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Scale Runners #2: Aeolian Scales

Updated on January 8, 2015

"Adagio for Strings" by Barber

Welcome back friends to another installment of Scale Runners. I know it's been a few days, but things have been a little busy. Nonetheless, I've still found some time to come on and continue this series, so let's get things going! Today we'll be taking a look at our second set of scales, the Aeolian Scales.


Aeolian , or as it might be more well known, Natural Minor, is our first Scale/Mode that's built off of Ionian (as most scales/modes will be from here on out). Aeolian is often said to be the "sad" sound of music, as there's been a fair amount of songs and pieces that were written in Minor Keys but came out sounding sad; one such example is the famous song "Adagio for Strings" by Samuel Barber.

"Slavonic Dance No. 7" by Antonin Dvorak

But, just like with Ionian, what is most commonly associated with Minor Keys aren't the only thing you're limited to (that is, just because you're writing Minor Key pieces doesn't mean you have to make that sad sound); take for example Antonin Dvorak's "Slavonic Dance No. 7 in C Minor", which doesn't sound sad at all, and in fact works itself up into quite a bombastic piece at times.

Just like with Ionian Mode, Aeolian has its own pattern of whole and half steps that will allow you to build the complete scale with little more than the root note. For Aeolian this pattern is as follows: - Whole Step - Half Step - Whole Step - Whole Step - Half Step - Whole Step - Whole Step - ; backwards this would be: - WS - WS - HS - WS - WS - HS - WS.

But wait! There's more! Another easy way to build any Aeolian Scale is to take an Ionian Scale and lower the 3rd, 6th, and 7th of that scale. So if you were to take C Major and lower it's 3rd to Eb, it's 6th to Ab and its 7th to Bb you'd get C Minor. Minor Keys are sometimes written with a lowercase letter such as what you'd see on the Circle of Fifths, a very useful chart for aiding with Ionian and Aeolian Key Signatures that I'll be discussing at the end of this Hub.

Relative and Parallel Keys

Something you should also know before we dive on in are the concepts of Relative and Parallel Keys. We say that two scales are Relative Keys if they share the same Key Signature. For example, C Major and A Minor: both share the same Key Signature in that they have no sharps or flats. So the question now is how do you tell these two scales apart? Simple: Just look at the notes that are used in the song! For instance, something that uses C Major will be built mainly off the notes in that scale (So C, D, E, F, G, A, and B), while something using A Minor will use A Minor notes mainly (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G).

Now we also say that two scales are Parallel Keys if they share the same root note. For instance, the above C Major and C Minor; They're Parallel Keys since they both share the same root of C. You don't have to use any careful techniques like with Relative Keys to tell the difference between C Major and C Minor, as they will sound different enough on their own and have different Key Signatures.

Alright, let's get down to running these Aeolian/Minor Scales! Keep in mind, the order that these scales are in will be different from the Ionian Hub; we'll still be starting with no sharps or flats and ascending from there, but the order that these scales are in are different from their Ionian cousins.


A Natural Minor

"Piano Concerto in A Minor" by Schuman

And here we have our first Natural Minor Scale. Like its Ionian cousin, C Major, there are no sharps and flats. While they may be Relative Keys, a trip up and down A Minor will definitely project a different color of sound than a trip up and down C Major. "Piano Concerto in A Minor" is a piece that, like the title says, uses A Minor.

^1 Tonic - A
^2 Supertonic - B
^3 Mediant - C
^4 Subdominant - D
^5 Dominant - E
^6 Submediant - F
^7 Subtonic - G
^8 Tonic - A

And that's the first of the Aeolian, or Natural Minor, scales. One down, a good handful more to go.

E Natural Minor

"Paranoid" by Black Sabbath

Next we have E Natural Minor, raising the sharps up to one. I should mention that just like with Ionain, these Aeolian Scales do increase in sharps and flats in the same order; so for sharps that would be F C G D A E B. A pretty rockin' song that is written in E Minor is "Paranoid" by Black Sabbath.

^1 Tonic - E
^2 Supertonic - F#
^3 Mediant - G
^4 Subdominant - A
^5 Dominant - B
^6 Submediant - C
^7 Subtonic - D
^8 Tonic - E

B Natural Minor

"Longer" by Dan Fogelberg

And now we're up to B Natural Minor, giving us two sharps: F and C. The song "Longer" by Dan Fogelberg is a song that was written B Minor.

