Week 6 – 12 Notes: The Natural Minor Scale


Lesson Six:  The natural minor scale

Like last weeks first foray into the major scale, this weeks lesson will cover the basics.  Scales are simple in essence but there is such a variety of them that they warrant being covered more than once.  We’ve covered the pentatonic minor scale here before, and last week we started up the major scale.  Let’s look at the natural minor scale now.  This scale is one of the building blocks of music, you need to know this one if you want to do anything more than bang a few chords out.  The following is a representation of all the notes of the E minor scale as laid out on the guitar neck. (all E notes in Boldface)

0 -2 -3 -5 -7 -8 -10 –12 -14 -15 -17 -19 -20 -22 –24 –
-0 -1 -3 –5 -7 -8 -10 -12 -13 -15 –17 -19 -20 -22 -24  –
-0 -2 -4 -5 -7 –9 -11 -12 -14 -16 -17 -19 –21 -23 -24  –
-0 –2 -4 -5 -7 -9 -10 -12 –14 -16 -17 -19 -21 -22 -24 –
-0 -2 -3 -5 –7 -9 -10 -12 -14 -15 -17 –19 -21 -22 -24 –
0 -2 -3 -5 -7 -8 -10 –12 -14 -15 -17 -19 -20 -22 –24

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Now lets practice a bit with the Natural minor scale.   Just to get the scale under our fingers let’s practice the scale, 4 notes per string starting in the open position on the lower E-String:

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -10 -12 -14 -15-
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -8 -10 -12 -13 – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -5 -7 -9 -11 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -4 -5 -7 -9 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – -2 -3 -5 -7 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
-0 -2 -3 -5 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

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Play this until you have it down cold. Play the above shape in every position you can play it in.  Hmmm.. I don’t think I’ve mentioned what exactly I mean by “Shape” in any of the previous 12 Notes lessons.  It’s pretty simple.

The 0-2-3-5 (E-F#-G-A) is a shape in physical space on the fretboard.  There are, between the 0(E) and the 5 (A) 6 notes, four of which are played.  If you move that shape, say… 2 frets up the neck in that shape, you get 2-4-5-7 (F#-G#-A-B)).  The exercise above, with every single one of the entire 24 note sequence moved up two notes, would not alter it’s shape in any way.  The notes would change, drastically, but the exact same sequence would occur, two notes higher on the fretboard.

Instead of starting in the open position on the low E string and ending on the 15th fret of the high E string, you would start on the second fret of the low E string,  and every single note would be moved up two frets, and the 24 note exercise would end on the 17th fret of the high e string instead of the 15th. 

And you would then be in F# minor.  Got it? Good. 

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Enough of that for now though, Back to E minor and getting it under our fingers.   And instead of just playing note sequences, let’s attempt something at least a little musical.   A favorite ploy of mine, just to get the creative juices flowing, is to sit on a single note and work around that note, just to see what I can come up with.  Since we are working in the key of e-minor, let’s work with what is called a drone E.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – -12 – – – – – – – – – – – 12- – – – – – – – – – – – -10- – – – – – – – – – 10-
– -11 – – – – -11 – – – – – 11- – – – – 11- – – – – 9- – – – – – – 9 – – – – – 9- – – – – 9- 
– -12 – – – – – – – – – – – -12 – – – – – – – – – – – 10- – – – – – – – – – – -10 – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
-0 – – – 0- – – – – – 0- – – – – 0- – – – – – 0- – – – – -0 – – – – – -0 – – – – -0 – – – –

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – 7- – – – – – – – – – – 7- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – -5 – – – – – 5- – – – – 5- – – – – 5- – – – -4 – – – – – – – – 4- – – – – – – – – – – – – – 
– – – -7 – – – – – – – – – – – 7- – – – – – – – – – -5 – – – – -5 – -5 – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -7 – -7 – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
-0 – – – – -0 – – – – -0 – – – – -0 – – – – -0 – – – – 0- – – – – 0- – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Not all that difficult to play if you keep a steady rhythm with the drone E, and it’s not that bad an introduction to minor key playing.  A second piece, somewhat similar to the first, except that instead of the drone being alternated with two note combinations to create simple chord variations, this next piece is a long single note line with the drone e attached to it, meant to get your fingers moving fast on the fretboard.  This one is fun.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 7- – – – – – – – 7- 9- 7- 9- 9- 10- 9- 7- – – – – – – 
-7 -9 -7 -9 -9 -10 -9 -7 – – -10 -9 -7 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 10- 9- 7
-0 – – – – – – -0 – – – – – – – -0 – – – – – – – -0 – – – – – – – 0- – – – – – – – 0- – – – – –

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– 9- 9- 11- 9- 7- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 9- 9- 11- 9- 7- – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – -9 -9 -10 -9 -7 – – – -7 – – – – – – – – – – – -9 -9 -10 -9 -7 – 
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -10 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 7- –
-0 -0 – – – – – – – – -0 -0 – – – – – – – 0- – 0- 0- 0- – – – – – – – 0-0 – – – – – – -0 –

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– 0- 2- 0- 2- 2- 4- 2- 0- 0- 2- 0- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 4- 2- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
-0 – – – – – – – 0- – – – – – – 0- – – – – – -0 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 

I have been playing that riff, in one form or another(I improvise so there are always variations) for the better part of twenty years, and it never gets stale.  Partly because it really sounds nice with that Drone E just hammering the bottom end of the music with as much speed as is possible, and partly because of the higher notes running at a frenetic pace.

This natural minor scale lesson, much like last weeks foray into the major scale, only touches the tip of the iceberg.  More flourishes for both, along with the joy of working in modes, will most likely be featured in articles in the near future.

Good lord, I didn’t even touch on the differences between natural minor and harmonic  and melodic minor, and not once did I mention jazz minor.  Much to cover…. MUCH to cover.  But that is it for today’s exercises.

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These happy little excursions really are a pleasure to write, and play.  I truly enjoy doing this, and I am hoping, that with the 3 month temp gig coming up at Sotheby’s I will have enough time to devote to a weekly 12 notes article.  I will do my utmost to get these articles out as often as possible.  As usual, if you see any mistakes( I am human, dammit), or have any questions, feel free to drop me a line.

Thank you for reading, and keep on playing!

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