3 Minor Scale Patterns on the Piano

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Learn to play the 3 minor scale patterns easily in this piano lesson tutorial for beginners. No note reading required!

Learn the 3 Minor Scale Patterns

In this piano lesson tutorial you'll learn an easy way to play the 3 minor scale patterns.

Using a major scale as our template, you'll learn the changes you need to do for it to turn into minor and you'll be able to see and understand the differences between the natural, harmonic and melodic minor scales.

We'll only use scales that share the same fingering, and play just one octave with both hands but separate, so that'll be easy to learn, and to remember.

Let's get started!

TIP: As you continue to learn piano it's a good idea to get a great piano scale, chords and arpeggios technique book like this one: Basic Book of Scales Chords and Arpeggios.

Using The Major Scale as a Template

3 Minor Scale Patterns for the Piano

As you might know, scales are notes organized from lowest to highest with different distances, or Intervals, apart.

These intervals are what creates the different characters of scales. Major, minor, modal or any kind of scale.

The major scale is just one pattern of several, but it's really easy to learn.

And once you've learned it, there's no need really to learn all the patterns of the minor scales, since you can use the major scale as a template and make just small alterations.

This formula is what I will teach you today. But first, let's review some basics.

The Major Scale Pattern

I have written more about major scales here, but for this lesson, I'll just remind you how the major scale is built.

Then we'll use it to make 3 types of minor scales with a formula that's easy to remember. Another advantage here is that the fingering stays the same!

The pattern of a major scale is built with half and whole steps. A half step or semitone is the smallest distance from one key to the next on a piano (black or white). Two half steps is a whole step. 

Starting from the lowest note, (the note that gives the name to the scale), it follows a series of steps like this:


Piano keyboard with whole and half steps.

When you know the major scale pattern, you can play a major scale from any key on the piano. This is the only pattern you actually need to memorize since you'll learn the formula for minor scales below!

Piano Scale Fingering

The piano scale fingering we'll use in this exercise is a basic fingering used in all major and minor scales.

Fingers 1-2-3 and 1-2-3-4 are the two finger-groups we'll use in all the scales, both major and minor.

Finger number 5 is used as a "stop" and "turn" finger. Since we'll only play one-octave scales you will be using it. For more octaves all over the piano, you'll only play the 5th finger when the scale stops or turns.

Here are the finger numbers:

Hands on keyboard showing finger numbers.

Turning a Major Scale to a Minor Scale

Follow the steps below to learn the formula for turning the major scale to a minor scale:

Step 1

Review a C major scale in one octave, ascending and descending. Practice each hand separately.

Right-hand fingering:

Left-hand fingering:

Step 2

Number each step in the scale from the lowest 1 to the highest 7. The last step is the same key as we started but an octave higher, (in this case C), so it counts as 1 again.

Step 4

Now, memorize this simple formula: (367, 36, 3)

  • Natural Minor: Lower steps 3,6,7
  • Harmonic Minor: Lower steps 3,6
  • Melodic Minor: Lower step 3 only when ascending. When descending it's the same as the Natural Minor above, 3 6 7.

Let's practice!

Natural Minor. Steps 3, 6 and 7 lowered, right-hand fingering:

Natural Minor. Steps 3, 6 and 7 lowered, left-hand fingering:

Harmonic Minor. Steps 3 and 6 lowered, right hand:

Harmonic Minor. Steps 3 and 6 lowered, left hand:

Melodic Minor. Steps 3 lowered, right hand ascending:

Melodic Minor. Steps 3, 6 and 7 lowered, right hand descending:

Same as Natural Minor above.

Melodic Minor. Steps 3 lowered, left hand ascending:

Melodic Minor. Steps 3, 6 and 7 lowered, left hand descending:

Same as Natural Minor above.

Step 5

Do exactly the same with the G, D, A and E major scales. Same formula and same fingering!

I hope you liked this easy method to learn the 3 minor scale patterns by playing them in this way!

I chose to use only scales starting from a white key to make this easier for beginners, but if you're ready to learn the correct fingering for all minor scale patterns, also starting from a black key, make sure to check out these lessons here:

These lessons have piano scale charts for all minor scales so it's easy to see and use for beginners.

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