Relative Major And Minor Scales

What Are Relative Major and Minor Scales?

Relative scales are scales that share the same set of notes — much like you have DNA in common with your relatives.

Every major scale has a relative minor scale, and every minor scale a relative major.

For example, the C major scale and the A minor scale are relative scales. C major contains the notes C, D, E, F, G, A and B. The A natural minor scale contains the notes A, B, C, D, E, F and G. They have the same exact group of notes only their root note is different.

Don't let different fingerings for the same set of notes confuse you. There are lots of ways to play the same group of notes across the fretboard.

Why Is It Useful to Know Relative Major and Minor Scales?

The main reason to know the relation between major and minor scales is it makes memorizing a lot of essential things in music easier. You only have to memorize 12 scales to know all 24 keys used in music.

If you’ve studied the circle of fifths in the harmony section, you’ll notice the relative minor scales listed right beneath the major scales. They’re the same set of notes and have the same key signature.

Not only are the notes the same between relative scales, but so are the diatonic chords.

You’ll also see that many songs bounce back and forth between the major key and its relative minor or vice versa.

So, knowing the scale relations will really simplify memorizing a lot of essential stuff, and help you understand keys, chord progressions and songs better.

Finding the Relative Minor from a Major Scale

The root of the relative minor is always the sixth note of the major scale.

For example, “E” is the sixth note of the G major scale (G, A, B, C, D, E, F#). E natural minor is the relative minor of G major.

It works the same for all major scales.

Finding the Relative Major from a Minor Scale

If you know the minor scale, the root of the relative major is always the third note of the minor scale.

For example, “F” is the third note of the D minor scale (D, E, F, G, A, Bb, C). F major is the relative major of D minor.

It works the same for all minor scales.

Relative Major and Minor Pentatonic Scales

Another important relative scale relationship to realize is the major pentatonic and minor pentatonic relationship. These two scales relate just like the major and minor scales do. The C major pentatonic scale (C, D, E, G, A) shares the same notes as the A minor pentatonic scale (A, C, D, E, G).

All major and minor pentatonic scales work in the same way.

Memorizing the Relative Scales

Part of your essential basic knowledge as a musician is memorizing all of the major and minor keys (scales). For more on this, study the harmony section. There are 12 major keys and 12 minor keys. If you memorize the 12 major keys well, you will be able to quickly figure out the relative minor keys.

Memorizing the keys takes some work. There aren’t many useful shortcuts. You just have to spend time reviewing them every chance you can. Pick a key or two and focus on them. Start with the keys you find yourself playing in most often. If you work with guitarists a lot, they tend to use a lot of sharp keys (G, D, A, E, B). Horn players favor flat keys (F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db).

Think about the note names as you practice your scales—don’t just think about finger patterns. Work on reading music. It’ll force you to concentrate on the note names, not fret numbers. Recite the note names of keys whenever you have down time standing in line somewhere, in the shower, etc. All of this will help you memorize the keys.

A few relative scales are easy to remember once you get going. If you already know G major and E minor are relative, you should notice Gb major and Eb minor are relative—they're just a half-step down. Likewise, C major/A minor gives you Cb major and Ab minor and C# major and A# minor. They're just offset by one note. See which others you can find.

Relative Major and Minor Quiz

I put together a quiz to test you on your relative major and minor scale knowledge. Good luck!