Let’s look at how to build an E minor scale on the piano. We’ll look at how to build both E natural minor and E harmonic minor scales.
What Are Minor Scales?
Minor scales are groups of eight notes, played in alphabetical order, starting and ending on the same note. They’re groups of notes used to write songs.
Songs written in the key of E minor used the notes of the E minor scale to write the song.
Three Types of Minor Scales
There are three types of minor scales:
- Natural minor
- Harmonic minor
- Melodic minor
Natural Minor Scales
Natural minor scales each have a relative major scale on the piano. These relative major and natural minor scales use the same notes on the piano to build their scales, but they start and end on different notes.
We can build a natural minor scale by starting with the sixth note of any major scale, and using the notes of that major scale to build the relative natural minor scale.
Or we can use a pattern of half-steps and whole steps to build any natural minor scale.
A half-step is the distance from one note to the very next, whether black or white.
A whole step is two half-steps.
So another way to build a natural minor scale is to start with the note the scale is named after, then build the scale following this pattern of half-steps and whole steps:
W – H – W – W – H – W – W
How to Build an E Natural Minor Scale
To build an E natural minor scale on the piano, we could start on E and play the notes of a G major scale, since these two scales are relatives.
Or we could start on E, and play the note one whole step up, which is F♯. Then we could play the note one half-step up, which is G. Then we could play the note one whole step up, an A. We can continue following the pattern of half-steps and whole steps until we reach the next E and the scale is complete.
What Are the Notes for an E Natural Minor Scale?
Here are the notes for an E natural minor scale:
E – F♯ – G – A – B – C – D – E
Labeling the Notes of an E Minor Scale
You may be wondering why the black key is labeled as an F♯ instead of a G♭ (sharp indicates the note one half-step up, flat indicates the note one half-step down).
The reason is because scales must progress in alphabetical order. Since this is a E minor scale, the second note will be some sort of F, the third note some sort of G, the fourth some sort of A, and so on.
Harmonic Minor Scales
Harmonic minor scales are similar to natural minor scales, except the seventh note has been raised 1/2 step.
These scales are popular because of the way the raised seventh note sounds.
How to Build an E Harmonic Minor Scale
To build an E harmonic minor scale, we’ll start with an E natural minor scale, then raise the seventh note 1/2 step. So instead of D, we’ll play D♯.
What Are the Notes for an E Harmonic Minor Scale?
Here are the notes for E harmonic minor:
E – F♯ – G – A – B – C – D♯ – E
If you’re wondering why we would call the D♯ a D♯ instead of an E♭, it’s because the notes of a scale must progress in alphabetical order. Since the note before the D♯ is a C, the note that follows must be some sort of D.
Melodic Minor Scales
Melodic minor scales aren’t as common, because they raise the sixth and seventh notes 1/2 step ascending (going up), and then play the natural minor scale descending (going down).
Other Minor Scales
Here are all the minor scales:
A minor scale
E minor scale
B minor scale
F♯ minor scale
C♯ minor scale
G♯ minor scale
D♯ minor scale
A♯ minor scale
D minor scale
G minor scale
C minor scale
F minor scale
B♭ minor scale
E♭ minor scale
A♭ minor scale
Now you know how to build different types of E minor scales, and you can use these patterns to build any minor scale on the piano!
Minor keys work really well when playing creatively, because they lend themselves naturally to introspection and reverence.