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  • I know that the relative minor of any major scale shares all the notes of that major scale.
  • I'm also aware that the concept of relative minor seems to be useful for the purpose of soloing and improvising.

However, the two sentences above don't seem to go together. If using a relative minor of a major scale gives us exactly the same notes as we would have had if we had simply used the major scale itself, then what exactly do we gain?

  • Not sure about your second bullet point. – Tim Jun 28 '17 at 15:26
  • I haven't heard that it's helpful to think about the relative minor when soloing over a major scale. Is there something you can cite with this advice? The only way I can see this being helpful is if the soloist doesn't know the major scales or has only learned licks in the context of minor scales. – jdjazz Jun 28 '17 at 16:21
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    It's just another tool in your tool kit. It can help for modulations, it can help for solos, it can help for chord progressions... lots of things. Do not ignore learning theory - it is the most helpful thing I have learned yet. It applies to (almost) every intrument – Kolob Canyon Jun 28 '17 at 19:00
  • A scale is much more than a featureless bag of notes.You wouldn't say that English and Italian are the same even though they use (almost) the same set of letters. In the same way, A minor (natural) is very different from C major because each note fulfills a different purpose in the two contexts. – Kilian Foth Jun 30 '17 at 6:27
  • Assuming you are improvising in a band, playing in the relative minor fits just fine and adds a "colour." I learned this trick early in my musical life and use it frequently. – Eric O Jul 6 '17 at 19:29
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You're nearly correct. The natural relative minor shares all those notes. There are other minors that don't.

The concept is that any piece has a 'home' sound. Generally, in a major piece, it sounds at home - at rest - at the point where the root chord/harmonies get played.

So, considering that fact, if the piece was purposely written in the relative minor instead, 'home' would feel to be, as I said, where the root/harmony is at that point.

A piece in C will sound at home on C. In Am, it will be there on Am.

That's one reason why the harmonic minor came about - sharpening the leading note to push better to the root.

You should also consider modes, which use those same seven notes you have in the major scale, but use another, different one as 'home'. Dorian uses the second scale degree/note, and pieces written in Dorian sound minorish, but come home on that second note. Think Irish folk songs as some examples. Check out Mixolydian mode - another folky way to play - neither major or its relative minor, albeit still using the same old seven notes.

  • As a player, knowing the relative major/minor scales sort of cuts in half the number of scale patterns and key signatures you have to know. – Todd Wilcox Jun 28 '17 at 17:30
  • @ToddWilcox - there are three (not including jazz melodic) minor patterns to know. Being aware that the natural minor pattern is the same as the relative major eliminates one pattern, which is also the same as the descending classical melodic minor. So, yes, it cuts it exactly in half. However, I suspect that far more players think in absolute terms and learn each as a separate entity. As in Dorian mode is a completely different pattern from the parent major. It's not, though; it's the same pattern starting on note two...and key sigs for minor keys - a whole new can of worms. – Tim Jun 29 '17 at 7:56
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Knowing about relative major/minor is important for two reasons I can think of:

  1. The relative minor of a major key is a closely related key. Closely related meaning they both have the same key signatures. (Others have already pointed out the 6th and 7th scales degrees in the relative minor can be raised - or not - to form the various minor scales: natural, harmonic, and melodic. Except for the 6th and 7th which can be altered all the notes between the two scales are the same.

  2. Chord substitution. Sometimes you can substitute a major chord with its relative minor, and vice versa. You can substitute a minor chord with its relative major. In these relative chord relationships two of the three notes of the triad are the same.

You can see that the important aspect of the relative major/minor relationship is the many shared notes.

FWIW, there is also the parallel minor/major. This where the tonic stays the same, but you change the mode. So, A minor and A major are parallel keys. Depending on the treatment of the 6th and 7th scales degrees there will be only 1 to 3 notes different between parallel keys. And of course the shared tonic is what makes parallel keys closely related keys.

But, what is the real value in knowing these terms? I would say the value is understanding the structure of music. Songs and movements often change key to closely related keys - like the relative and parallel keys - and chord substitutions can be used to vary and develop musical ideas. If you know about these things you will have a deeper understanding of how a piece of music works.

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Minors also have almost every chord on every pitch is different. The Tonic and Sub-Dominant chords are minor where they are Major in the relative keys, the Dominant is also minor, assuming you do not raise the Leading Tone.

So even if you have exactly the same notes the fact that the tonal centers differ gives different harmony and in reality a different sound. You can clearly hear the difference between a piece in a minor key and a Major key.

Why would you not want to learn the theory behind their operation simply because the notes are in some superficial way the same?

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same notes different sequence w w h w w w h maj w h w w h w w thus diffent sound and as the previous post mentioned different tonic.

just like the modes of a part scale are the same but have different starting notes different tonics home whatever u want to call it

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Let's clarify the first point, major and minor keys do not share all the same notes. There are 3 types of minor scales and each holds different criteria to form.

E.g: G major/ E minor (ascending-descending)

G major G A B C D E F# G - G F# E D C B A G

E natural minor E F# G A B C D E - E D C B A G F# E

E harmonic minor E F# G A B C D# E - E D# C B A G F# E

E melodic minor E F# G A B C# D# E - E D C B A G F# E

Next point regarding usage of minor scale, most of the time the change of key is used to evoke a different mood as major key sounds more cheerful while minor key is more melancholy or 'middle East', depending on the form of minor scales.

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