Applying these to the natural minor gives us:
c sharp natural minor from relative major

CONCLUSION

I personally have found the second method (using the relative major scale) to be much more useful to me when figuring out my natural minor scales, but see what works best for you. With enough practice and experience, you will probably have your minor scales memorized to such an extent that you will no longer need to “build” them methodically like we did here. Nevertheless, knowing how scales work and the interrelationships between them is very useful and is part of being a well-rounded musician.

Tip: practice playing a natural minor scale from random note and see how long it takes you to figure it out. The more you do it, the easier it will get!

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