How to Find the Relative Minor of a Major Key and Form a Natural Minor Scale

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In music theory classes, you often need to find the relative minor of a major key. The scale of a relative minor shares the exact same notes as its relative major. You can find natural minor scales though several simple steps. Readers should have an understanding of how to form major scales before attempting this.

Form a natural minor scale by using the following pattern starting with the first note: W-H-W-W-H-W-W. "W" means whole step (whole tone), and "H" means half-step (semitone). For example, starting the pattern on A, you would get B, C, D, E, F, G, and back to A.

Notice how this A natural minor scale shares the same notes as C major (that is, no sharps or flats). This means that A minor is the relative minor of C major. Their scales include exactly the same notes, but with different starting points.

Try forming a minor scale starting on E. Following the pattern, you would get E-F#-G-A-B-C-D-E. Notice how the notes of this scale match the scale for G major (that is, one sharp, namely F#). That means that E minor is the relative minor of G major. Note that you will often see minor scales referred to by a lowercase letter.

Understand that the relative minor of a major key is always three semitones (half steps) lower. For example, starting on C, if you go down three half-steps, you get to A. This was noted in Step 2. If you start with A major, and go down three half-steps, you will get to F#, which means that F# minor is the relative minor of A major. As a final example, if you start with Db major, and go down three semitones, you get to Bb. This means that Bb minor is the relative minor of Db.

Understand that the relative minor involves a letter that is two letters lower than the relative major (wrapping around A if necessary). For example, you wouldn't say that A# minor is the relative major of Db, since that is three letters away and not two. You must call it Bb minor, even though A# and Bb are the same note.

Understand that a relative minor is called a minor third below the relative major. A minor third is formed by two notes that are three semitones apart. For example, B and G# are three semitones apart. This means that B major and G# minor are relative, since G# is a minor third (three semitones) below B. As you learn your minor chords, this will get easier. For example, in the A minor chord (A-C-E), A is the relative minor of C major. The first note of the chord will always be the relative minor of the middle note, which is the relative major. Another example is the F minor chord (F-Ab-C). This tells you that F minor is the relative minor of Ab major.

Practice finding the relative minors of all the major keys.


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