^1 Tonic - B
^2 Supertonic - C#
^3 Mediant - D
^4 Subdominant - E
^5 Dominant - F#
^6 Submediant - G
^7 Subtonic - A
^8 Tonic - B

F# Natural Minor

"Piano Concerto No. 23" by Motzart

Now we are onto F# Natural Minor. Hopefully by now you can hear how Minor can give off a different color than Major, even though we can have Parallel and Relative Keys. Though Motzart's "Piano Concerto No. 23" is written mainly in A Major, the second movement is written in F# Minor.

^1 Tonic - F#
^2 Supertonic - G#
^3 Mediant - A
^4 Subdominant - B
^5 Dominant - C#
^6 Submediant - D
^7 Subtonic - E
^8 Tonic - F#

C# Natural Minor

"Moonlight Sonata, 1st Movement" by Beethoven

And now we have C# Natural Minor. Apparently after Beethoven used this song in his famous "Piano Sonata No. 14", or as it's now known "Moonlight Sonata", it became more popular for composers to write songs for piano in this key. Beethoven even ended up using this scale again in his "String Quartet No. 14". Perhaps I should experiment with this myself, since "Moonlight Sonata" is one of my more favored piano pieces.

^1 Tonic - C#
^2 Supertonic - D#
^3 Mediant - E
^4 Subdominant -F#
^5 Dominant - G#
^6 Submediant - A
^7 Subtonic - B
^8 Tonic - C#

G# Natural Minor

"Poker Face" by Lady Gaga

G# Natural Minor is next on the list, giving us five sharps, much like its Relative Key B Major. A pretty catchy song utilizing G# Minor is "Poker Face" by Lady GaGa.

^1 Tonic - G#
^2 Supertonic -A#
^3 Mediant - B
^4 Subdominant -C#
^5 Dominant - D#
^6 Submediant - E
^7 Subtonic - F#
^8 Tonic - G#

D# Natural Minor

Second to last for the sharp-using Natural Minor keys, D# Natural Minor brings the sharp counter up to six. Perhaps one of the more well-known songs that were written in D# Natural Minor is Alexander Scriabin's skillful "Etude Op. 8 No. 12".

^1 Tonic - D#
^2 Supertonic - E#
^3 Mediant - F#
^4 Subdominant -G#
^5 Dominant - A#
^6 Submediant - B
^7 Subtonic - C#
^8 Tonic - D#

A# Natural Minor

"Nu Metal Jam Track" by Mango Jamz

And finally we arrive at A# Natural Minor, the last of the Natural Minor scales that utilize sharps. Bringing the total all the way up to seven, this means that much like it's Major Relative Cousin C# Major all notes are played a half step higher. It seems like A# Minor is not used all that often,and thus finding an actual song written in A# Minor proved difficult. But this "Nu Metal Guitar Backing Track" was written in the key we needed.

^1 Tonic - A#
^2 Supertonic -B#
^3 Mediant - C#
^4 Subdominant -D#
^5 Dominant - E#
^6 Submediant - F#
^7 Subtonic - G#
^8 Tonic -A#

And that brings us to the end of the Natural Minor Scales that utilize sharps. Now we move on to those that utilize flats. Don't get tired now, we're halfway there!

D Natural Minor

"Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" by Bach

Our first Natural Minor scale with flats is D Natural Minor, and of course starts things off easy by giving us only one flat at B. A famous piece using D Minor is the "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" by Bach.

^1 Tonic - D
^2 Supertonic - E
^3 Mediant - F
^4 Subdominant - G
^5 Dominant - A
^6 Submediant - Bb
^7 Subtonic - C
^8 Tonic - D

And that brings us to the end of this first scale. Not too bad now eh? Let's keep up the pace.

G Natural Minor

"Hungarian Dance No. 5" by Brahms

G Natural Minor is next, giving us two flats at B and E. Johannes Brahms used the G Minor in his "Hungarian Dance No. 5".

