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Minor Scale: 3 (or maybe 4?) kinds of sadness


ikon tetrachord

A scale consists of two tetrachords - for more information please go to our Major Scale section. Major scale is described as joyful, while minor scale represents the melancholic side of life. There are several forms of minor scales. All of them share an identical first section that by professionals is called minor tetrachord. We can identify it by a semitone between its 2nd and 3rd degree, as shown in the following examples:

moll tetrachord

So far we have said that scales consist of two tetrachords. Now we have to explain how scales officially accepted in the musical world are created. Available options are:

1 – AEOLIAN tetrachord (intervals: m2, M2, M2 )

aeolian tetrachord

2 – MINOR tetrachord (intervals: M2, m2, M2)

moll tetrachord3 – MAJOR tetrachord (intervals: M2, M2, m2)

major tetrachordBonus – HARMONIC tetrachord (intervals: m2, A2, m2)

harmonic tetrachord

This divergence is caused by SEMITONE considered the smallest of all musical intervals in the European tradition. It is actually the position of semitone in a tetrachord that defines what kind of tetrachord we are dealing with.

In the AEOLIAN tetrachord semitone can be found between the 1st and the 2nd degree.

In the MINOR tetrachord it is placed between the 2nd and the 3rd tetrachord degree.

In the MAJOR tetrachord, demitone is found between the 3rd and the 4th degree. 

Our bonus is called HARMONIC tetrachord. It is exceptional because it contains TWO semitones, so we could say it contains a semitone bonus :) Moreover, due to the fact that the distance between the first and the last tetrachord sound must be correct, it also contains augmented second (AND NOT minor third!) which we have already discussed in our entry on enharmonically equal intervals.

Tetrachords are used like bricks to build scales. However, as nothing on Earth can be that simple, and every building needs a foundation, we ought to follow certain rules:

 1. Key is defined by first tetrachord. To put it simple, in the major-minor system, the first tetrachord of a major scale is major tetrachord, while in case of a minor scale it will be minor tetrachord.

 2. Mode of a scale is defined by second tetrachord. Thus:

in minor Aeolian scale, second tetrachord is AEOLIAN

aeolian scaleIn minor Dorian scale, second tetrachord is a MAJOR tetrachord - it can easily be made by raising the 6th and the 7th degree of Aeolian scale

dorian scaleIn minor harmonic scale, second tetrachord is harmonic - here, only the 7th degree of Aeolian scale is raised

harmonic minor

in natural major scale, second tetrachord is a MAJOR tetrachord

natural major

in major scale with lowered 6th and 7th degree, second tetrachord is AEOLIAN

major 6 7in harmonic major scale, second tetrachord is harmonic

harmonic major

Besides, there exists the so called melodic minor scale. It means, while ascending it is Aeolian (i.e. natural) minor scale, and while descending it becomes Dorian minor scale. Therefore, we could say that the way too "joyful" sound of raised 6th and 7th degree is reduced to the standard "sadness: of natural (Aeolian) minor. Example:

melodic scaleThis is what tonality has achieved so far. We know many major and minor scales which make us feel confident and secure while exploring the world of sounds, even though music theory and ear training constantly surprise us with new challenges :)


Everybody can build a scale on the basis of any musical interval scheme. Also tetrachords can be used if put together in rare constellations :) Although the latter sometimes might prove more than challenging to our ears, it could as well result in some interesting discoveries. Try the combination of Aeolian tetrachord with harmonic tetrachord, or the other way round:) You can also build your own tetrachord or even a whole scale. To make it "work", try to remain within one octave. And what next? Building a scale is not the greatest of challenges. A truly difficult task is to use the created scale for writing of a piece of music which will contain only sounds of the scale we have created. It is definitely worth trying - in the end, one learns theory not to just "know" it, but to be able to put it into practice. For every musician a moment comes when they try to create something unique - why not to learn something new just "by the way"? :)