The Minor Scale on Guitar: Patterns, Positions & Theory

Learning the minor scale on guitar is essential for any budding musician because of its versatility & use across a vast number of music genres.

If the g major scale (for example) is characterized by an upbeat & chipper sound, the minor scale is melancholic, sad, or emotional sound.

In Western music, there are three types of minor scales: natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor.

Each type of minor scale has a slightly different formula, but they all share the same general characteristics.

In this article, we will mainly cover the natural minor scale & some of its music theory.

minor scale on guitar -pavel-danilyuk-7802619

Related: Learn to play the guitar chord B minor

The Minor Scale Formula

The formula to create a minor scale can be broke down into a pattern of semi-tones steps.

Either by playing a half step (1 semi-tone) or a full step ( 2 semi-tones).

In this case the formula is: Whole Step – Half Step – Whole Step – Whole Step – Half Step – Whole Step – Whole Step


W – H – W – W – H – W – W

For example, the D minor scale consists of the following notes:

D, E, F, G, A, Bb, and C

With D being the root note, E being a whole step up, F being a half step up from E, and so on.

Related: Minor chords to explore & learn

2 guitar players sitting on floor with sheet music surrounding them

Further Details On The Minor Scale

The minor scale, also known as the “Aeolian Mode”, is formed by taking the sixth note of the major scale and using it as the starting note.

For example, the A natural minor scale is created by using the notes A(root note), B, C, D, E, F, and G.

The melodic minor scale has a different formula for ascending and descending notes. When ascending, it raises the sixth and seventh notes of the natural minor scale, while when descending, it reverts to the natural minor scale formula.

Minor scales are important in guitar playing because they provide a contrast to the brighter, happier sound of major scales.

They add depth, emotion, and complexity to musical compositions and can be used to convey a wide range of emotions, from sadness and longing to anger and aggression.

They’re also used in a variety of genres, including rock, blues, jazz, metal, and classical music. These scales are often used to create introspective, moody, or haunting melodies, and can also be used for chord progressions & soloing.

Related: How to play the E Major scale

The Degrees Of The A Minor Scale

Scale degrees are a way to describe the position of each note within a musical scale. These degrees are numbered sequentially starting from the root note, which is assigned the number one.

Each degree has a unique name and function within the scale, such as the tonic, dominant or leading tone, and these names can help to describe the harmonic structure of a piece of music. Understanding scale degree is essential for analyzing and composing music.

The A minor scale consists of the following degrees:

  1. A (the tonic or the root note)

  2. B (Super Tonic)

  3. C (Mediant)

  4. D (Subdominant)

  5. E (Dominant)

  6. F (Submediant)

  7. G (Subtonic)

As a comparison, the degrees of the A minor scale are:

1st degree: A 2nd degree: B 3rd degree: C 4th degree: D 5th degree: E 6th degree: F 7th degree: G

In contrast, the degrees of the A major scale are:

1st degree: A 2nd degree: B 3rd degree: C# 4th degree: D 5th degree: E 6th degree: F# 7th degree: G#

A Minor Scale Positions on the Guitar Fretboard

The notes in guitar scales can be found everywhere. They can be combined in various ways for the formation of different scale patterns which are easier to learn for some.

The examples below will show the five positions on the A minor scale. These diagrams include the, finger tips suggested for the notes at each position and highlight the root notes & note locations.

A Minor Scale Shape 1

1 position natural a minor guitar

Try and play each note with each individual finger. Finger 1 being the index, 2 middle, 3 ring, & 4th your pinky.

A Minor Scale Shape 2

2 position natural a minor guitar

Play the shapes up the strings slowly & then try to play them in descending order.

A Minor Scale Shape 3

3 position natural a minor guitar

Once you get the hang of it, you can try to increase your speed a bit or focus more on accuracy.

A Minor Scale Shape 4

4 position natural a minor guitar

Now it a couple shapes under your belt, try to switch between them.