^1 Tonic - G
^2 Supertonic - A
^3 Mediant - Bb
^4 Subdominant - C
^5 Dominant - D
^6 Submediant - Eb
^7 Subtonic - F
^8 Tonic - G

C Natural Minor

"Clarinet Concerto, Op 31 I - Allegro Vigoroso" by Finzi

The next scale we have is C Natural Minor. A piece that I've really grown to like, and as a consequence getting me more interested in writing in this scale, is Finzi's Clarinet Concerto, which to me begins as a rather striking and emotional piece.

^1 Tonic - C
^2 Supertonic - D
^3 Mediant - Eb
^4 Subdominant -F
^5 Dominant - G
^6 Submediant - Ab
^7 Subtonic - Bb
^8 Tonic - C

F Natural Minor

"Fantasie in F Minor, Op. 49" by Chopin

F Natural Minor is next, giving us four flats and the nice arrangement of BEAD, much like Relative cousin, A Major. Chopin's "Fantasie in F Minor Op. 49" puts the F Minor scale to use.

^1 Tonic - F
^2 Supertonic - G
^3 Mediant - Ab
^4 Subdominant - Bb
^5 Dominant - C
^6 Submediant - Db
^7 Subtonic - Eb
^8 Tonic -F

Bb Natural Minor

"Symphony No. 4, Movement I" by Tchaikovsky

Next up is Bb Natural Minor, or as it's been called by some, the "Dark Key", as some songs can make this Scale sound rather dark such as Tchaikovsky's "Symphony No. 4".

^1 Tonic - Bb
^2 Supertonic - C
^3 Mediant - Db
^4 Subdominant - Eb
^5 Dominant - F
^6 Submediant - Gb
^7 Subtonic - Ab
^8 Tonic -Bb

Eb Natural Minor

"Superstition" by Steve Wonder

Eb Natural Minor is the second to the last of the Natural Minor scales that utilize flats, containing six flats (So that would be B E A D G and C). A pretty neat song that uses the Eb Minor is Steve Wonder's "Superstition".

^1 Tonic - Eb
^2 Supertonic - F
^3 Mediant - Gb
^4 Subdominant - Ab
^5 Dominant - Bb
^6 Submediant - Cb
^7 Subtonic - Db
^8 Tonic - Eb

Ab Natural Minor

"9th Symphony, Movement I" by Maher

And finally, we arrive at the end of not only the flat scales, but also the Natural Minor, or again as they're called, Aeolian: Ab Natural Minor. Maher's "9th Symphony" is a piece that uses Ab Minor, however I'll just link the first movement of this piece.

^1 Tonic - Ab
^2 Supertonic - Bb
^3 Mediant - Cb
^4 Subdominant -Db
^5 Dominant - Eb
^6 Submediant - Fb
^7 Subtonic - Gb
^8 Tonic -Ab

Aeolian Scales: Ran!

Alright! We've crossed the finish line and ran all of the Aeolian Scales! Good work. I hope this has been an intriguing little run for you. But before we wrap up this hub, let me take a look at something I referenced early in this hub: The Circle of Fifths.

The Circle of Fifths

The Circle of Fifths
The Circle of Fifths | Source

The Circle of Fifths is a handy chart that can help you quickly reference not only all of the Ionian and Aeolian scales, but also their relation to each other as well as how many sharps or flats they have. Though, this diagram seems to be off, as it is missing C# and Cb, as well as their Relative Minor Keys A# and Ab. This is most likely due to the fact that Db & C#, bb & a#, B & Cb, and g# & ab are Enharmonic, meaning they both sound exactly the same. But still, even if it is missing those Enharmonic Keys, this is a very useful diagram; I myself have my own hand drawn Circle of Fifths that I reference while making music and have used it time and again while doing these articles. If you're wondering wherethe name comes from, each Key on the outside and inner circle are a fifth apart from each other.

And of course, we've provided for you a handy YouTube video that showcases all of the Aeolian Scales, played in the order that they appear in on this hub. And that will bring us to the end of this Hub. Be sure to join us for the next symphonic installment of Scale Runners when we start looking at one of the more interesting Scales: The Phyrigian! See you in the next chapter.

Other Hubs in the Scale Runners Series

Scale Runners #0: Introduction to Scales
Scale Runners #1: Ionian/Major Scales
Scale Runners #2: Aeolian/Natural Minor Scales (You are here!)


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