Tech Tip:Relative Minor Scale 101

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Randy Harper; West Virginia

Q: Okay, I have discovered something that is probably apparent to most experienced guitar players and probably alluded to in other explanations of theory but I think this could help beginners understand the importance of scales and how they're used. I look at scales mostly in terms of patterns not key. I say this because I would like some feedback from you on how this observation can be related to other things I have not thought about. Here it is:

Our old friend the A Pentatonic Minor Scale has the same "pattern" as the C Pentatonic Major Scale

The E Pentatonic Minor Scale has the same pattern as the G Pentatonic Major Scale.

If the song I am playing has C and Am in the chord progression, like many of the songs I play, then there is a good chance that the Am scale will sound good played over the song. The same goes for Em and G.

Side note:
I don't play many songs that have the B chord in it, I really don't know why, other than the fact I have a hard time changing to the B chord.

Observation and comments please:

A: Great observation, man! You just discovered an important theory component by yourself and you don't even know it. It is that every Major scale has a relative Minor scale. This means that for every Major scale there will be a Minor scale that has the same exact notes in it sort of like its sister. The main difference is the root note or target note.

In your question you stated that the A Minor pentatonic scale and the C Major pentatonic scale are the same, this is because the relative Minor scale is built from the 6th note of the major scale. Like this example:

C Major scale - C D E F G A B C

A Minor scale - A B C D E F G

Both scales contain the same exact notes with no sharps or flats. They are just in a different order; the root note or main target note is the big difference. In the A Minor pentatonic scale, the A note is the root note and in C Major the C note is the root.

Many songs are written with one section being in each of the Major and relative minor keys because they work and sound so good together.

So to answer your question, yes, there is a direct connection with these scales and their patterns and you can use this to help memorize your scales and use them to improvise more creatively.

And last but not least... learn your B chord. You will need it even though it is a difficult one!

Hope this helps!

Yours in Music
John McCarthy
Rock House