In this article, we will show you how to play the F minor scale on the piano, and how to use the notes of the scale to play chords in the key of F minor. You’ll learn how to build the F natural, harmonic and melodic minor scales, as well as the easiest finger patterns for the F minor piano scale that will help you to master playing songs in this key.
To understand how to play songs in F minor, it’s important to learn the building blocks of the F minor piano scale and practice the F minor scale finger patterns, along with chords. F minor uses the same building blocks for major and minor chords as any other key!
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What does it mean when a song is in F minor?
Musicians say a song is in F minor when it uses the notes from the F minor scale. The piece also cadences in F minor, which means phrases in the song begin and end with the F Minor chord. The F minor scale has four flats in the key signature: Bb, Eb, Ab, and Db. Next, let’s make sure that we are in F minor, and not the relative major key (Ab major). To do this, look to see if the first notes of the piece begin on F or C, the tonic or dominant, respectively, of F minor. You can also listen to the song and hear if it uses mostly minor chords.
There are three different versions of the F minor scale you may hear in music: natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor. Each type of scale is different, because each one is built with a different combination of half and whole steps on the piano keys. This gives each version of the F minor scale a special and unique sound, and gives musicians more options for chords to harmonize with. Once you know the notes of the F minor scale, you can learn how to play the diatonic chords for the piece you’re learning.
It’s important to note that composers in one piece may modulate, or change key, as they journey through the piece’s emotional landscape. Keys can relate to each other as relative major or minor, or parallel major or minor. F minor’s parallel major scale starts on the same note, F, and is called F major. F minor’s relative major is Ab major and has the same key signature; it uses the same notes as F minor, but starts on Ab. 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. C major and minor are related to F minor through the Circle of Fifths.
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What are the notes of the F natural minor scale?
Let’s start with natural minor – you can use this pattern of whole steps and half steps with any starting note to make the minor scale. The F natural minor piano scale starts with F. Then it travels up a whole step – half step – whole step – whole step – half step – whole step – whole step. Starting on F, take a whole step up to G, a half step to Ab, a whole step to Bb, a whole step to C, a half step to Db, a whole step to Eb, and a whole step to F. If you are familiar with solfege, natural minor is DO – RE – ME – FA – SO – LE – TE – DO (ME, LE, and TE are pronounced “may, lay, and tay”).
Next, let’s make the F melodic minor scale. Raise the 6th and 7th degrees of the scale when it’s ascending. This makes the melodic minor scale sound more like major, because the end of the scale is now LA – TI – DO. So, the F melodic minor scale ascending is F, whole step to G, a half step to Ab, a whole step to Bb, a whole step to C (the same as F natural minor). At the 6th degree, it changes – a whole step to D natural, a whole step to E natural and a half step to F. The descending notes of the F melodic minor scale are the same as in F natural minor described above – the 6th and 7th scale degrees are flat coming back down.
The final version of the F minor scale is F 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 degree. F harmonic minor is the same scale as F natural minor, but the 7th scale degree is raised, so the final notes are LE – TI – DO. The F harmonic minor scale ascending is F, whole step to G, a half step to Ab, a whole step to Bb, a whole step to C, a half step to Db natural, one and a half steps to E natural and a half step to F.
How do you play the F natural minor scale? Piano playing tips
F minor uses the same finger patterns as F major for both the right and left hand. It will be easiest to practice the finger patterns of the scale if we work to keep our thumb on the white keys instead of the black keys.
- The right hand, beginning with the thumb on F, plays fingers 12341234.
- After our thumb plays F, our pointer finger plays G, our middle finger plays Ab, and our fourth finger plays Bb.
- Then, our thumb crosses under to C, our pointer finger plays Db, our middle finger plays Eb, and our ring finger finishes on F.
- The left hand, beginning with the pinky on F, plays 54321321.
- After the pinky plays F, the ring finger plays G. The middle finger plays Ab, the pointer finger plays Bb, and the thumb plays C.
- Next, our middle finger crosses over to play Db, our pointer finger plays Eb, and our thumb plays F.
- This finger pattern for the F minor piano scale stays the same for melodic and harmonic minor, but be sure to check whether you are playing a flat, or black key, or a natural, or white key, using our graphics above.
What are the diatonic chords in the key of F minor?
The term diatonic means that we’re building chords using only the notes of the F minor scale:
The F minor chord is the i chord, or tonic, and is made up of F – Ab – C, or DO – ME – SO in solfege. Remember, in minor, MI changes to ME because the third scale degree is lowered.
The next chord built on G is the ii chord, or supertonic. It’s a diminished chord, and is made up of G – Bb – Db. 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 and sit at your piano and count the half steps between G and Db. You’ll see they are not as far apart as the distance between F and C.
Our next chord is the III chord, or mediant. This one is a major chord, and has Ab – C – Eb.
The next chord is the iv chord, or subdominant. It’s a minor chord, and has Bb – Db – F.
The V chord, or dominant, can be either a major chord or a minor chord. If we use the natural minor version of the F minor scale, our v chord has C – Eb – G, and is a C minor triad. But, if we use the F harmonic minor scale, our V chord becomes a major triad, with C – E – G. The seventh degree of our scale changes from Eb to E, 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 Db – F – Ab.
The final chord in F minor is the VII chord, or subtonic, if we’re using the F natural minor scale: Eb – G – Bb. However, if we use F harmonic minor, the seventh note of the scale changes from Eb to E, and we get a diminished vii chord, or leading tone triad: E – G – Bb.
If you’d like some handy reference guides for chords and triads in all keys, download these free resources from the Hoffman Academy Store:
Using the F minor piano scale with songs
Remember, a song might be in the key of F Minor, but still borrow chords from relative major or minor keys. This means that not every chord in a song in the key of F minor is one of the chords above – it might be a different chord ‘visiting’ from a related key! Be sure to check your sheet music to see if there are places where the key signature changes, and also check for any accidentals (flats, naturals, or sharps) that change the quality of a chord.
With the building blocks in this article, you can explore the F minor piano scale, practice your F minor scale finger patterns, and practice chords in the key of F minor. We hope you enjoyed learning more about F minor with Hoffman Academy!