How to master ear training in minor keys




Ear training is a step-by-step process and there are new obstacles that you'll find at each step along the way.

Each post in Ear Training HQ's How to Master Ear Training column provides practical tips for an individual step in that process.

The minor key is used for close to half the music we listen to and play, so ear training that focuses on minor keys is absolutely essential if you want to play confidently by ear.

If you want to master ear training in minor keys quickly and easily, there are 2 important tips you need to know.

1. Start with the major key

The major scale is the most fundamental scale that we use in western music, and it forms the backbone of a tonal approach to ear training.

So it’s important to focus on the major scale first. Learn to identify all 7 diatonic scale degrees and the diatonic triads before you even think about starting on minor keys. If you can’t do this, ear training in minor keys can become very frustrating and confusing, because you don’t have the basics down that you need!

But once you do, you’ll have the foundation you need to continue onto the minor scale effortlessly.

2. Learn the relationship between relative major/minor scale pairs

When you first start ear training in minor keys however, you’ll notice something that at first seems bizarre.

Sometimes you’ll hear a note and it will sound like it’s from the major key. When I first started on ear training in minor keys I would constantly hear the fourth scale degree from the major scale. Sounds strange doesn’t it?

Well actually, it makes total sense, as long as you know about relative major and minor scales.

Basically, every major scale has a relative minor scale. A relative major and minor scale pair both have the same key signature (find out more about relative major and minor scale pairs here).

When you start ear training in the minor key, your ear will often hear a note as though it’s from the relative major scale.

This can happen the other way around as well: you can hear a note in a major key as though it’s coming from the relative minor.

In fact, music can often be a little ambiguous as to whether it’s in a major key or it’s relative minor.

This sounds daunting until you realise that it doesn’t matter which of the two keys it’s in if you know the relationship between any major scale and it’s relative minor.

This is because the tonic of the minor scale is always the sixth scale degree of the relative major. The second scale degree of the minor scale is the seventh of the relative major. The third scale degree of the minor scale is the tonic of the relative major and so on.

So if you hear a note in a minor key and it sounds like the major tonic, you know it’s the third scale degree (in the minor key).

This relationship is the only real difference between ear training in the major and minor keys. Once you understand it, you’ll find the minor scale as easy to master as the major scale.

So commit this relationship to memory, so you can easily compare relative major and minor scales and your progress will be smooth and easy 🙂


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