Thursday, October 4, 2012

More On Minors

Ok, now that we've learned the relationship between major and minor scales, let's take a look at the three different types of minor scales: natural minor, harmonic minor, melodic minor.

In the last post we worked with the natural minor scale. In C major scale the relative minor is A minor - A being the 6th tone of the C major scale.

Let's review:

C major scale:

C    D    E    F    G    A    B    C                                                                                                                
1     2     3    4     5     6     7     8                                                                                                                

A minor scale:

A    B    C    D    E    F    G    A                                                                                                              
1     2     3     4     5     6     7    8                                                                                                              

Notice that the A minor scale has the same key signature as C major - no sharps or flats.

Let's look at F major and it's relative minor, D minor:

F major scale:

F    G    A    Bb    C    D     E    F                                                                                                            
1     2     3     4      5     6      7     8                                                                                                            

D minor scale:

D    E    F    G    A    Bb    C    D            
1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8

Both of these minor scales are natural minor scales using the same key signature as their relative majors.

The next minor scale we will look at is the harmonic minor scale. It is like the natural minor scale except that the 7th tone is raised 1/2 step:

D harmonic minor scale:

D    E    F    G    A    Bb    C#    D
1     2    3     4     5     6       7      8

Now we come to the melodic minor scale. Again, this minor scale is the same it's natural minor scale but, when ascending, the 6th and 7th tones are raised 1/2 step and, when descending, it is played as a natural minor scale:

D melodic minor scale:

Ascending - D    E    F    G    A    B    C#    D
                     1    2     3    4     5     6     7       8

Descending - D    E    F    G    A    Bb    C    D
                      1     2    3     4     5     6       7     8

Choose your favorite major key, finds its relative minor, and play all three minor scales - natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor. For those of you a little more advanced, try finding places, in songs you know, where you can use one or all three of these minor scales.

Have fun!!!!


Monday, September 24, 2012


We know that we have major scales/keys and minor scales/keys, but let's take a look at how the two are related. It's quite simple really.

You'll notice that in the circle of fifths the major keys are on the outside of the circle and the minor keys are on the inside of the circle. This shows us that the major and minor key signatures are the same. For example, look at the top of the circle. You have C major and A minor - they both have the same key signature = no sharps or flats; G major and E minor both have one sharp (F#).

What is the theory behind this? Why are those particular majors paired with those particular minors? This is where their "relationship" comes into play. We call it the " relative minor". Each major scale has a relative minor scale and we find this by using our scale degrees. Begin on the first degree of any major scale and find the 6th tone. This is the relative minor of that major scale.

C   D   E   F   G   A   B   C                                                                                                                  
1    2    3   4    5    6    7    8                                                                                                                  

The key signature of the major scale will be the same for the relative minor scale. Try finding the relative minor of E major scale. What is the 6th tone of the E major scale? Yes, it is C#. So the relative minor to E major is C# minor.

Let's look at the scale pattern for a minor scale, using whole steps (ws) and half steps(hs):

A minor:

A    B    C    D    E    F    G    A  
   ws   hs   ws   ws  hs  ws  ws

C# minor:

C#    D#    E    F#  G#    A    B    C#
    ws     hs    ws   ws   hs    ws  ws

So the terms relative minor or relative 6th are really pretty easy to figure out once you know the formula. Have fun with this and see how many minor scales you can find using this formula.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Let's Have A Little Fun!!!

A couple of years ago my girls brought a very interesting fact to my attention, via YouTube. Did you know that every pop song in the last 40 years uses the same four chords? It's true! They had me watch a YouTube video by Axis of Awesome - 4 Chords and I was astounded, mostly because I had never realized this. Every song uses the I, vi, V, IV chord progression (see the "Scale Degrees" post).

Here is the URL to the video (Warning: there is profanity in the beginning)

One of my students wanted only to play pop songs for their recital pieces. I had tried to explain to them that, unless they are arranged specifically for piano at an advanced level, they are pretty monotonous for the audience. Once I saw this video I shared it with them and they got it, to the point that they wanted to do a parody of it. So we did! It was a lot of fun and everyone was amazed at the validity in it.

Now I'm not knocking the I, iv, V, IV chord progression. It obviously is very successful! I just like to see my students broaden their horizon and go beyond that...and then go ahead and write a pop song, if they so wish. And, if they want a pop song to succeed, definitely use the I, vi, V, IV progression.  But, if you're going to write, or play, classical, jazz, symphonic metal, opera, etc., it will have to be much more complicated and original.

Hope you enjoyed the video as much as we did! Have a great week!!!

Friday, September 14, 2012


We're going to take a quick look at the order of sharps and flats. Why is this important? When we are writing music there is an order in which we write the sharps/flats on the staff and it is found on the circle of fifths.

Say you are going to compose a piece of music in the key of D. You know, by the circle of fifths, that there are two sharps in the key of D = F# and C#. When writing the key signature on the staff you must write the F# first and then the C#. Why? Because, on the circle of fifths, G is a fifth up from C and has one sharp in it, which is F#. It is the first sharp in the circle of fifths.


