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Music Theory for Guitar - Relative minor

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Previous page: Music Theory for Guitar - Minor Next page: Music Theory for Guitar - Minor Harmony

To every major key, there is a relative minor scale. At this stage, we keep it simple and deal only with natural minor. We will look deeper into minor harmony in the lessons on Minor harmony – a major challenge.

A source of confusion.
In my language, Norwegian, we use the term parallel minor for the concept that in English is called relative minor. When I first wrote this lesson, I used the literary translation "parallel minor", and it is still the name of the file. This is one of the more difficult aspects of translation: We have the same words, but they are used to describe different concepts. I am trying to correct the mistake. But there might still be some references to "parallel minor" when the correct term should be "relative minor".

The relative minor basically contains the same notes as the connected major scale. But the tonal center is different. The scales are closely related, and some songs shift back and forth between the relative major and minor key. Some examples are The Eagles hit Hotel California, which changes back and forth between Em and G. Bruce Springsteen also seems to favor this relative major/minor alteration. xxxxx

Click here for a list of songs with movement between relative major and minor.

The relative minor starts on the 6th note of the corresponding major scale. Just as a starting example, the relative minor to C major is A minor. The relation between the C major and the relative A minor can be illustrated as such:

A-minor

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

A

C-major

C

D

E

F

G

A

B

C

The basic chords in A minor are Am, Dm and Em7 or E7. If we stick to pure natural minor, the v chord is Em. But a minor 7th does not give a strong lead back to the root, so one would often use a major chord, even though it is not a diatonic chord in Am. That it the reason why there is a variation of the minor scale called Harmonic minor, but more about this in the lesson Minor harmony – a major challenge.

As the notes of the major scale and the relative minor scale are the same, and the primary chords of a natural minor are the secondary chords of the relative major and vice versa (primary chords in major are secondary chords in the relative minor), it is not always easy to decide if you are in the major key or it's relative minor. Friedrich Chopin seems to have given up in some of his piano compositions, as they are labeled for instance as being in the key E/C#m. The more minor chords you use, the more "minorish" will it sound, just as the major chords will make it sound "majorish". In the lesson The III-chord - Major Mediant, I discuss a little how the major key is weakened by using secondary minor chords in The Beatles' song There's A Place, before it finally modulates to the relative minor.

There are a few ways to modulate between the relative major and minor. When going from major to relative minor you can you can for instance go via The III-chord - Major Mediant.

From minor to relative major, you can xxxx

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