Minor Scales Cheat Sheet for Guitar

Learn minor scale and mode shapes on the fretboard by changing one note.

Ultimate Guitar
The way that I gained greater understanding of how to play minor scales and modes was through comparing them to the natural minor scale. This article will explain the following table:
  • Natural minor - MUST LEARN!
  • Harmonic minor - natural minor #7
  • Melodic minor - natural minor #6 #7
  • Dorian mode - natural minor #6
  • Phrygian mode - natural minor b2
  • Pentatonic minor - natural minor remove 2 and 6
We can use these different minor scales when the chord progression allows. Use this guide as a short cut to learn the different scales and modes on the fretboard.

Natural Minor

This scale is built from the sixth note of any major scale. This information will become more useful as you learn more about music theory. The concept of this article is PLAYING the scales with greater ease so focus on what notes you need to play.

Notes of A natural minor are A B C D E F G A

Learn one place on the fretboard to play this collection of notes. Memorize the pattern. This pattern will be used to understand the difference between the minor scales and modes that follow.

Harmonic Minor

Play the same notes as natural minor until the 7th note of the scale. When getting to note seven play one fret higher. This means we have sharpened the 7th note of the natural minor scale. This is how harmonic minor is created. We would musically describe this as sharpening the 7th note of the scale.

Harmonic minor = natural minor with a #7 = A B C D E F G# A

Harmonic minor is commonly used.

Melodic Minor

We will discuss what is labeled jazz melodic minor only in this article. It is the melodic minor scale that is more useful for playing in solos. We play the same notes as harmonic minor apart from the 6th note of the scale. We will raise the 6th note by one fret. There are a few cheats we can use here depending on which scales you are most comfortable in playing. This scale is also only one note different to the major scale.

Melodic Minor = harmonic minor with #6 = A B C D E F# G# A

Melodic Minor = natural minor with #6 #7

Melodic Minor = major with b3

Dorian Mode

Like natural minor, Dorian is a mode that starts on the second note of any major scale. When comparing it to natural minor we only need to change one note. Move note 6 forward one fret and you are now playing Dorian mode.

Dorian = natural minor with #6 = A B C D E F# G A

Use this scale to solo with in songs like "Come Together" by the Beatles.

Phrygian Mode

Like natural minor, Phrygian is a mode that starts on the third note of any major scale. When comparing it to natural minor we only need to change one note. Move note 2 of natural minor back one fret and you are now playing Phrygian mode.

Phrygian = natural minor with b2 = A Bb C D E F G A

Pentatonic Minor

We remove two notes from the natural minor. This was due to the sound clash two of the notes create in this scale. The 2nd and 6th notes are eliminated due to the tritone interval they make. This clash is one of the harsher sounds in music. This also leaves use with more chord tones in the scale make up. It is great to use in solos for this reason.

Pentatonic minor - remove 2 and 6 = A C D E G A

Use this to open up your playing, to get an ear for the sound of these scales and to have more fun playing your guitar.

About the Author:
Rhys Lett runs a music school in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. We have more of these practical insights to music available to you on my website blog. We would be happy to help you further.

6 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    Another article that attempts to explain modes but fails miserably
    Rhys Lett ESSM
    No this article does not explain modes. It is a cheat sheet for people that may want to understand the different sounds in the minor realm.And make them instantly playable.
    Your article may not explain in depth; however, for a self-taught novice like myself it explains enough to begin exploring. My first was pentatonic minor, then major, working on all positions for natural minor. This article just gave me a needed boost from the boredom of the process. If a beginner has some theory knowledge, this article can be helpful....thanx by the way =)
    la929024 · Jan 10, 2016 09:07 PM
    As far as modes are concerned, it is better to just learn one scale, the major scale. Since all the standard modes are contained within, it is better to learn the theory behind it so you can apply it.
    mallisuan456 · Jan 10, 2016 04:19 PM
    HollyRGibbs · Jan 19, 2016 03:26 PM
    SharonBTaylor · Jan 17, 2016 03:35 PM
    Lord Cedrik
    who exactly plays Phrygian? useless without a sharp third to make it Phrygian Dominant.
    as839178 · Jan 11, 2016 07:23 PM
    I actually play around quite a bit with Phrygian. I find it lends itself well to improvisation on a drop tuned guitar. I like the sound of the minor ii. It doesn't have to have the major VII all the time. Although it(majVII) does sound good while descending. Just my opinion.
    If you use it over the iim7 in a standard ii-V-I, it can be really effective. I don't use it as often on guitar, but I also play jazz trumpet and I've had a lot of success with it there. Most people default to the Dorian when they see a m7 chord, which works, but the Phrygian sound makes for some tasty surprises.
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