How do we know that F is sharped in the key of G? This takes us back to our major scale pattern:
WS   WS   HS   WS   WS   WS   HS                                                                                                        
Begin on G on the keyboard and follow this pattern and you will find that F is the only sharped note in G major scale.

If we follow our circle of fifths the sharps are in this order: F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, B#. Another way to think of it is in fifths. Notice that each sharp is a fifth up from the latter.

This is what the order of sharps looks like on the staff:

So when you are writing the D key signature you would write the order of F# and C# in the order seen here: F# first, C# sharp following.

Now let's look at the order of flats. The same rule applies. We find which notes are flatted by using our major scale pattern. Then when writing the key signature we place the flats in the proper order that they are in on the circle of fifths: Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb, Fb. Another way to think of the order of flats is to think in fifths. Each flat is a fifth DOWN from the latter.

Here is what the order of flats looks like on the staff:

If you were writing the key signature for Eb it would be as follows: Bb, Eb, Ab

Hope this is helpful. Feel free to leave any comments or questions.                                      

Monday, August 27, 2012

Circle of Fifths - yes, it's your friend

The circle of fifths really is your friend.

 Example - you're playing in a jam session and they say, "this is in the key of A.", and you have no idea what sharps or flats are in the key of A.

 If you know your circle of fifths (yes, memorize it) or have it near you until it's memorized, you can take a quick look (in your head, on paper, ipad, smartphone, etc) and know immediately what sharps or flats are in the key the song is played in.

There is so much confusion about the circle of fifths, but it really is quite simple when you learn the formula. In case you don't know this, the reason it is called the circle of fifths is because it is arranged by fifths. Let's take a look at the C major scale with scale degrees:                                                      

C     D     E     F     G     A     B                                                                                                                
1     2       3     4     5      6      7                                                                                                                  

If we use the scale degrees, starting at C (1) and walk up the keyboard (clockwise on the circle) to the 5th degree we will land on G. Therefore, we have walked up a fifth. Then if we walk up a fifth from G we will land on D:

G     A     B     C     D     E     F#                                                                                                        
1      2      3      4     5      6      7                                                                                                                

Regardless of where you begin on the circle, you will go up a 5th from that key and the next key will have one more sharp or one less flat.

Here's a good diagram of the circle of fifths for the guitar:

One last thing I want to mention about the circle of fifths -  the major keys are one the outside of the circle and the minor keys are on the inside of the circle, but the rule of fifths still applies. A to E is an interval of a fifth, regardless of whether it is a minor or a major key.

Any questions or comments? Post it here or email me:

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Key Signatures

In looking back at the previous posts, I realized that I didn't cover key signatures. Knowing your key signatures is important. If you look at a piece of music and see two sharps (#) on the right of the treble and bass clefs, you need to know what that means. It all goes back to major scales.

Remember the major scale pattern? WS, WS, HS, WS, WS, WS, HS (WH = whole step;HS = half step). This is why we have sharps and flats in a scale. Let's look at our G major scale:                    
G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G - notice that this pattern gives us an F#. So if you see a piece of music with F# in the key signature, you know that the song is in the key of G major.

Now let's look at the Bb major scale, using the major scale pattern: Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, A, Bb        
See the two flats(b)? So, a piece of music with two flats is in Bb major.

Start on any note and use the major scale pattern. You will find any major key you need. In the future, we will go more in depth and study the circle of fifths. Did I hear someone groan? Regardless of what many may think, the circle of fifths is you friend. ;)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Lead Sheets

Now that we've talked a bit about scales, scale degrees, intervals, chords, chord voicing, and roman numerals, let's take a look at lead sheets.

Here's a lead sheet of a piece written by Cole Porter:

Notice that a lead sheet has only the melody line, the chord names, and the words. Lead sheets do vary. Some may not have the melody lines. So what do we do with this?

You may be accompanying someone or playing lead with lead sheets, sometimes both. Whatever the case may be, the same rules pretty much apply. You use the chords for both bass and treble, for the most part. This is where chord voicing comes in and is important. If you are accompanying someone you can just voice the chord in both hands (or very open, on stringed instruments) while keeping timing. If you are playing in a band with a bass and/or drummer, remember to follow their timing. If you are the only instrument you must provide the rhythm. For instance, on piano play the bass of the chord on beats 1 and 3. If the voicing is C, B in the l.h. and E, G in th r.h. then play the interval of C, B on beat one and a G on beat 3, in the l.h. There are many variations of voicing. It's something you have to play around with and play what sounds best and what you like. 

You'll find lead sheets like this in jazz fake books, on line, from other musicians, etc. They are abundant.

The lead sheet above was found at You can find many lead sheets there and download for free. Check it out and try working out some songs on lead sheets. Don't think you don't know enough. You know how to build a major scale, how to build chords, and how to voice them. If you get stuck, come back and ask me for help. I love to see people learn....especially music! If you don't want to ask on a post, email me at