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An Introduction to the A minor Scale

The minor scale is one of the most basic and well-known scales in Western music, and of the minor scales, the A minor scale is often taught first because it consists of all the white keys on a piano. The notes in an A minor scale are:

A B C D E F G

These notes may also look familiar because they also form the C major scale if you start from C instead of A. Minor scales that contain the same notes as a major scale are often called the relative minor of that major scale. Thus A minor is the relative minor of C major. Like the C major scale, the A minor has no sharps or flats.

In the example below, we play our A minor scale over a repeating A minor chord. Play it slowly until you get it under your fingers, and then gradually increase the tempo.

A minor scale

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Where do I use an A minor scale?

In music, scales are used to create chords, and the chords that are native to the A minor scale are:

A minor B diminished C major D minor E minor F major G major

For now, you don’t need to know why these chords come from the A minor scale. You should just get familiar with the way they sound and how the A minor scale sounds against them. In the example below, listen to the scale as its played against some of the chords that come from it:

A minor scale

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Playing Patterns in the A minor scale
So far, all we’ve done is just go up and down the scale. Not very interesting. One way to make it more interesting is to play patterns in the scale. In the example below, we play the scale is an ascending fashion, but we skip a note each time. Then, try to do the same thing in a descending fashion:

A minor scale

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More Patterns in the A minor scale
Instead of skipping notes, we can play notes 1-4 of the scale, then play notes 2-5, then notes 3-6, and so on. Then we can repeat the process but in a descending fashion. The result is shown below:

A minor scale

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More Patterns in the A minor scale
Now, to make it even more interesting, we can play notes 1,3,5, then 2,4,6, then 3,5,7, and so on until we reach the top of the scale. Then we can play it back in a descending fashion. Incidentally, these little 3-note figures are called arpeggios, but you don’t necessarily need to know about them right now…

A minor scale

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Musical examples courtesy of activebass.com

About the Author

Chris TarryChris Tarry is a four-time Juno Award winning musician and a writer. His debut collection of short fiction, “How To Carry Bigfoot Home,” is out now from Red Hen Press (March 2015). He lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with his wife Michelle, daughter Chloe, and son Lucas. Connect with Chris on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.View all posts by Chris Tarry