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Relative Minor and Relative Major Scales

Scales – Part 5

Now you can handle the natural or pure minor scale in all twelve keys, by simply learning the Gm, as shown in parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 of this no nonsense guide. It’s time to use these minor scales to play all twelve keys of the major scale as well.

There are many ways to do this, below is a method using relative minor and major scales.

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Don’t worry about the where’s or why’s, just take this in.

It is a fact that every minor scale, has it’s very own relative major scale, and vice versa.

What this means is that although the major and minor scales are completely different, and sound different, each minor scale has exactly the same notes as it’s relative major scale, and each major scale has exactly the same notes as it’s relative minor scale.

So for example, the A minor’s relative major scale is the C major. And the C major’s relative minor scale is the A minor

This means that every note in the A minor scale, is in the C major scale.

Take a look at the two scale diagrams below.

A Minor Scale

C Major Scale

The scales have the same notes in each, they just start and end in different places, as you can see by looking at the orange coloured root notes.

So if you can play the Am scale, you can also play the C major scale. As long as you realise that when playing an Am scale, all the root notes are obviously A’s, and when playing the C major scale, all the root notes are C’s.

If you can get to grips with this, then you are also on your way to understanding modes. But forget about that for the moment, we’ll talk about modes later.

Take another example.

The E minor scale

E Minor Scale

Has the same notes as the G major but with different root notes.

G Major Scale

So if you know the Em, you also know the G major (as long as you remember the different roots).

This means that if you know the (pure/natural) minor scale in every key, then as long as you know which relative scale goes with which and where the root notes are, then you also know the major scale in every key.

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How to Work Out Major and Minor Relative Scales

There are a few easy ways to do this.

Minor to Relative Major

1. If you are familiar with the minor scale, to find it’s relative major scale, simply find the 3rd note of the scale and this will be your relative major. (Remember – the root note counts as the first note of the scale)

For instance.

Take your Am scale (which is simply two frets up from the G minor scale that you learned previously).

The Am scale is as follows.

A Minor Scale

A(root) — B (2nd) — C (3rd) — D (4th) — E (5th) — F (6th) — G (7th) — A (root)

The third note of the Am scale is a C. Therefore A minor’s relative major scale is C major.

C Major Scale

As you can see from the diagrams above, when using the minor scale and trying to find the third scale note to establish the relative major, you can also count 3 frets or semi tones up from your root note (not including the root note).

This method works, but be aware that the 3rd note of other scales such as majors, pentatonics and different modes etc. are not always separated by +3 semi tones. In this instance the minor scale notes 1(A), 2(B) and 3(C) happen to be 3 semi tones apart, but when dealing with different types of scales apart from the natural (pure) minor, the 3rd note of a scale can be 2, 3, 4 or even 5 frets up from the root.

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A good way to visualise relative minor and major scales having the same notes is to take the formulas for making major and minor scales and compare them to each other.

Constructing a Minor Scale

Root (1st ) — Tone(2nd) — semi tone(3rd) — Tone(4th) — Tone(5th) — semi tone(6th) — Tone(7th) — Tone (1st)

Constructing a Major Scale

Root (1st) — Tone(2nd) — Tone(3rd) — semi tone(4th) — Tone(5th) — Tone(6th) — Tone(7th) — semitone(1st)

If you start on the 3rd note of the minor scale and jump forward, you will get the note pattern

Tone – Tone – semi tone -Tone -Tone -Tone – semi tone

This is exactly the same as the pattern of the major scale when starting from the 1 st note i.e – Tone, Tone, semi tone, Tone, Tone, Tone, semi tone.

Therefore, the 3rd note of the minor scale is the same as the first note of the relative major scale.

Have a look at the E minor and G major scales in chart form.

E Minor

1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 1st
Root Tone Semi Tone Tone Tone Semi Tone Tone Tone (Root)
E F# G A B C D E

G Major

1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 1st
Root Tone Tone Semi Tone Tone Tone Tone Semi Tone (Root)
G A B C D E F# G

As you can see below, if we start at the 3rd note of the E minor scale which is a G, it lines up perfectly with the G major scale above.

