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This week, I was asked, “What’s the deal with the minor keys?”

Well here’s the deal, Skippy!

The notes of a scale make up what I lovingly call the “Pitch Family,” or the KEY. Take your major scale formula (Root-whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half) to get your Pitch Family. These notes are all related, and work well together.

Apply the Major Scale formula to F:

F – G – A – Bb – C – D– E – F

Now take the 6th note and you have your relative minor.



All of these notes belong to the same “Family” of notes. When you keep the notes in this order (F to F), think of them as the cheerful, peppy, big sister. This is your major scale.
Play it, you’ll hear what I mean: F – G – A – Bb – C – D – E – F

F Major Scale

F Major in 1st Position


Arranging these same notes in alphabetical order from D to D is like the moody, gothic, little brother. So this is the D minor scale: D – E – F – G – A – Bb – C – D.
Play it!

D Minor

Simple D Minor Scale in 1st Position

We call D the relative minor to F major essentially because it has all of the same family members as F.



A Shortcut to Find the Relative Minor

Count backward 3 half steps from your root. Both methods will get the same result. But thinking in terms of the vi (minor six) chord is the preferred method for those that are new to this concept. You really should understand WHY things are before you go cutting corners. Putting in an extra few minutes to “show your work” and think through the process will get you all of the information you need about all of the notes in the key.

 How to Use This Shortcut

Maybe you’re sitting in with a band or jamming with a friend on guitar. She says, “I’ve got this new ditty in F#m, wanna jam on it?”If you know your minor scales, you’re fine. And of course, there’s always the beloved Pentatonic Scale. But let’s assume you only know the major scale and are tired of the guitarist’s pentatonic box.

1. Reverse-engineer the shortcut: F# is the minor, so count forward 3 half-steps (or frets) and you land on the Relative Major: A.
2. Play an A major scale: Root- Whole Step- Whole Step- Half Step- Whole Step- Whole Step- Whole Step- Half Step

You have now found the correct pitch family. If you’re using your ear to improv (and not your eyes/shapes) you won’t need any more info than this! If you need a few extra pointers, focus on the F# AKA the sixth note of the scale AKA the note that is 3 frets behind A.
On a side note, D Major to D minor would be considered parallel.

D Major = D E F# G A B C#
D minor= D E F G A Bb C

Same starting note, different Pitch Family.

D Major = D E F# G A B C#
B minor= B C# D E F# G A

Different starting note, same Pitch Family.


So to conclude, can you find the relative minor of E Major?
If we were to call this note the i (minor one), what would the V (five) chord be?



Are you ready to make your minor scales sound great? Do you or someone you know need guitar lessons? Live in the Lancaster area? Then contact me for more info on guitar lessons!