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Natural Minor Scales

littleplum

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441
Can anyone tell me why none of the exam boards require you to learn and play Natural minor scales?

When I started learning to play and went through the grade system I always wondered why the minor scales had not only a key signature but we then had to mess them around by raising the 7th etc. Why didnt they just add the accidentals to the key signature? (I know that wouldnt give us a recognised key sig.)

I have started to use this method with my students and find to a lot of them things now make sense.

Learn to play a major scale eg D Major

D E F# G A B C# D

then count up to the 6th note

B now play scale again starting on the B (Aeolian Mode) B C# D E F# G A B

you have now played the Natural minor scale relative (by key signature) to D Major

Now once they are comfortable with that then I explain what you need to alter for the harmonic minor (raised 7th both ways) and the melodic (raised 6 & 7 going up, but come down according to the key signature (or natural minor again)

I found that if I asked them to tell me what key a piece of music was in and it was a minor key, they would try and work out if it was the melodic or harmonic version of the scale. Once I explained that it is just minor and the accidentals are down to what the composer wants so therefore it is just minor. I also explained that the composer is using really a super scale mixed up of the natural, harmonic and melodic notes in other words B C# D E F# G G# A A# B they could then see how they really should know all 3 minor scales.

using this method you are learning about the minor key in step by step method rather than the odd way round.

what do you think?

regards

Dave
 

Young Col

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2,419
It's an interesting question Dave and one which I am not experienced enough to answer. But my own teacher, who has a non-jazz background has been doing melodic and harmonic minors with me and only now after 18 months has she started to talk about natural minors. I had assumed that most non-jazz music used harmonic or melodic and indeed the ABRSM syllabi and Guide make no mention of natural minors. The ABRSM Guide says
"The special characteristics of music written in minor keys result in two types of scale, which are not the same ascending as descending." It goes on to say that melodies in minor keys tend to use the melodic version but chords tend use the harmonic.

Perhaps it is more in "written" music; even in written jazz, I have found. As well as the melody normally ending on the tonic, the give away for a minor key is often the sharpened 7th - eg the G# in an A minor piece that would otherwise be C Major (that was very useful in the theory exam!).

Since above Grade 5 you need to able to play both types it is advisable to learn both from the start. Thus you actually have to learn twice as many as you thought at first!
YC
 

Pete Thomas

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what do you think?

I think you are right. Do not look for scales to identify a key, scales (especially the harmonic and melodic minors) are things people use to practise their fingering technique.

It's worth know the derivation of the harmonic and melodic minors though.

In the old days there were just modes, and the Aeolian was just one of those. People liked cadences of course, and in a major Ionian the V7 I is a lovely strong cadence with a leading melody note: in the key of C this was B to C with an accompanying tense tritone F resolving beautifully down to a restful and harmonious E.

However not so satisfying with an Aeolian cadence of V to I. It was Gm to Cm (or another ending cadence was Bb to Cm). OK, it was still a cadence, but melodically Bb to up to C didn't "lead" as well as B to C, so guess what? Some bright spark suggested would bung in a G7 instead and then they could sing B to C and it was more "harmonic"

If you make scale out of this you get, guess what, C D Eb F G Ab B C, ie you sharpen the 7th of the Aeolian.

But then people found that sometimes there would be an awkward interval from Ab to B if that was in the melody, so another bright spark said "hey, why not raise the 6th as well, then there is no nasty augmented 2nd interval". It will be more melodic.

This was born the melodic minor. But as it wasn't necessary unless you were going up, B to C, these raised 6th and 7th were only used for cadences when the leading note was going up to C. If a melodic passage was going down from C, ie NOT in a final cadence, then they just stuck in the original Aeolian.

Hence the difference up and down. Not as pointless as one might think.
 

saxnik

Member
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381
With beginners looking to do their grades though, I do tend to just teach the harmonic version - the minor third (b6-#7) 'snake charmer' bit makes it easy to identify by ear!

Later on I go into all the detail. I'll definitely look into teaching natural minor/aeolian modes too though, dunno why I never thought of it!!

Nick
 

VirusKiller

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449
Eye opening thread. I did my grade 5 theory exam when I was 12 (and got 95% IIRC), but it was taught very mechanistically and I learned it mechanistically. I knew what harmonic and melodic minor scales were, but I had no idea why they take the form they do. I think also that this probably highlights the difference between classical and jazz training.
 

old git

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Eye opening thread. I did my grade 5 theory exam when I was 12 (and got 95% IIRC), but it was taught very mechanistically and I learned it mechanistically. I knew what harmonic and melodic minor scales were, but I had no idea why they take the form they do. I think also that this probably highlights the difference between classical and jazz training.

Is this totally true?
In classical you play the notes as written with guidance from the conductor/mentor.
In jazz you play the notes as written with guidance from the leader/mentor except that during your solo and the free 'head' riffs, if any, you play what seems appropriate to you and your teacher/mentor. Surely this applies even if you are a non reader?

Also remember (does that mean I'm not suffering from Alzheimer's?) reading that the melodic and harmonic minors were required in Church music, a bit like avoiding the Devil's Interval, about which YC is our acknowledged expert. ;}
 

singlereed

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124
Depends on the teacher - it was all explained to me but I am not sure I completely 'got' it! I guess it may go over the heads of some students, especially young children. I am sure the main purpose is to learn fingering and embed in it your brain; melodies are composed of scales and fragments thereof and scales are an important part of mastering the instrument. Whenever I talk to eminent players and teachers about what they have done to get where they are, 'scales' usually come up early in the discussion.
 

Young Col

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2,419
I don't know about other exam boards but I'm sure natural minors are not covered in ABRSM above Grade 5 theory (I've been looking at the syllabi having done G5 theory earlier his year!) or in performance grades - they only cover melodic and harmonic. I guess it is up to the teacher. Perhaps being a (more) mature student is why my teacher is getting me to explore them now rather than the more rote learning for younger students.

OG don't get me started on the dreaded tritone interval - the once named diabolus in musica. But to put the record straight, no-one seems to find it all strange now.

BTW I always thought a Neapolitain sixth was a kind of ice cream.
YC
 

Pete Thomas

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Is this totally true?
In classical you play the notes as written with guidance from the conductor/mentor.

In music before classical, ie renaissance and earlier, whatever mode was written, the singers would sharpen certain notes automatically depending on context.

ie a written A down to G would be sung as A and G, but a written G to A, (at a cadence) would be sung as G# to A.
 

Pete C

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344
In a jazz context, I teach the major scale and its modes (which includes the natural minor) and the ascending melodic minor (jazz minor) scale stressing modes I (tonic minor), III (maj7#5), IV (lydian dominant), VI (half diminished), VII (altered). Harmonic minor comes later on, mainly as an alternative approach to minor II Vs, and the descending form of the melodic minor scale is only ever mentioned to clarify the relationship of the various types of minor scale. I find that practising major & its modes and jazz minor & its modes is a very efficient approach and covers a lot of bases. But then I don't teach grades.

Pete
 
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