What Are Relative Major And Minor Scales?

This is definitely something you should know. I always try to link any music theory idea with how it’s used in the real world of music. Some concepts are more useful than others and relative major and minor scales show up a lot. This video lesson explains what they are and how they are used in music.

You can create basslines and write your own music with this powerful tool. One cool thing about relative major and minor scales is that, if you know one scale already, you already know the other. Just shift position and play the same notes and you’ll have the other scale. Read on (or watch the video) for clarification…

Relative Major And Minor

Every major scale has a minor scale that contains exactly the same notes. C major contains the notes CDEFGABC and A natural minor contains ABCDEFGA. There are no sharps or flats and they contain the same key signature (ie. the same notes). For this reason, they are said to be relative.

There are 12 keys in music and each one has a relative scale. This chart shows them all. A relative minor has a relative major and vice versa.

Relative major and minor scales

To highlight this further, look at the following two diagrams and check out how the notes are exactly the same but they sound different.

Ab Major Pentatonic

Ab Major Pentatonic (relative scale of F Minor pentatonic)

F Minor Pentatonic

F minor pentatonic (relative scale of Ab Major)

How Is This Used?

These two scales sound different but are – as we’ve discovered – closely related. You will hear relative scales being used in many songs. Here are a couple of songs to listen to:

  • Comfortably Numb (the guitar solos go from relative major to minor later in the song)

  • Get Ready (the riff is minor and the chorus major)

Try messing around with the major and minor pentatonic shapes above and come up with a little riff or bassline and move between major and minor and back again. I demo this in the video.

Shortcuts

There are some cool shortcuts you can use on bass to find the relative major or minor. Make sure you use the correct one!

To Find The Relative Major

If you’re playing a minor scale and you want to find the relative major:

• Go up three frets on the same string or

• Go down two frets and down a string

The relative major is a minor third up from the minor.

How to find the relative major scale

To Find The Relative Minor

If you’re playing a major scale and you want to find the relative minor, do the opposite:

• Go down three frets on the same string or

• Go up two frets and up a string

The relative minor is a minor third down from the major.

How to find the relative minor scale

This is also a powerful way to learn the fretboard and start to make sense of the notes all the way across the bass neck.

Download the PDF: Relative Major & Minor Keys

Start making music with this immediately. Learn what key signatures are and memorise them for all 12 keys. Then you’ll know the notes of any major or natural minor scale. Then come up with lines and riffs going between the relative scales. Of course, you can change keys and mix and match keys and do all kinds of other things but those are stories for another time…