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What is the Natural Minor Scale?

The natural minor scale is one of music’s most commonly used scales. Like the major scale, many songs revolve around the notes of the natural minor scale. When this happens we say the music is in a minor key. For example, if a song is said to be in the key of G minor it means the song is built using, and revolves around, the notes of the G natural minor scale.

The natural minor scale is a seven-note scale (don’t count the octave). Like the major scale it contains a Root (R), 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th.

Natural Minor vs. Major

For reference, musicians often talk about scales in how they compare to the major scale. The natural minor scale differs from the notes of the major scale by three notes. In the natural minor scale the 3rd, 6th, and 7th scale degrees are all a half-step lower than they are in the major scale. We would then say the natural minor scale has a flatted 3rd, flatted 6th, and flatted 7th.

Root 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th
C Major Scale: C D E F G A B
C Natural Minor Scale: C D Eb F G Ab Bb

One Octave Natural Minor Scale Fingering

All scales and patterns can be played many different ways on the bass fretboard. The first fingering to learn for the one octave natural minor scale is fairly easy. This fingering covers a four-fret span. You will want to use one finger per fret to cover the four-fret range. Be very consistent with your fingerings for any scale or pattern you learn. You will advance more quickly if you always use the exact same fingering.

Most of the easier minor scale and chord pattern fingerings begin on your first finger. The initial major patterns you've probably already learned and practiced (major scale, major triad, etc.) begin on your second finger. Starting on finger one may take some getting used to, so pay attention. This fingering works anywhere on the fretboard of the bass when begun on the E-string or A-string.

To finger the natural minor scale, begin on the E-string or A-string and play fingers 1, 3, 4. Shift to the next higher string, play 1, 3, 4. Shift one string higher and play 1 and 3. To descend the scale, play the same fingering backwards. Click the play button on the diagrams to reveal the fingering and hear the notes.

Whole-Step/Half-Step Construction of the Natural Minor Scale

To understand the next two sections, be sure you have studied the basic musical intervals.

Most scales are often described as a series of half- and whole-steps. You should remember a half-step is the smallest musical interval and a whole-step is equal to two half-steps.

The natural minor scale whole-step/half-step construction is: WHWWHWW

The location of the two half-steps between the 2nd and 3rd degrees, and the 5th and 6th degrees, is what gives the natural minor scale its unique sound. It is the only scale that has this unique series of whole-steps and half-steps. Compare it to the major scale’s whole-step/half-step construction.

Intervallic Construction of the Natural Minor Scale

Another way of looking at a scale’s construction is the intervals between the root and each of the other notes in the scale.

The natural minor scale is constructed with the intervals: M2, m3, P4, P5, m6, m7, and P8.

This is the only scale using this unique set of intervals.

12 Natural Minor Scales

You can build the natural minor scale on any of music’s 12 notes. That means there are a total of 12 natural minor scales.

Why Learn the Natural Minor Scale?

Much like the major scale, the notes of the natural minor scale serve as basis for many, many songs. When a song is in a minor key, the notes making up the song’s chords, melody and bassline mostly come from the natural minor scale. As a bassist, it’s critical for you to properly define the key and the chords of a piece of music. The better you know and understand the natural minor scale, the better you’ll be able to do this in minor key songs.

Natural Minor Scale Examples

In the natural minor scale examples I’ve recorded examples of how to practice the scale up and down, a minor scale melody and a rock riff applying the scale.

Natural Minor Scale Details
Whole-step/half-step construction: W H W W H W W
Intervallic construction: Root, M2, m3, P4, P5, m6, m7, P8
C natural minor scale spelling: C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C