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Minor scales.


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#16 Bremmer

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Posted 18 January 2022 - 15:39

I remember trying to explain a few basic musical principles to my brother many years ago, who was playing guitar and singing.

He trained as an engineer and then went into computers, software, he is still at the top of his profession in the US and working for Bloomberg.

 

His most often asked question was 'why'.

 

I don't think I ever got through to him that in music theory you could probably spend many years trying to find the 'why' of quite a lot of things, completely missing out on the whole purpose which was to learn the 'language' so that you could use it in practice. You may just as well ask why a carrot is called a carrot and not a cauliflower in many instances. 

 

Major and minor. Well, composers have used both versions ( all versions of the minor ) for a very long time as well as various modal stuff, and if you just accept that the answer is 'because that's how it is' . It seems quite logical to me that the ( natural ) minor of each of the twelve major scales starts on the sixth note of that scale ( three semitones below the tonic )  and then uses the exact same notes as the major but the sound is 'sadder' due to the lowered third. That way anybody can work out chords, keys and be well on the way to understanding, possibly composing and also playing music. 

 

If you take the example of C major and A minor. If you had D as the relative minor, you would get a minor sounding scale, but with a tone between notes 5 and 6. The standard harmonic minor would then need the 6th lowering and the 7th raising, the melodic minor would need a raised 7th ascending, then cancelling out on the descent and the 6th lowered. Yes it would work, but not within the current 'rules' Likewise if you start on E, you have a minor third, but the fact that the second note is a semitone sort of means you are still aurally in C major. B also does the same thing, doesn't work, sort of pulls towards C, probably because it is the leading note of C. 


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#17 Bremmer

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Posted 18 January 2022 - 15:42

Thank you zwhe for your input and as you say scales could be constructed from any note but as music is very mathematical I do feel that there should be a mathematical connection between the 6th note of a major scale and the start note of its relative minor but I have tried everything and can find no connection so unless someone comes forward with an answer I must conclude that there is no connection and that it was a random choice by someone back in the mists of time.

I think the link is more an aural one, the two keys fit well together, I guess that's why composers have been using that link, modulating back and forth for centuries. 


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#18 agricola

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Posted 19 January 2022 - 12:58

Hello, I am just starting out in music theory and would be most grateful if someone can explain the following to me. I do know that a minor scale starts on the sixth note of its relative major / A minor starts on the A of C major / My question is why does it start on A and not another note. To you who know this may seem a silly question and the answer I am sure is obvious but I have looked at this for some time and cannot find an answer so thank you all in advance.

 

I would say that the reason why we find some scales work better than other is to do with the physics of sound; for example we all know that an octave sounds pleasant because there is a 2:1 ratio between the frequencies of the notes.  This is something we can all recognise aurally but can also be described mathematically, so the two ways of thinking are connected by the fact that humans like organisation better than chaos.

 

I have a book by Alexander Woods -- The Physics of Music, which answers many of the 'why' questions.  It was first published in 1944 and is still available but is not an easy read.  And understanding it  it has never helped me to play the piano better  :(


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#19 dorfmouse

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Posted 19 January 2022 - 13:54

While I can totally understand someone geeky wanting a precise mathematical answer, I am wondering if this question just can't be answered for instruments such as the piano. The notes are adjusted/tempered anyway to enable the instrument to play (more or less) in tune in any key. And favoured temperaments vary for many reasons pretty arcane to most learners.
Here is a table comparing the physical characteristics of the Just vs.a Tempered scale.
https://pages.mtu.ed...its/scales.html
Don't know if the numbers help OP in their quest!
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#20 ten left thumbs

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Posted 19 January 2022 - 14:48

Hello, I thank you all for your comments but none explain why.  Did someone some time ago just decide that the minor should start on the 6th note of the major or is there a mathematical reason for it, Music has a mathematical bent to it so I am sure that there is a solid reason for it otherwise why not decide that the minor should start on any other note of the major.

Hi there. I think you are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking why the minor starts on the 6th note of the major, instead ask why is was major and minor (and nor dorian and lydian) that dominated western art music. While major and minor didn't really dominate in folk music. 


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#21 Maizie

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Posted 19 January 2022 - 15:40

T = tone.  S= semi-tone.

Major scales go: T T S T T T S

Natural minor scales go: T S T T S T T

With equal temperament there are 12 notes in the octave.  To get a natural minor pattern with the same key signature as a given major pattern, the minor has to start on the sixth of the major.

So in essence it's caused by the way we've defined the scales, so the question becomes why do the major and natural minor scales have those patterns?


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#22 Arundodonuts

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Posted Yesterday, 13:12

Maizie says what I did but put it better.


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