Relative Major and Minor Modes

We understand that there are 12 major keys in music (C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B). Each of these keys have 7 note scales associated with them called the major scale. Each key also has minor scales too. When you first start getting into guitar you start hearing terms like these thrown around. It starts getting a little overwhelming especially considering that is 24 different scales I need to be learning. Not to mention other stuff like modes, harmonic and melodic scales etc.

It may seem like a lot of work ( and sometimes it is), but with the right understanding you will start to find out that all of this fits cohesively together and there is a method to all of this madness.

I’m not going to do a deep dive into modes, but I am going to touch on it briefly to help lay out the foundation. We’ll talk about the key of C for simplicity’s sake. For every key, there is a major scale (C,D,E,F,G,A,B). These are 7 notes of a defined interval from the root note C. The major scale is base for which everything else is calculated.

Here is the part where we talk about modes. The minor scale that you’ve heard so much about is actually a mode of the major scale. What does that mean? A mode is really just a variation of the same major scale (the exact same notes), but set to a different root note. For example, C Major is C,D,E,F,G,A,B, but D,E,F,G,A,B,C is actually considered a mode and different scale entirely. This new scale is called D Dorian. So when those exact same notes are played over a D chord or progression it will have a totally different vibe. The same is true for every note of the major scale.

Now that you know all of this, the minor scale is actually nothing special. It is actually a mode called the Aeolian mode and is scale derived from the 6th note of the minor scale. Continuing with our example, A,B,C,D,E,F,G is the A minor scale. It is the exact same notes as the C Major scale. There is a term for this. It is called the Relative Minor.

A minor is the relative minor for C major.

C major is the relative major for A minor.

That really is all there is to the relationship between major and minor scales. Plus, you now have a better understanding for how all modes work. You learn one scale and you are actually learning 7 scales.

Lets talk about this a little more.

So we are guitar players here so on guitar its all about the key of G. All of the scale patterns work nicely in G and a lot of the best guitar music comes out in this key.

G Major G, A, B, C# D, E, F#

so

E Minor E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D

G Major is the relative major to E Minor.

E Minor is the relative minor to G Major.

 

Lets get into some scale patterns and put this to work for us.

Here is a typical G Major scale pattern.

Lesson 1 Example 1

It would be typical to use this scale to improvise over a G major chord or progression. What we have learned here is that we can use this scale pattern over an E minor progression too.

Here is a typical E Minor scale pattern that is commonly used.

Lesson 1 Example 2

You would normally use this to improvise over an E minor chord or progression. As expected, this will work over a G major chord or progression too since it is the exact same notes (I know I’m sounding like a broken record by now).

Hopefully, this is helpful to you seeing how different mode scales and their patterns can add up to be one connecting pattern all over the neck. When you know what key you want you can shift that overall pattern up or down the neck. We’ll get into all of this in future lessons too.