E Minor

Starting from the 3rd note and using this as the new root note.

3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 1st 2nd 3rd
Semi Tone
(from 2nd)
Tone Tone Semi Tone Tone Tone (Root) Tone Semi Tone
G A B C D E F# G

So moving forward to the 3rd note of the minor scale and starting from there, turns this scale from an E minor to a G major.

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Major to Relative Minor

If you are playing a major scale, such as G major and you want to find it’s relative minor scale. Find the 6th note in your major scale (which is +9 frets forward from the root) and the note you land on will be your relative minor scale.

G Major

1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 1st
Root Tone Tone Semi Tone Tone Tone Tone Semi Tone (Root)
G A B C D E F# G

E Minor

1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 1st
Root Tone Semi Tone Tone Tone Semi Tone Tone Tone (Root)
E F# G A B C D E

The 6th note of the major scale is the relative minor. In this case that would be E minor.

G major

Starting from the 6th note, and using this as the new root note.

6th 7th 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th
Tone Tone Semi Tone (Root) Tone Tone Semi Tone Tone Tone
E F# G A B C D E

So as you can see, moving forward to the 6th note of the major scale and starting from there, turns this scale from a G major to an E minor.

(This is also known as Aeolian mode, as it is the 6th mode of the major scale. The Aeolian mode is another name for the natural or pure minor scale. In this case you would be looking at G Aeolian or E minor).

You can also step backwards 3 scale notes on the major scale (inclusive of the root note), or in this case -3 semi tones, if you find that easier.

As you can imagine, stepping forwards +9 frets or backwards -3 frets from your root note will land you on the same scale note but in different octaves.

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A Few Examples

Just to hammer the message home.

Moving from minor to relative major scales

If you play a minor scale, say Fm, and are soloing across the fret board from F’s to F’s and want to change to its relative major scale, keep playing the same pattern of notes across the fret board, but simply change the root notes that you play between.

For Fm, find the third note of the scale (or you can move up +3 frets from the root F) and the note you land on will be a G#. So if you now keep playing the same Fm patterns as you did before, but float between G# to G#, you will then be playing a G# major scale.

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If you were playing the Dm scale and you wanted to find its relative major, take the 3rd note of the scale (or +3 frets from root), and you hit the F.

D Minor Scale

Therefore the relative major is F major.

F Major Scale

Now continue to play the same patterns, but play from F notes to F notes.

You are now playing the F major scale.

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Moving from major to relative minor scales

If you were playing the C major scale and you wanted to find its relative minor, take the 6th note of the scale (or +9 frets from root), and you hit the A. This means the relative minor scale would be the A minor.

Or you could count backwards 3 scale notes (or -3 frets) to also land on the A.

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As you can see the whole concept of relative major and minor is pretty easy.

Here are two conversion charts for the relative major and relative minor scales.

Minor to Major Scales

Minor To Relative Major
Am C
A#m Find 3rd Note C#
Bm of Minor Scale D
Cm or D#
C#m Move +3 Frets From Root E
Dm Note of Minor Scale F
D#m To F#
Em Get G
Fm G#
F#m Relative Major Scale A
Gm A#
G#m B

Major to Minor Scales

Major To Relative Minor
C Am
C# Find 6th Note A#m
D of Major Scale or Bm
D# Move +9 Frets From Root Cm
E Note of Major Scale C#m
F To Get Dm
F# Relative Minor Scale D#m
G Also Em
G# Move -3 Frets From Root Fm
A Note of Major Scale F#m
A# To Get Gm
B Relative Minor Scale G#m

So that’s one way you can find every major scale from simply knowing the minor scale and vice versa.

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We’ve already shown that we can use the same scale patterns but different root notes to find major and minor scales in different keys, but how do we find different scales in the same key e.g. A minor to A major ? and how about learning the major scale right the way across the fret board ?

Using the patterns we learned in parts 1, 2 and 3 of this no nonsense guide, this can all be done with no effort at all.

Check out part 6

Other Posts of Interest

Scale Runs and Exercises
Chromatic Scales and Exercises

Posted 27.01.09

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