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When to use Relative Scales

Question by Abhishek

I know about relative scales, i.e. in the major scale, the 6th interval becomes the relative minor and, in the minor scale, the minor third interval becomes the relative major scale.

But the thing is I don't know where to use them or how to use them. Can you please tell me?

Thanks in advance :) have a great day :)


Hi Abhishek!

In the context of scales, the first thing to remember is that the relative minor/major scales use exactly the same notes.

C major (C D E F G A B) = A minor (A B C D E F G)
E major (E F# G# A B C# D#) = C# minor (C# D# E F# G# A B)
G major (G A B C D E F#) = E minor (E F# G A B C D)


As you mentioned, all you're doing when playing the relative minor scale pattern is playing the major scale from its 6th degree.

Therefore, if you're playing over a C major chord or progression using the relative A natural minor scale, it will sound like C major.

The below exercise will clarify this. I'm playing the A minor scale in straight sequence over a C major chord.

Click to hear

Similarly, if you're playing over an A minor chord or progression, using the relative C major/Ionian will sound like A minor.

Click to hear

It's the backing chords (or even just a simple bass note) that give your relative scales a major or minor tonal centre.

It's far more useful to think in terms of "do I need/want to play a major or minor scale?" rather than "which relative scale should I play?"

If you're playing over the following chord progression:

Cm / F#m / Gm

You might choose C minor pentatonic to open your solo.

In the back of your mind, you know that Eb major pentatonic is the relative major of C minor, but this becomes irrelevant, because playing Eb major will just sound like C minor because that's the key of the progression!

In terms of scales, relative major/minor is only really useful for visualising patterns in different positions.

Using the above example again, I might see Eb major merely as an extension of the C minor root pattern.

But it would be wrong to say I'm playing Eb major... that's just the name of the pattern, not the scale. The scale is dictated by the backing progression, key or chord root.

Relative major/minor is more relevant as a musical concept when thinking about things like relative key changes (e.g. moving from a C major tonic to A minor tonic).

When it comes to scales, relative major/minor is just a visualisation "trick", which allows you to play the exact same scale in a different position (e.g. major in its 6th degree position or minor in its 3rd degree position).

I hope that helps. If you need more clarification, please use the comments link below. Cheers.

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Thank You so much :)
By: Abhishek

Okay now i get it ! C major 6th degree (mode) is minor (Aeleon) !!so A minor is a cmajor scale starting with A !! Wow its very clear noww !! thankkk youuu so muchhh ! :)

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