Part 4 – Transitioning Between Thinking Major and Minor

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Ok, so it’s probably getting clear that the major and minor scales can really be thought of as the same pattern but with different root note positions within that pattern. Often they will seem to be described as different scales and with different formulas. This is actually only another way of thinking about what I have just showed you. When people describe the minor scale with a formula or do not reference the major scale in their lesson, they are still correct but they are just approaching teaching the theory in one way of many possible ways. Once you understand it one way or the other, all of the other approaches and descriptions will make a lot more sense.

My advice: pick the way that seems most logical to you. I have presented the way of thinking in this series that I consider to be the easiest to understand initially. Ultimately, all paths with lead to the same place of understanding


Let’s keep playing around with these Major and Minor keys. First of all, let’s start in the good old key of C. The reason that the key of C is often used to explain theory is that it doesn’t contain any sharps or flats and therefore isn’t overwhelming to a student who is still getting used to theory. Any key would do otherwise.

C Major

Notice that when we are in the key of C, the Minor Root Notes fall on the note A? A is the 6th note in the C major scale. This means that when we are playing the C major scale we are simultaneously playing the A minor scale. How we use it is what determines when it sounds more like C Major or A minor.

If we prioritise the note A in this scale we are playing in A minor.

If we prioritise C, we are playing in C major.


Every Major Key has its own minor key. It is called the Relative Minor because it is minor relative to its parent (major) key.


Remember that prioritising a note in our playing is all to do with how we phrase. It is prioritised if, to the listener, it wants more of their attention.

See if you can figure out a few Relative Minor Keys of your own. What are the relative minor keys of :

  • F
  • E
  • A
  • D
  • G?

It is very common for a pop/rock song to be written all in one key. Often the verse will be in the relative minor key and then switch over to the major key for the chorus. Or vice versa, the verse will be major with a minor chorus or bridge.

It’s all really the one set of notes that you can think of as the Major Scale with emphasis placed on different root notes at different times. The notes or pattern do not change. Only the emphasis.


Now we are really getting somewhere! Let’s see how, by knowing the major scale, you also know two other very common scales, the Major and Minor Pentatonic Scales.

Andrew Scrivens

Andrew Scrivens

I am a live musician and guitar teacher from Brisbane, Australia, with extensive experience playing live, in the studio and for TV shows. I play in many venues, studios, music shops and with my students and as such am exposed to a lot of different gear. I form my opinions based on my experiences playing instruments in these locations.

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