Minor Scales on Guitar

Written by Rob in 'Guitar Scales'

I kinda mentioned this guitar scale in last week’s post about the Minor Pentatonic scale and the first thing I have to say about “the Minor Scales on Guitar” is that they don’t exist.

“What?!” I hear you ask “…but you were just talking about it? How can you write a blog post about something that doesn’t exist? It must exist, there’s a major scale, there needs to be a minor one!”. I’ll answer all these questions and more! Just read on…

The Minor Key

Do you remember the post on the Major Scale, where I was talking about it being in a major key? Well, there isn’t one “minor scale”, but three of them- and all together they make up the “Minor Key”.

The “Natural” Minor

This is the scale that I mentioned before, and it has the same origins as the major scale (from the ancient Greek system- it was originally called the “Aeolian Mode”). In this form it’s known as the “natural” minor scale- probably because it’s the basic scale with no alterations.

If you take any major scale (we’ll stick to C major for this example):

C D E F G A B

…and, instead of starting on the 1st note, you start on the 6th, you get this:

A B C D E F G

Which is the A Natural minor scale- exactly the same notes as C major, but a different root note (it’s also known as the “relative minor” of C major for this reason).

Going Back to Your Roots

Now, you’re probably thinking “well, it’s the same set of notes, so what’s the difference?”, changing the order on paper can’t make much difference, right? Wrong! Now that we’re starting from A instead of C, every note is heard relative to that A note, and not C.

We also get a different pattern of intervals. Instead of: tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone; We have: tone, semitone, tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone. Played along one string, this would be:


A --0--2--3--5--7--8--10--12

…or played as a shape:


e -------------------------------------------------7--8--10--
B ---------------------------------------6--8--10------------
G -----------------------------5--7--9-----------------------
D --------------------5--7--9--------------------------------
A -----------5--7--8-----------------------------------------
E --5--7--8--------------------------------------------------

If you play it, you’ll realise that it sounds totally different to the C major scale- even though it has all the same notes!

If you want to see this for yourself, just play the A major scale:


e -------------------------------------------------7--9--10--
B --------------------------------------7--9--10------------
G -----------------------------6--7--9-----------------------
D --------------------6--7--9--------------------------------
A -----------5--7--9-----------------------------------------
E --5--7--9--------------------------------------------------

…followed by the A natural minor scale (tabbed above), and you should be able to hear just how different the two scales are! A minor is known as the “parallel minor” to A major (because they start in the same place).

Minor Chord Progressions

The very first thing that you should be able to use the natural minor scale over, is any minor chord (without extensions- so Am not Am#11, for example). The only downside of this is: as soon as the chord changes, you’ll have to change scale. Sometimes this can be OK, but over some faster changes it might get confusing.

The natural minor scale- as it’s name suggests- can be used over most minor key chord progressions. Common examples include:

  • iiø – V7 – i
  • VII7 – V7 – i
  • i – III – iv – V
  • i – iv – V
  • i – VI – III – VII

more about Roman Numerals

Notice how the 5th chord is always major? If you just take the notes of the natural minor scale to form chords, the 5th chord should be minor, but as we discussed in the post about the harmonic minor, having a major chord there makes better progressions.

Natural Minor Licks

The easiest way to create licks from this scale is to start with the A minor pentatonic scale:


e --------------------------------5--8
B --------------------------5--8-------
G --------------------5--7-------------
D --------------5--7-------------------
A --------5--7-------------------------
E --5--8-------------------------------

…and then add the missing notes back in, giving you this shape:


e -------------------------------------------5-(7)-8-
B -----------------------------------5-(7)-8---------
G ---------------------------5-7-(9)-----------------
D ------------------5--7-(9)-------------------------
A ----------5-7-(8)----------------------------------
E --5-(7)-8------------------------------------------

See the notes in brackets? Those are the ones you can use to add interest to the plain minor pentatonic scale (as passing notes, or to bend to- just like with the blues scale). So, you might play this lick, for example:


e ---------------
B ---------------
G -5h7p54-------
D -----------5h7-
A ---------7-----
E ---------------

…basically an A minor pentatonic shape, where the 4th fret on the G string is an added note from the natural minor scale.

Or this one:


e -----------------
B -5/6-------------
G -----7---5-------
D -------7---------
A -----------------
E -----------------

learn to play lead guitar now!

…sliding up to the minor 6th on the B string and then ending on the minor 3rd (two notes that give the natural minor scale it’s sound).

See how many of your own licks you can make up using the minor scales on guitar!

If you really want to get into playing lead guitar, my new book ‘Awesome Lead Guitar’ is out now. In it you’ll learn the most common scales and techniques that lead guitarists use with full scale diagrams and tabs!

Then, you can practise along with the 17 included full solo examples and backing tracks! Click here now for more.

Share this:

Blog > Guitar Scales