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Minor Scales on Saxophone

Minor Scales

There are three basic types of minor scales: Relative Minor, Harmonic Minor and Melodic Minor. Relative minor is aptly named since it relates to a major scale. I find it easier to not think of scales as notes but rather as degrees for instance, a major scale would be (using roman numerals):


We call these degrees of the scale. The root, or first degree is a major scale, C to C in the case of C major. The second degree is the Dorian scale and is played from the 2nd degree to the 2nd degree, in the case of C major, the second degree would make D Dorian or D E F G A B C D. The Dorian scale is also a minor scale. In this case though, we are interested in the 6th degree of the scale as this is the Relative Minor scale. If you play C Major from A to A, you get A relative minor. Another way to think of this is:

I II bIII IV V bVI bVII – Relative Minor.

If you think of A Major, it is A B C# D E F# G# A. Now apply the changes to the major scale that produce a minor scale by flattening the third, the sixth and the seventh degrees of the scale and you get A B C D E F G A or C Major from A to A. You can apply this logic to every major scale and produce any minor scale. I find it easier to think of the relative minor as the sixth degree of the major though, but you choose which one works best for you.

I II bIII IV V bVI VII – Harmonic Minor

There are two ways to think of the harmonic minor; first would be as a relative minor with a sharpened seventh degree, or as the major scale but with a flattened third and sixth degrees. Again, whichever you find easiest. Using C Major you would get C D Eb F G Ab B C and in A minor you would get A B C D E F G# A to demonstrate an easy way of seeing the two. This scale produces a unique sound akin to a snake charmer’s tune.

I II bIII IV V VI VII – Melodic Minor

Melodic Minor is a bit special as it is known in 2 ways. The first is as the ascending melodic minor scale (the jazz minor scale) and the descending melodic minor scale. So when you play this scale, you flatten the third of the major scale on the way up and return the third to it’s normal state on the way down, which is a much easier way of colouring a minor scale, especially for vocalists who find the full tone of the Harmonic Minor scale sometimes difficult. To use the scale as the jazz minor, simply play the ascending version descending as well. So using C Major to build the Melodic Minor you would get C D Eb F G A B C B A G F E D C. Playing the jazz minor you would get C D Eb F G A B C B A G F Eb D C.

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