A Minor Scale Shape 5

5 position natural a minor guitar

Finally try adding some vibrato here & there or slide from note to note to keep things interesting.

Learning scales & the theory related can be a big step towards being a professional musician. But if you just want to get the ball rolling & have fun, memorizing these scale patterns will make a huge difference for your playing & improvisational skills.

Connecting shapes

Once your understanding the natural minor scales in the key of A and you’re able to play up & down each position, you are ready to link them together.

This will improve your improvisation abilities, allow you extended range on the fretboard, & deepen your understanding of how the notes relate.

a natural minor-scale on guitar entire fretboard

As you can see, all possible notes are on the table but there is also 2 ways you can approach this. You can play vertically as in switching form position to position & playing a multitude of strings.

But, you can also play horizontally & stick to one or two strings & playing the scale all down the frets from 1 to 18.

Give both a try & then experimenting by throwing in techniques like bends, slides, hammer-ons or pull-offs to really make the most of the scale.

The Harmonic Minor Is 1 Note Away

The harmonic minor scale is a seven-note scale with a distinct sound caused by an augmented second interval between the sixth and seventh notes.

It is frequently employed to create a dramatic, exotic, or eerie atmosphere in classical, metal, and world music.

The harmonic scale, as opposed to the natural minor scale, features a raised seventh note, which provides a dominant V chord, and a vii0, which is widely employed in minor key chord progressions.

For Example, the notes for the A natural minor scale are: A, B, C, D, E, F, G

And the notes for the harmonic A minor scale are: A, B, C, D, E, F, G#

Give the harmonic minor scale a try & see which you like better! You should now have 2 full scales under your belt & 5 different positions on where to play them.

a minor pentatonic scale erik mclean 4157090

Extended A Minor Scale

To extend the A minor scale with a C major scale, you can add the notes of the C major scale that are not already in the A minor scale.

The notes of the C major scale are C, D, E, F, G, A, B.

Since A minor already contains the notes A, B, C, D, E, and G, you can add the note F from the C major scale to extend the scale.

Therefore, the extended A minor scale with a C major scale becomes:

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is A Minor scale on guitar?

The notes for the A minor scale are A (root note), B, C, D, E, F, G & they can be played in 5 different scale shape patterns as noted above.

What are 3 types of minor scale?

Natural minor, minor hormonic, and melodic minor.

What is the minor scale formula for guitar?

A minor scale have the following formula for whole steps and half steps as follows: whole, half, whole, whole, half, whole, whole.

Major scales can also be constructed using whole and half steps such as the following: whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half.

What is the difference between the minor & major scale?

The main difference between the minor and major scales lies in the intervals between each of the notes as you can see in the previous question.

The major scale also has a bright & happy sound, while the minor scale has a more somber and melancholic sound.

The use of one scale or the other often depends on the context of the song & what emotion you want to express.

What is a relative major & relative minor scale?

Relative major and relative minor scales are pairs of scales that share the same key signature and the same notes, but have different starting notes.

The relative major scale starts on the sixth note of its relative minor scale, while the relative minor scale starts on the third note of its relative major scale.

What are minor pentatonic scales?

The pentatonic minor scale is a simplified version of the natural minor scale, containing only five notes instead of seven.

man sitting down at a town square and playing his guitar with people walking by

Related: How to play the harmonic minor guitar scale

Final Words

In conclusion, the minor scale is an essential tool for guitar players. It provides a rich, emotional sound that can be used to create a wide range of musical expressions.

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced musician, understanding and using the minor scale will help you to become a more versatile and expressive guitar player.

Furthermore, if you can master the 5 positions shown above, you can easily learn to play the minor harmonic scale which is only a 1 note difference.

Give these a shot in your next practice & don’t be afraid to mix things up by adding in some other techniques such as slides, arpeggios, & string bends. Best of luck!

Related: Minor Guitar Chords: How To Play Them Like A Pro

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