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I came across this sentence, reading A Theory of Harmony, John Stainer, P 9 item 27:

The scale of a relative minor consists of the same notes as that of its relative major, with one exception, namely, the seventh degree (the fifth of its relative major) which is raised one semitone.

This seems to imply that a major scale's relative minor doesn't share its notes.

  1. A minor is the relative minor of C major.
  2. The fifth degree of C major is G.
  3. By 1. and 2., with the statement above the seventh degree of A minor is G#.

It seems I'm misunderstanding the above quote/musical terms. Can someone here clarify its meaning for me? Or was this statement just a bloop?

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He is referring to the harmonic minor scale.

Each minor scale has three variations:

  • The Natural Minor - the exact notes of the relative major:

C Major: CDEFGABC

A Minor: ABCDEFGA

  • The Harmonic Minor - Used for harmony in Western Classical, as it better implies a resolution from the V - I, since it involves the leading tone, which has a tendency to resolve to the tonic.

C Major: CDEFGABC

A Minor: ABCDEF G# A

  • The Melodic Minor - Used for melodic motion in Western Classical; often used in Jazz. The 6th and 7th are raised on the way up, and then both lowered on the way down.

C Major: CDEFGABCBAGFDEC

A Minor: ABCDE F#G# A GF EDCBA

So while yes, the minor does share the notes of it's relative major key, we often alter them to please our ear :)

  • 2
    The harmonic and melodic minor are equally common in "Classical" music, they are just used in different contexts. The harmonic minor form is used very often when constructing harmonies (primarily for V and viio chords) but it is rather rarely used in melodies due to the augmented 2nd. Melodic minor is generally used for melodic motion (hence the different versions for upward and downward versions). The melodic minor is quite rare in harmonies. This is where they get their names in fact. They are constructs used to describe the 6th and 7th degrees in minor-key music. – Pat Muchmore Aug 16 '14 at 22:56
  • In jazz and rock music, they are often used in a freer fashion as scales in their own right that can be modally rotated etc. – Pat Muchmore Aug 16 '14 at 22:57
  • I thought that the harmonic minor wasn't really used in Western Classical, due to the Devil's interval – Shevliaskovic Aug 17 '14 at 11:43
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    @Shevliaskovic The harmonic minor is used in harmonic construction in minor keys all the time, it was just generally avoided as a melodic structure (although you'll see it plenty often in Beethoven and in later Romantic era composers). "Devil's Interval" refers to the tritone (augmented 4 or dim 5) so that never had anything to do with its melodic avoidance, it's the augmented second between scale degrees 6 and 7 that they preferred to avoid. Hence the melodic minor for melody building. – Pat Muchmore Aug 17 '14 at 12:32
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In common-practice music the seventh scale degree is usually raised, but not always. It's raised when it's part of a V or viio chord, and often during rising melodic lines. It is usually back to its natural minor state however in III chords and i7 chords and generally during descending melodic lines. The sixth degree also sometimes get raised in minor.

In modal music, where the relative minor is Aeolian, these notes are generally not raised, and thus the relative key shares notes with its major completely. The only difference here is in what note is treated like a tonic.

A more accurate way to make the statement that you're asking about is that a major key and its relative minor share a key signature, but that the minor has an altered seventh (and sixth) scale degree relatively often.

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