Understanding the relationships that occur in music does a huge amount to make us better and more confident musicians (especially when it comes to ear training).

One simple and incredibly useful relationship to learn is the relationship between the major and the minor scale.

Yet so many musicians know nothing about it!

So read on to learn everything you ought to know about relative major and minor scales.

What is a relative major/minor scale?

Every major scale has a relative minor scale (so of course, ever minor scale also has a relative major).

A pair of relative major and minor scales share the same key signature (they have the same number of sharps or flats).

For example, C major has no sharps or flats (it uses all the white keys on a piano). It’s relative minor will also have no sharps or flats. The minor scale with no sharps or flats is A minor, so the relative minor of the C major scale is A minor.

How do you work out a scale’s relative major/minor scale?

There’s a simple way to work out any relative major/minor scale.

A major scale’s relative minor starts on the sixth note of the major scale.

Take our earlier example for instance. The sixth note of C major is A (1:C, 2:D, 3:E, 4:F, 5:G, 6:A). This is the true for every major scale. So simply work out the sixth note and you’ll have the relative minor.

And to work out a minor scale’s relative major simply do it in reverse. The relative major starts on the third note of the minor scale. In A minor, 1: A, 2:B, 3:C.

As long as you remember that a relative minor starts on the sixth note of the major scale and a relative major starts on the third note of a minor scale you can work out any relative major/minor scale with ease.

Why are relative major/minor scales useful?

There are two major benefits to understanding relative major and minor scales.

The first comes to key signatures and flats or sharps. When you understand relative major and minor scales you can analyse keys of music more easily and learn scales much faster.

But the bigger benefit is the second one.

Relative major/minor scales are essential for ear training. If you want to learn to play by ear, understanding relative major and minor scales will help you a huge amount. A piece of music modulates between relative major and minor keys regularly, and understanding this relationship makes it easy to follow what’s happening and identify the notes and chords.

So if playing confidently and creatively by ear is something that you’d like to do, make sure you understand your relative major and minor scales!


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