Relative Major and Minor

Every major scale has a relative minor scale, and every minor scale has a relative major scale. Relative means that both scales contain the exact same notes.

A major scale’s relative minor can always be found one and a half steps below the major scale. For example, the relative minor of C major is A minor:

C is at the 8th fret. By going one and a half steps below C, we arrive at A.

Conversely, a minor scale’s relative major can always be found one and a half steps above the minor scale. So, the relative major of A minor is C major:

Why does this matter? If they contain the exact same notes, aren’t they the same thing? It matters because even though you’re playing the same notes, the note that you start on makes a big difference in the feeling or the “flavor” of the scale. Play each of these scales, and notice how they sound entirely different even though the same 7 notes are repeated in both patterns. In general terms, major sounds “happy” and minor sounds “sad”. This is a great example of how music generates emotions simply by the way it sounds, and there are specific reasons for this that will be covered in other lessons.


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