The Beginner’s Guide To The Minor Scale Chords For Guitar

Imagine a world where you only feel happy emotions.

That would be the same as playing only in major keys. It would be the same sound and, after a while, it would get quite boring.

I know that many people feel that being happy all of the time seems like a good idea. But, imagine a world without minor keys. The following songs wouldn’t exist:

  • Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin)

  • While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles)

  • Sultans of Swing (Dire Straits)

  • Moves Like Jagger (Maroon 5)

  • All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan/Jimi Hendrix)

  • Working Class Hero (John Lennon)

  • Angie (The Rolling Stones)

  • Bad Romance (Lady Gaga)

  • When I Was Your Man (Bruno Mars)

  • House of the Rising Sun (The Animals)

All of the above-mentioned tunes are in minor keys; but, they all convey different sets of emotions—they’re not tearjerkers and let-me-slit-my-wrists-and-get-it-over-with songs.

They’re songs that cover a range of topics, themes and ideas. Minor keys are great for songwriting, improvisation and changing textures and moods within songs.

I encourage you to check out my “The Major Scale” article for more information on The Musical Alphabet, Steps and Intervals, and other terms that you may be unfamiliar with.

Also, check out the video I made to supplement this article on the minor scale for beginners:​

The Major/Minor Relationship

In our article, “Learning the Fretboard – Quick Guide to The Guitar’s Fretboard Notes,” I discuss the relationship between major and minor scales. If you need to brush up on that concept then now would be a good time to review that article.

For those of you who are already familiar with the concept—or have little interest in music theory beyond this basic idea—we’ll move steadily forward.

In simple terms, every major key has a minor key that is formed using the same notes. If you spell out a major scale then the 6th degree can be used as the relative minor (more about this in the next section). We use the term relative because the keys are related and share the same key signature.

Take a look at the chart below, both keys share exactly the same notes but in a different order.

C majorCDEFGABC
A minorABCDEFGA

So, here’s the rule: Every major scale has a minor scale that is related to it. And, the inverse is also true, every minor scale has a major scale that’s related to it. In musical terms we say that the scales are relative to each other. For example:

  • The relative minor of C major is A (C major > A minor)

  • The relative major of A minor is C (A minor > C major)

Finding the Relative Minor (The Natural Minor)

So, how do we find the relative minor of the major scale. Well, let’s start with the C major scale.

Major Scale

If we then go to the 6th degree, and keep the same pattern; that means, don’t change any of the notes. You find the root of the natural minor scale.

Author’s note: When we simply say “minor” we are referring to the natural minor scale. So, when we say minor, natural minor is understood. That’s because there are other minor scales and there’s a list in the “Closing Thoughts” section.

We were at the 6th degree of the C major scale which is A and we’re going to keep the same notes from the C major scale except that the A is now the root of the natural minor. Let me walk you through it by spelling out a C major scale to the A an octave above the 6th degree.

NoteCDEFGABCDEFGA
DegreeR2345678910111213

Next, let begin the natural minor by starting the scale on A. Remember we won’t change any of the notes.

NoteCDEFGABCDEFGA
DegreeR2345678910111213

Finally, we change the scale degrees to reflect the change to the relative minor.

NoteABCDEFGA
DegreeR2b345b6b78

The Natural Minor Scale Formula

This brings us to the major scale formula:

  • Whole step (two frets) between A and B

  • Half step (one fret) between B and C

  • Whole step (two frets) between C and D

  • Whole step (two frets) between D and E

  • Half step (one fret) between E and F

  • Whole step (two frets) between F and G

  • Whole step (two frets) between G and A

Minor Scale FormulaWHWWHWW

Let’s check this out on guitar.

The One-String A Natural Minor Scale

Minor Scale 1

In order to understand the concept of whole-steps and half steps, especially as it relates to the natural minor scale, We need to create a one-string A natural minor scale. Let’s begin on the 5th string, 3rd fret:

  • Whole step between A and B (5th string, open to the 2nd fret)

  • Half step between B and C (5th string, 2nd fret to the 3rd fret)

  • Whole step between C and D (5th string, 3rd to the 5th fret)

  • Whole step between D and E (5th string, 5th to the 7th fret)

  • Half step between E and F (5th string, 7th to the 8th fret)

  • Whole step between F and G (5th string, 8th to the 10th fret)

  • Whole step between G and A (5th string, 10th to the 12th fret)

Next, we’ll do the same thing one octave higher, on the 3rd string.

Minor Scale 2

This time we begin on the 3rd string, 2nd fret:

  • Whole step between A and B (3rd string, 2nd to the 4th fret)

  • Half step between B and C (3rd string, 4th fret to the 5th fret)

  • Whole step between C and D (3rd string, 5th to the 7th fret)

  • Whole step between D and E (3rd string, 7th to the 9th fret)

  • Half step between E and F (3rd string, 9th to the 10th fret)

  • Whole step between F and G (3rd string, 10th to the 12th fret)

  • Whole step between G and A (3rd string, 12th to the 14th fret)

The above exercises are designed to help you understand the concept of whole steps, half steps, and the natural minor scale formula. This formula can be applied to any note and by using the W H W W H W W formula, you can create a natural minor scale.

A Natural Minor Scale Patterns

The next step is to play the natural minor scale in the way that guitar players actually use them. There is a method that’s used for understanding the fretboard called the CAGED system. You can read more about it in my article, “Learning the Fretboard – Quick Guide to The Guitar’s Fretboard Notes”.

The following five patterns are based on the CAGED system and are the foundation for scale playing. Begin by memorizing these patterns.

Pattern 1

Minor Scale Pattern 1

Pattern 2

Minor Scale Pattern 2

Pattern 3

Minor Scale Pattern 3

Pattern 4

Minor Scale Pattern 4

Pattern 5

Minor Scale Pattern 5

Closing Thoughts

The natural minor scale is the next logical step after understanding and applying the major scale. This is also only one of the minor scale sounds. I encourage you to continue your exploration. Other variations of the minor scale are:

  • The Harmonic Minor

  • The Melodic Minor

  • The Minor Modes

    • Dorian

    • Phrygian

    • Aeolian (a/k/a the natural minor)

    • And, Locrian

I hope that you continue your journey and I appreciate you taking a moment and checking out this article. Thanks for reading. Till next time.

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Ed Lozano
 

Ed Lozano is a professional guitarist, instructor, producer and published author. He is a graduate of Berklee College of Music and lives in the Andes mountains.

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