Music Theory

Learning the A Minor Piano Scale

By Claire Robertson
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.

Let’s take a deep dive into the A minor piano scale! In this article, we will explore the A minor scale on piano and learn how to build A melodic minor and A harmonic minor scales as well as A pentatonic minor. We’ll also cover the correct finger patterns to play the A minor piano scale and how to build chords in A minor. 

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What notes make up the A minor scale?

The A minor scale can be built in several different ways, 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 scale of natural minor is built by going whole step – half step – whole step –  whole step – half step – whole step – whole step. The A minor piano scale starts with A, and the A natural minor scale uses all white keys only. To build the scale of A natural minor, start on A and 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. If you are familiar with solfege, the natural minor scale in solfege is do – re – me – fa – so – le – te – do. 

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 it’s 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 play down the scale, the sixth and seventh scale degrees are the same as in natural minor. 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 step – a whole step plus a half step – between the 6th and 7th scale degree. 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 distance between le and ti is a whole step plus a half step, which is a unique sound. 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, one and a half steps to G sharp and a half step to F.

 

How do I play an A minor scale on piano?

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 circle gently to help cross your thumb underneath. 

  • The right hand, beginning with the thumb on A, is 12312345
  • After the thumb plays A, our pointer finger plays B, our middle finger plays C
  • Our thumb crosses under to D, our pointer finger plays E, our middle finger plays F, and our ring finger plays G, and our pinky plays A. 
  • The left hand, 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 floats over to play F, our pointer finger plays G, and our thumb plays 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 intervals of the natural A minor scale are removed. 

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 the scales with no sharps or flats in their key signatures, they aren’t the same scale. A minor and C major are related keys. Keys can relate to each other as relative major or minor, or parallel major or minor. A minor and C major are relative to one another. However, A major is a parallel key, 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. 

Chords to play with the A minor piano scale

The chords of the natural minor scale in A minor use only the white keys of the keyboard! To create chords to play with A minor, remember to practice your steps and skips. 

  • The A minor chord is the i chord, or tonic chord, 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 flat. 
  • The next chord built on B is the supertonic chord, or ii chord. It is a diminished chord, and is made up of B-D-F. A diminished chord sounds crunchier than a minor chord, because there are fewer half steps between the middle and top notes of the chord. Take a moment to sit at your piano and count the half steps between B and D and you’ll see they are not as far apart as the distance between D and F. 
  • Our next chord in A minor is the mediant chord, or III chord. This chord is major in quality, and is C-E-G. It’s the tonic chord in our relative major key, C major! 
  • The next chord is a subdominant; the iv chord is minor and starts on D. D-F-A is the fourth piano chord for this scale. 
  • In a minor scale, the fifth degree chord can be either a major chord or a minor chord. When the v chord in A minor is minor, it is E-G-B When the V chord is major and used to resolve the song, it is E-G#-B. The change comes with the seventh degree note G#, or “te” changing to “ti”. When it is ‘te’ in solfege, it serves as a minor chord. When the note is raised, then it serves as the leading tone in the dominant major chord and helps our ear resolve to A, the tonic. 
  • The next chord is the submediant, or 6th degree of the scale and it is major in quality. The notes in this chord are F-A-C
  • The final chord in A minor is the subtonic (or leading tone, if it uses the notes from the F minor melodic minor scale). G-B-D or G#-B-D.

Famous Songs in A Minor

Now that you can play the chords and notes in the A minor scale, it’s time to find some songs to practice in! Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turka is in A minor. If you’re looking for some pop music Stronger, by Kelly Clarkson is 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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