An introduction to music theory
An introduction to music theory

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

An introduction to music theory

5.10 Relative minor and relative major

Because the scales of C major and A minor have the same key signature, they are clearly related. Indeed, the key of A minor is called the relative minor of C major. Conversely, C major is called the relative major of A minor. If we look at the relationship between C and A on a keyboard in Example 54, we can count the number of semitones between them (it’s quicker to do this counting from C down to A rather than C up to the higher A). The result is three – C–B, B–B, B–A. So the relative minor of a major key, and the minor key that has the same key signature, is three semitones lower than its major counterpart.

By following this principle, we can work out the relative minor key of G major, the second major key we examined in Section 5.3. Look at Example 54 again. Three semitones down from G, namely: G–F, F–F and F–E is E. E minor is thus the relative minor of G major and has the same key signature, one sharp.

Example 54

If we now follow the intervallic patterns we discovered in the various forms of the minor scale – the pattern of the natural form was T S T T S T T, for instance – we can generate the three forms of the E minor scale shown in Example 55. Fundamentally, we have only one different note from those we had in the scale of A minor, the F. However, with the three different forms (natural, harmonic and melodic) the same question arises with regards to the sixth and seventh notes up the scale – should one or both be sharpened or not?

Example 55

Download this audio clip.Audio player: a224_1_pm_mu055.mp3
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

You can find a summary chart of the minor scales with up to four-sharp and four-flat key signatures in Example 56. Study this carefully – minor scales, especially those with three or four flats or sharps, are more difficult to grasp than their relative-major counterparts. So take time over this.

Example 56

Download this audio clip.Audio player: a224_1_pm_mu056.mp3
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

The following two activities assess your knowledge of minor key signatures of up to four flats and four sharps, and of the minor scales that have these key signatures. Try them now.

Skip Your course resources

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371