Try to think of a melody that makes you feel passionate, perhaps a bit reflective, quiet and somber, moody perhaps?, good chance it was created in the minor tonality. Over the centuries, the melodies created from this group have aurally captured the "blusier", more sorrowful aspects of the struggles of humanity. Check out this cool 8 bars from many centuries ago, titled "Greensleeves", in E minor. Example 1.
Got the feel of this melody? Is it familiar? The minor coloring is very distinct and different from the major coloring. By my thinking, these two primary colors represent the first broad structural division within the equal tempered system. Players oftentimes initially describe the music as being in a major or minor key, then go from there. In playing situations where I don't know the tune being called, knowing the tonal center is E minor, as in the above example, gives me a beginning group of pitches to work with. Can you hear and correctly identify both the minor and major colors?
The critical pitch difference between major and minor is found on the 3rd scale degree above the root. Example 2.
|C melodic minor||C||D||Eb||F||G||A||B||C|
Observe that the 3rd scale degree of the minor scale is lowered one half step. Sound the major 3rd interval between C and E and then minor 3rd interval between C and Eb on your instrument and / or at the piano. Can you hear the difference? If not, do it again and again till you can. Learn to recognize and differentiate these two colors. To me, the minor third has a more sorrowful, bluesier quality. These two contrasting colors along with the "tritone", discussed throughout, form the basis of the 3 different colorings found in our system of music. Compare the major and minor third. Example 2a.
|major third||minor third||major third||minor third|
One of the coolest aspects of the organization within the equal tempered system is how these two broad, primary colors are "paired" up together in one group of pitches. Although musical pieces are generally said to be in either a major or minor key, our equal tempered system is organized in such a way as to include many colors within one group of pitches. The intervalic structure of a scale is always the determining factor, but so many of the colors are "built right in" to each other that once we recognize the patterns, our learning and locating the resources is so much easier. Here we see and hear the same exact pitches creating the major and minor tonalities. Example 2.
|major tonality||minor tonality|
Cool huh? Same pitches, same line, two distinct colors. Lets go back to our original melody and check out the rest of the tune. Here is our wonderful theme from the top of our discussion of the minor tonality, now presented with its counter theme, with a bit of "play by play" of the musical action. Its been around for a long time, pass this one on to the children in your life.
First theme, 4 bar antecedent phrase in E minor. Example 4.
First theme, 4 bar consequent phrase in the minor tonality. Note the slightly different pitches at the end of the line. Example 4a.
Contrasting theme, in new key of G major. Example 4b.
Restatement of contrasting theme and modulation back to E minor. Example 4c.
In "Greensleeves" the minor and major tonalities are paired with wonderful results. There are lots of great renditions of this tune, my favorite is by guitarist Wes Montgomery. Here is the sound file for the entire piece. Example 4d.
Have a sense of the minor tonality and the emotional environment it creates? Cool. Here are the topics within this section of the minor colors, their theory and related ideas.
|cycle of fifths / natural minor tonality||projecting the natural minor color from each of the 12 pitches of equal temper.|
|diminished scale||examines the symmetrical minor scale color.|
|harmonic minor scale||adding the leading tone to the natural minor group.|
|key signatures / natural minor tonality||identifying the pitches of the 12 minor keys.|
|melodic minor scale||common themes in the minor color.|
|melodies of the minor tonality||raising the 6th and 7th degrees by half step of the natural minor group.|
|minor arpeggios||creating minor chord scales.|
|minor blues scale||core color of American music.|
|minor church modes||examines the Dorian, Phrygian, Aeolian and Locrian modes.|
|minor pentatonic scale||ancient 5 note minor group of pitches.|
|minor tonality||discusses the creative environment of the minor tonality.|
|minor triads||stacking pitches to create minor chords.|
|natural minor scale||discusses the theory and derivation of the natural minor scale from within the equal tempered system.|
|natural minor scale intervals||examines each of the intervals between the root and each scale degree.|
|natural minor scale degrees||examines each of the 7 pitches of the natural minor scale.|
|review minor colors||a scale syllabus for the minor colors plus the major colors within this text.|
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Edmund Burke