Teach Yourself Music Theory – 23.) Relative Versus Parallel Keys

We have talked about this before when covering major and natural minor scales. So be sure to review those sections if these concepts seem unfamiliar or difficult.

Relative keys, are two key that share the same number of accidentals. We know that the key of D Major and the key of B minor are relative keys because they both have the same number of accidentals added to their key signature (two sharps).

We figured this out before that in a major key, the minor key (where the natural minor scale is derived from) is a m3 interval below the tonic. Vice-versa, in a minor key we can tell that the relative major is a m3 above the tonic.

Parallel keys are ones that don’t necessarily (if ever) share the same accidentals, but share the same tonic.

Let’s take a look at the two parallel keys of C major and C minor:

Notice how they don’t have the same accidentals, but they do share the same tonic of C. More to come on how to use parallel keys in composition, but more now this is learning on how to distinguish between relative and parallel keys.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 18.) Harmonic and Melodic Minor

Review time! What scale is this?:

If you said “a natural minor scale” you are correct! Don’t worry if you didn’t get the answer correctly, you can review on all the past posts on music theory.

We can tell that this is a natural minor scale because…

1.) The key signature has no sharps or flats, and it starts on the A pitch

2.) The scale is built in the intervallic pattern of all natural minor scales of M2-m2-M2-M2-m2-M2-M2.

Now, it is time to introduce two different kinds of minor scales.

The first is called the harmonic minor scale, and it is made by raising the seventh scale degree (the subtonic) up a half-step (the leading tone). It would look like this:

As the name goes, it is used for harmonic purposes to achieve a dominant V sound. More on that soon!

The second is called the melodic minor scale, and it is made by raising the sixth and seventh scale degree up a half-step. HOWEVER, that is only when you are ascending up the scale. Those scale degrees return back to their natural position as you descend down the scale:

As the name goes, it is used for melodic purposes to retain a “minor” sound with the lowered third degree, but have leading motion in the sixth and seventh degrees to resolve to the tonic.

Play those scales in different keys to see how they sound.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 13.) Pitch-Class Collections of Natural Minor Scales

Continuing with the idea of pitch-class collections and how they can form scales, let’s introduce a new scale: the natural minor scale.

To make a natural minor scale, one has to have a collection of pitches that in ascending order go in an intervallic pattern of whole-step, half-step, whole-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step, and whole-step back to the original pitch. One can also think of this as M2-m2-M2-M2-m2-M2-M2.

Take a look at the composition below, write the pitch-class collection, and then arrange the pitches into an ascending manner fitting the pattern of the natural minor scale:

If you did it correctly, you would get {F#, G#, A, B, C#, D, E, F#}, which means this composition uses a F# minor scale…

…but wait, don’t the same pitches used also make up the A Major scale?

That is correct! For every major scale, there is its own relative natural minor scale. All you have to do is go down a minor-third interval (or up a major-sixth interval) from the original major scale to find the relative minor scale. So C major is A minor, G major is E minor, E major is C# minor, etc.

Now, how can well tell if a song is using a major or minor scale? well, that will be saved as a topic for next time.

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