Introducing the C-minor scale, this blog follows up on the ‘Learning to Read Music: The C-Major Scale’ blog and aims to teach you how to play the scale in different keys (D, E, F, G and A). Again, it doesn’t matter if you play piano, recorder, guitar or violin – any instrument can be used here.

Learning to Read Music: The Minor Scale and Keys

Table of Contents

The C-Minor Scale in Practice

Let’s dive right in! What the minor scale looks like in a stave, can be seen in the image above. Before you start looking for the notes on your instrument, make sure your guitar or keyboard is properly tuned. To make it easy, you can use a tuner, a convenient device that’s also able to tell you which note you’re playing.


Repeat Lesson from the Previous Blog

Let’s start off with a small recap of the previous blog on the C-major scale.

  • Western music uses a total of twelve notes:
    Chords: Theory and Chord Symbols
    Some have two names, but more on that later on. Each of the notes above are the same interval (or distance) apart: a semitone, or half note. The distance between two notes is one whole note, while the distance between three notes is a whole note and a half, and so on.
  • Scales include a number of these notes, usually six, seven or eight of them.
  • The major scale consists of the following intervals:
    whole – whole – half – whole – whole – whole – half
  • Start with the C note, and you’ll get:
    C     D     E     F     G     A     B     C
    (whole whole half  whole whole whole half)
  • Start with the G note, and you’ll get:
    G     A     B     C     D     E     F#    G
    (whole whole half  whole whole whole half)
  • The notes of a scale are the building blocks used to create a song or piece of music. In general, simple melodies such as those used in nursery rhymes make exclusive use of the seven notes of the major scale. Most songwriters, however, will often deviate from a scale, using it only as the very foundation of a new piece.

Minor Scale Intervals

Now let’s take a look at the intervals of the minor scale:

whole note – half notewhole note – whole note – half note – whole note – whole note

Starting with a C, you’d get:
C     D     Eb    F     G     Ab    Bb    C
(whole whole half  whole whole whole half)

Starting with a G, you’d get:
G     A     Bb    C     D     Eb    F     G
(whole whole half  whole whole whole half)

The Difference Between the Major and Minor Scales

You’re probably wondering why the minor scale is called minor and why the major scale is called major. This has to do with the fact that the major scale has a whole two-note interval between the first and third note, while the distance between the first and third note in the minor scale is only a whole note and a half.
By using a certain scale, a song is given a certain sound, character, colour or mood. Minor scales tend to sound more sad and sorrowful than major scales but be aware that there are many other ways to make songs sound sad or happy. Major and minor scales are just one means to an end, and it’s very possible for a piece written in a minor scale to sound chipper and vice versa.

Other Keys

The set of notes that come with any given scale can be played in a different pitch. We’ve already established that Western music uses twelve different notes, and you’ve already seen what happens when you start with either a C or a G. The note that you start with is called the root note. Below, you’ll find two tables. The first covers the major scale and six of its frequently used root notes: C, D, E, F, F and A. The second table is the same but shows the minor scale. I’ve also included the notation of the scale written on a stave and images that show you where you can find each of the notes on your piano, keyboard or guitar.

  • The # following some of the notes is pronounced as ‘sharp’. For instance, a C# is pronounced as C-sharp. The ♭ (or lowercase ‘b’) is pronounced as ‘flat’ (e.g. Db = D-flat).
  • Tip: Play these notes until they’re ingrained in your brain and you don’t need to think about them anymore. Practicing and playing is more important than the theory of things!
  • Please note that we’re not explaining the fingering for each note here. Guitar books, keyboard books and piano books, however, always include these.

Major scale

Minor scale


All notes

All notes

  • If you play all of the white and black keys of a piano or keyboard consecutively, all twelve notes can be heard.
  • Each fret on the guitar is one semitone. If you play all of the frets of one of the strings back to back, all twelve notes can be heard.

How To Use Sharp and Flat Notes

Regardless of whether you use a piano or a guitar, the E-flat and D-sharp will sound identical. The same goes for the F-sharp and G-flat, the G-sharp and A-flat, and so on. But when do you actually use either one?
The rule of thumb is that each base note (each unique letter) can only be used once in a scale. That means that the C-minor scale can’t be written down as C – D – D-sharp – F because there’ll be two variations of the D. As such, you’ll always want to start off with the root note and raise or lower any of the following notes based on that.

  • Use the # to raise the pitch. For example, adding a # to a C will result in a C# (C-sharp).
  • Use the (or lower-case ‘b’) to lower the pitch. For example, adding a ‘b’ to a B will result in a B♭ (B-flat).


If we take the C as our root note, we’ll get the following order of letters (notes):

C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C

To turn this into the minor scale, we’ll use the intervals explained earlier: whole note – half note – whole note – whole note – half note – whole note – whole note

whole note: C to D
half note: D to E-flat (since D to E spans a whole note)
whole note: E-flat to F
whole note: F to G
half note: G to A-flat (since G to A spans a whole note)
whole note: A-flat to B-flat (since A-flat to B spans a whole note and a half)
whole note: B-flat to C

Practice & Follow-Up Blogs

Just like last time, it’s important to take your time and read through this blog a few times to let the theory sink in. Try to find the notes on your instrument and practice calling them out when you come across them in a music book. As discussed in the previous blog, make sure there’s a G-clef on the left since others, such as the F-clef, include the notes at a different pitch and place on the stave. When you feel like you’re ready to practice, don’t forget to use handy tools such as a tuning device, metronome or sheet music stand!
If you’re interested, you’re ready to progress to: Chords: Theory and Symbols.

See Also

» Music Theory Books
» All Music Books
» Manuscript Paper
» Notation Software

» Songwriting Tips for Beginners
» How To Tune Your Guitar or Bass
» Improving Your Music Career With 5 Daily Habits
» Recording and Amplifying Vocals for Beginners
» Drum Notation 101: Tips & Tricks for Beginners

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