Music Theory

Learning the A Minor Piano Scale

By Claire Robertson
Learning the A Minor Piano Scale

Take a deep dive into the A minor piano scale, including its notes, how to play the scale, its relative major, and chords in A minor.

In this article, we will explore the A minor piano scale and learn how to build the A melodic minor and the A harmonic minor scales as well as the A pentatonic minor scale. We’ll also cover the correct finger patterns to play the A minor piano scale, and how to build chords in the key A minor. 

To learn more about all kinds of piano scales, check out our All Piano Scales Guide: Major, Minor & More!

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What is the key signature for the A minor scale?

The key signature for A minor has no sharps or flats! This means that if you want to play the natural minor scale for A minor, you will only play the white keys.

What notes make up the A minor scale?

There are three different versions of the A minor scale, but they all begin on the note A. Let’s begin by building a natural minor scale. Remember, you can use these steps to build a minor scale starting on any note! From the starting note, the  natural minor scale is built by going up a whole step – half step – whole step –  whole step – half step – whole step – whole step. The A minor piano scale starts with A, and the natural minor version uses only white keys. Take a whole step up to B, a half step to C, a whole step to D, a whole step to E, a half step to F, a whole step to G, and a whole step to A. For descending natural minor, repeat the process backwards, going back down the piano keyboard.Notes of the A minor piano scale

If you are familiar with solfege, the natural minor scale in solfege is DO – RE – ME – FA – SO – LE – TE – DO (ME, LE, and TE are pronounced “may, lay, and tay”). 

A natural minor on keyboard with solfege.

Next, it’s time to build the A melodic minor scale. To create the melodic minor scale, raise the 6th and 7th degrees of the scale when ascending. Now, the end of your minor scale is LA-TI-DO, which sounds more like a major scale. Because we are altering two scale degrees, A melodic minor has two black keys in the scale. So, the beginning of the A melodic minor scale is the same as it was in natural minor – A, whole step to B, a half step to C, a whole step to D, a whole step to E. At the 6th degree, it changes – a whole step to F sharp, a whole step to G sharp and a half step to A. The descending scale for A melodic minor is different. When you go down the scale, the sixth and seventh scale degrees are the same as in natural minor. In other words, when descending, play all white keys instead of the two sharps.

A Melodic Minor (ascending)

A Melodic Minor (descending)

Our next version of the A minor scale is A harmonic minor. Harmonic minor incorporates qualities of both natural minor and melodic minor scales, and has a very special sound because of the large interval – three half-steps – between the 6th and 7th scale degrees. The A harmonic minor scale is the same scale as the natural minor, but the 7th scale degree is raised, so the final notes are LE – TI – DO. The A harmonic minor scale ascending is A, whole step to B, a half step to C, a whole step to D, a whole step to E, a half step to F, three half steps to G sharp and a half step to F.

A harmonic minor with solfege.


How do I play an A minor piano scale?

A minor uses the same finger patterns as A major for both the right and left hand. It will be easiest to practice the finger patterns of the A minor piano scale if we work to keep our thumb on the white keys instead of the black keys. Let your wrists rotate gently to help cross your thumb underneath. 

  • The right hand fingers, beginning with the thumb on A, is 12312345
  • After our thumb plays A, our pointer finger plays B, and our middle finger plays C.
  • Our thumb crosses under to D, our pointer finger plays E, our middle finger plays F, our ring finger plays G, and our pinky reaches the top A. 

  • The left hand fingers, beginning with the pinky on A, is 54321321. 
  • After the pinky plays A, the ring finger plays B, the middle finger plays C, the pointer finger plays D, and the thumb plays E.
  • Next, our middle finger crosses over to play F, our pointer finger plays G, and our thumb finishes on A. 

This finger pattern for the A minor piano scale stays the same for melodic and harmonic minor. Just know that for A natural minor, this finger pattern is all white keys. 

What is the A minor pentatonic scale on piano?

The A minor pentatonic scale on piano is A, C, D, E, and G. Pentatonic scales are made from notes from the minor scale beginning on the same key. However, the pentatonic scale has no half steps, because the fourth and seventh degrees of the natural A minor scale are removed.  Without any half steps, this scale lacks the tension of a complete minor scale, and is more relaxed and immersive.

Are A minor and C major the same?

While A minor and C major are the scales that use all the white keys on the piano, and therefore have no sharps or flats in their key signatures, they aren’t the same scale. A minor and C major are called relative scales; they both use the same notes, but start on different letters. Another way that scales can relate to each other is as parallel major or minor: scales that start on the same letter, but don’t use the exact same notes. A major is parallel to A minor, because it starts on the same note as A minor. Another way musical keys relate to one another is through the Circle of Fifths. To move around the circle of fifths through your key signature, you can add or subtract an accidental note. In the circle of fifths, E major and E minor are related to A minor. 

A minor scale

Chords to play with the A minor piano scale

The diatonic chords for the key of A minor also use only the white keys of the keyboard. That’s because they’re built using only the notes of the A natural minor scale. 

  • The A minor chord is the i chord, or tonic, and is made up of A-C-E, or DO-ME-SO in solfege. In minor, MI changes to ME because the third scale degree is lowered. 
  • The next chord built on B is the ii chord, or supertonic. It’s a diminished chord, and has the notes B-D-F. Diminished chords sound crunchier than minor chords, because there are fewer half steps between the middle and top notes than in a minor chord. Take a moment to sit at your piano and count the half steps between B and D and you’ll see they’re the same number of half steps apart as D and F.  Both intervals are minor thirds, and this gives the diminished chord an angry, confused sound. 
  • Our next chord in A minor is the III chord, or mediant. This chord is major in quality, and has C-E-G. It’s also the tonic chord (I) in our relative major key, C major! 
  • The next chord is the iv chord, or subdominant. It’s another minor chord, and has D-F-A.
  • The V chord, or dominant, can be either a major chord or a minor chord. If we use the natural minor version of the A minor scale, our v chord has E-G-B, and is an E minor triad.  But, if we use the A harmonic minor scale, our V chord becomes a major triad, with E-G#-B. The seventh degree of our scale changes from G to G#, or TE changing to TI in solfege. By making our V chord a major triad, it has a much stronger tendency to resolve back to the i chord, the tonic.  This is the most common reason why the harmonic minor version of the scale is used. 
  • The next chord is the VI chord, or submediant, and it’s major in quality. The notes in this chord are F-A-C.
  • The final chord in A minor is the VII chord, or subtonic, if we’re using the A natural minor scale: G-B-D.  However, if we use A harmonic minor, the seventh note of the scale changes from G to G#, and we get a diminished vii chord, or leading tone triad: G#-B-D.

A minor chords

If you’d like some handy reference guides for chords and triads in all keys, download these free resources from the Hoffman Academy Store:

Famous Songs in A Minor

Now that you can play the chords and notes in the key of A minor, it’s time to find some A minor songs to practice! Beethoven’s “Für Elise” is in A minor, and you can find beginning through advanced tutorials to learn this song here. If you’re looking for some pop music, “Stronger,” by Kelly Clarkson, is also in A minor.  Try Hoffman Academy Premium Today to learn more classical and pop songs and the music theory behind them.

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