# Theory: How to tell major, minor, melodi, harmonic, natural apart

I'm currently learning theory and need some help. I can't necessarily tell apart Major and Minor scales (from the key signature and the scales) nor can I tell the harmonic form. I remember my teacher telling me that the major scales have no accidentals, and the minors and harmonic do, but I do not know how to tell if a scale is minor in natural or harmonic form.

• Telling them apart when your hear them is much more important than when you look at them on paper, IMHO.
– user19146
Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 18:47
• @alephzero This is theory, so it's all on paper. I will not have a piano during the test. Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 23:54

Firstly, from the key sig. Each and every major scale/key has a relative minor that uses the same notes, exactly. That's the natural minor. So, from the key sig. itself on the sheet, with 3#, it's either A major, or F# minor. Bb major or G minor has 2 bs. And so on.

From the sound of the scale, the third note is the defining one. It's either a major third or a minor third, slightly lower.

Let's now look at the melodic minor. Same first 5 notes as the harmonic and natural minor scales, but the notes 6 and 7 are the same as the parallel major. The parallel scales are those with the same letter names - C major/C minor; D major/ D minor, etc.

And now, the harmonic minor. That has the same notes as the natural with only the 7th note raised, to give a leading note just one semitone away from the root. That's done to sound more convincing than having a 7th scale degree like the one in the natural minor.

So, in summation - the natural minor has the same notes as the relative major. The harmonic minor has the same notes with just a sharpened 7th note - an accidental. The melodic minor has sharpened 6th and 7th notes, so two accidentals.

There are two melodic minors - jazzers use the same notes as the classical one (which I described) most of the time, whereas the classical melodic scale is as stated ascending, but it reverts to the natural minor notes descending. Confusing? I think so!

• I agree it's very confusing but I also have another question what is a parallel scale? It's on my worksheet too. Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 16:34
• Edited to explain.
– Tim
Commented Aug 11, 2018 at 16:45
• Ooooh, @Tim, you did the thing that is a pet peeve of mine that I drill into my theory students not to do! The 6th and 7th notes of harmonic and melodic minor scales are not sharpened. They are raised a half step! Therefore, in flat minor scales, those notes will become natural. The accidentals that show up in minor are not necessarily sharps. You could have both be naturals. Or, as in the case of D minor, one natural and one sharp. Commented Aug 12, 2018 at 9:52
• @HeatherS. - I find myself suitably chastised ! They are sharper than they were, but it's a good point raised (just like the notes!). I'll leave the text as is for now, but being a pedant myself, I'd say you're spot on! Thanks.
– Tim
Commented Aug 12, 2018 at 10:31