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I've been playing some arpeggios on a guitar and eventually I set on three chords I've been repeating that sounded good to me. These chords were consisting of notes (from lowest to highest):

G F B♭ (no idea what the hell this is but it sounded good, G is the lowest note here)

F D A

E♭ C G

Together, they create a scale like that: C D E♭ F G A B♭, so it's almost C minor but with sixth degree raised half step. What is this scale? It's not harmonic minor which has the 7th degree raised, and it's not melodic minor which has both the 6th and 7th degree raised.

Is there any name for it?

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A minor scale with the raised sixth degree is called the Dorian scale. It is actually a mode of the diatonic scale, which is the same as starting the major scale from the second degree, or starting minor from the fourth degree.

As a sidenote, G F B♭ could be considered a G minor 7th chord without the fifth. The fifth can often be omitted since it's not "essential" to determining the quality of a chord.

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    Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian. – awe lotta Mar 11 at 14:26
  • Yeah I see it now. I forgot that it can be a modal scale, now I'm reminded of them and hopefully I will remember next time :) Thanks a lot for helping me! And yeah It'll be a G minor scale and as you said a G minor 7th chord without a fifth. Also thanks for editing my question. Case closed I guess. – oceanman Mar 11 at 14:32
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    I Don't Play Loud Music After Lunch. – Alan Mar 11 at 14:34
  • Good answer, +1. 3 chords will be Gm7, Dm and Cm - all from some sort of G key. – Tim Mar 11 at 15:08
  • I Don’t Play Like Mr Alan Limbrick. – Bob Broadley Mar 11 at 15:19
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To me the chords look like: Gm7 - F6 - E♭6 and it could continue for example like this: B♭/D - Cm7 - B♭maj7 - Am7 - D7

Translated into three-note combinations like in your question:

  • G - F - B♭ (Gm7)
  • F - D - A (F6)
  • E♭ - C - G (E♭6)
  • D - B♭ - F (B♭/D)
  • C - B♭ - E♭ (Cm7)
  • B♭ - A - D (B♭maj7)
  • A - G - C (Am7)
  • D - F♯ - C (D7)

The fifth is omitted from all chords except B♭/D.

The key and scale would be G minor. Except D7 has an F♯ note but that's just normal in minor, and Am7 would have E, but that's normal as well and it's left out anyway.

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...so it's almost C minor but with sixth degree raised half step

@awelotta's answer already points out the collection of tones is the Dorian mode.

But I think the more important thing that makes this almost minor - as in the key of C minor - is not the sixth degree but the seventh degree.

The general minor family is first defined by a mediant (3rd degree) of a minor third. The supertonic (2nd degree) and submediant (6th degree) are the other mode determining degrees. The minor modes include Dorian, Phrygian, Aeolian (skipping Locrian.) All three will share a subtonic (seventh degree a full step below tonic.) To get the music into a proper key of C minor the raised seventh degree is used.

You're playing...

G F B♭
F D A
E♭ C G

...that would be Cm: v7 ii6 i6 in Roman numerals.

The important thing is the dominant chord - v - is minor. It uses a B♭ instead of a B natural. That means the seventh degree is not raised for a leading tone. That is what really makes this not a minor key. It's modal instead. The sixth degree raised confirms Dorian mode. If the sixth was lowered, it would be Aeolian mode.

If the seventh was raised to B natural and the dominant chord then had a major third, it would then put the music into a proper minor key.

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  • My impression of the chords in the OP is that they're actually "Gm: i7 v6 iv6". – Dekkadeci Mar 11 at 16:04
  • Besides the OP listing tones starting on C and saying almost C minor, how would an Eb with a G tonic give a raised sixth? – Michael Curtis Mar 11 at 17:03
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    I'm not convinced the chords in the OP have a tonic of C. There's always at least a little ambiguity between C Dorian and G Aeolian, and I'm on the G Aeolian side. – Dekkadeci Mar 11 at 23:23
  • So you're stating that a minor key is only a minor key when there's the leading note one semitone under the root? I believe that the minor part is caused by the minor third interval from the root, nothing else. Dorian, Phrygian , Aeolian, harmonic and melodic are all considered as minor due to that fact. – Tim Mar 12 at 8:08
  • @Dekkadeci - with a G chord, a C chor and a D chord, all basic minr triads, i, iv and v, it's likely to be in key Gm, albeit using Bb notes, so it could be called C Dorian, but with i being G, it appears, would G Aeolian be a better label? Yes! – Tim Mar 12 at 8:14
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Not enough rep to comment, but to me (probably because I'm not a guitarist) F D A and E♭ C G are inversions of Dm and Cm respectively, making your chord progression I7 - V - IV in the key of G (natural) minor.

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  • Minors are usually written in lower case - i7, iv, v. This answer, to me, is a far more likely correct way to regard it all. +1. – Tim Mar 12 at 8:17
  • There isn't a key of natural minor. There isn't a dominant chord anywhere in the progression so we can at least say it isn't in a minor key. We would need to see more about the phrasing to really know what to call the tonic. – Michael Curtis Mar 12 at 16:16

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