Does The Natural Minor Scale Have Modes?
Question by Matt
I'm trying to learn a little bit more about music and how it works and I'm just a little confused right now concerning the natural minor scale.
Basically, does it have its own modes as well? And if so, where exactly do scales stop having modes? Or are all other scales simply derived from a major scale? If you could clarify this confusion, I would greatly appreciate it! Thanks and have a nice day!
Natural Minor's Relative Modes
Matt, as you already know, the major scale has seven modes.
Now, because the 6th mode of the major scale, Aeolian, uses the same intervals as the natural minor scale, we can simply use the same mode names for natural minor that we do for the major scale.
The only difference is, we're starting from Aeolian instead of Ionian.
Modes of the major scale...
Ionian (I) / Dorian (ii) / Phrygian (iii) / Lydian (IV) / Mixolydian (V) / Aeolian (vi) / Locrian (vii)
Modes of the natural minor scale...
Aeolian (i) / Locrian (ii) / Ionian (III) / Dorian (iv) / Phrygian (v) / Lydian (VI) / Mixolydian (VII)
So it's not like you have to learn a completely new modal system for natural minor. All you need to do is learn the major scale and start the sequence from its 6th degree to get the natural minor/Aeolian key center.
Because of how natural minor is integrated into the major scale system, you'll rarely hear musicians refer to "modes of natural minor".
3 Scales, 21 Modes
The most commonly used modes in music can be derived from just three parent scales...
1) Major (which includes natural minor)
2) Harmonic Minor
Harmonic Minor (i)
Locrian #6 (ii°)
Ionian #5 (III)
Dorian #4 (iv)
Phrygian Dominant (V)
Lydian #2 (VI)
3) Melodic Minor
Melodic Minor (i)
Dorian b2 (ii)
Lydian #5 (III)
Lydian Dominant (IV)
Mixolydian b6 (V)
So theoretically you only have to learn three scales and you'll have 21 modes under your fingers
The challenge is getting confident with starting on the correct scale degree to get the mode you want.
For example, Phrygian Dominant is a commonly used major scale. As it's the 5th mode of harmonic minor, most players learn to see it as "harmonic minor starting on its 5th note".
Therefore, to get E Phrygian Dominant, we would play A harmonic minor.
For more help with this concept, see my lesson on deriving modes from parent scales here