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As part of a music course, we have to compose a 3 minute long piece based on a river's journey. Having finished the composition, we now have to write a set of sleeve notes - basically an analysis and commentary of our individual piece.

This is going to seem really stupid, but my situation is this: My piece sounds as though it is in A minor, but there is no G sharp accidental at all in the music, only G naturals (although they are rare in my piece). Does this mean that it is in C major? (There are no other sharps or flats) Or can I say it is in A minor?

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    If a minor doesn't have any accidentals, then it's parents get a discount on car insurance. – Adam Davis Mar 12 '15 at 19:32
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    Since you mocked (in the sense of good fun) the lowercase... perhaps I should point out that you want "its", not "it's". :) – The Count Dec 23 '18 at 0:18
  • a minor has a g sharp – Maika Sakuranomiya Feb 12 at 11:24
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The fact that you are in A minor without G# (or F# and G#) means that you are in A natural minor. What defines a scale as minor or major, is the third of the scale, not the accidentals. If you have A as the root of your scale and the third is a C, then the scale is a minor one.

There are 3 different types of minor scales:

  • A harmonic minor (it has G#)
  • A melodic minor (it has F# and G# ascending and all naturals descending; in Jazz, both the ascending and the descending versions have F# and G#)
  • A natural minor (no accidentals).

You have chosen the last one. It might not have any accidentals, but it is a minor scale nonetheless. On the piano, the A natural minor scale includes only the white keys (all of them).

The natural minor scale is like the Aeolian mode. It's like playing the C major scale, but starting from A instead of C.

The steps for the natural minor scale are W, H, W, W, H, W, W (where W=Whole and H=Half).

You can read more on the natural minor scale on Wikipedia.

Also, you can read about the differences between the minor scales here:

  • Solid answer, but melodic SOMETIMES has F# and G#. Other times it could have NO #s.Unless it's used in a jazz situation. – Tim Mar 12 '15 at 13:57
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    @Tim are you referring to the ascending and descending melodic? (not in jazz) – Shevliaskovic Mar 12 '15 at 13:59
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    @hutton_thebeach I have an important distinction to make, especially since this is for school. The description you give describes a piece that is Modal, as compared to Functional Minor. Functional harmony employees the G# you mention as a leading tone. When such a modification is not used, the piece is consider to be in the Aeolian Mode. As far as the scale descriptions are concerned, this answer is accurate, though Tim's point should be included. My answer to this question describes modality a little music.stackexchange.com/questions/11358/… – Basstickler Mar 12 '15 at 14:14
  • @Shevliaskovic - yes, the old Classical. – Tim Mar 12 '15 at 16:00
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It is very typical for the key of A minor to have the G# leading tone, which helps to add tension to the V (E) chord, and brings a clear resolution to the tonic (A). However, even if only G-natural is used, if your listener still feels a sense that A is the tonic, i.e., the piece revolves around A, then that would make a safe argument that the piece is indeed in A minor.

Furthermore, if it revolves around A, then there is no argument that it is in C. For a piece to be in a certain key, it needs to exhibit a sense that the first pitch of the key (the tonic), is the home, or center, of the piece. Examples of ways a piece revolves around a tonic are the final chord of the piece being the tonic chord, frequent pauses on the tonic chord at the end of phrases (i.e., cadences), etc.

Arguably, you could say that your piece is modal, and not tonal, since you're not using the leading-tone (G#) for voice leading and tension towards the tonic. But even if it's labeled modal, it should still be emphasized in your notes that it revolves around A (if that is truly the case).

A good example of a song that does this is "Smokin' Gun" by Robert Cray. He doesn't use the major V chord in his progression, but clearly the song is still in a minor key (Em).

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When you write the analysis, mention your knowledge of melodic and harmonic scales, and your decision to use the natural minor scale instead. Discuss whether the lack of a strong dominant>tonic structure including the G# leading note allows it to be in a "key". And make sure the piece IS melodically centered on A. That should cover any possible criticisms. If after that, you're marked down for not strictly being in A minor, find a better school!

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If your piece focuses on notes "A" and "E" rather than "C" and "G", then you are in A natural minor. In other words, "A" and "E" represent "home base": the song tends to resolve to these notes, target them, land on them and stay there, etc.

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Contemporary music uses the natural minor form basically as a scale on its own but in traditional harmony at least the natural minor form is only used when the melodic minor goes down after going up. (The sharpened sixth and seventh scale degrees then going natural when going down.)

You may want to investigate whether this non traditional use of the natural minor form is something your college would consider good. I'm sure Berklee would have different views on how correct that is than what may be the case at Julliard.

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