Is the Natural Minor Scale a Mode of the Major Scale?

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Written By Gary Daws

Chief Music Officer

The natural minor scale, also known as the Aeolian mode, is a captivating topic in the world of music theory. It raises questions about its relationship with the major scale and its standing as a mode. This article explores these questions by considering the thoughts of various musicians and music enthusiasts on this topic, all while maintaining a relatable and authoritative tone.

The Natural Minor Scale and the Aeolian Mode

One of the most important concepts to understand is that the natural minor scale has the same notes as its major counterpart. Additionally, the natural minor scale is the Aeolian mode or the sixth mode. Understanding the natural minor scale as the relative minor scale helps clarify its connection to the major scale. For instance, the key signature of B-flat major has two flats (B-flat and E-flat), and the sixth mode of B-flat major, which is G natural minor, also has two flats.

The Major Scale as a Mode

An interesting aspect of music theory is that the major scale is also a mode. In fact, neither the Ionian mode (major scale) nor the Aeolian mode (natural minor scale) existed as members of the original eight church modes. This knowledge deepens the appreciation for the evolution of music theory.

The Role of Harmony in Modes

At first glance, one might assume that the natural minor scale can be considered a mode without any harmony. However, further exploration reveals that it is only the Aeolian mode when playing the parent major scale over a minor (or minor 7) chord. This insight underscores the importance of harmony in music theory.

Interchangeability and Minor Scale Variations

It is crucial to understand that the Aeolian mode is only interchangeable with the natural minor scale, not the harmonic or melodic minor scales. This distinction helps musicians and music enthusiasts alike grasp the subtle differences between various minor scales.

Semantics and Misunderstandings

Many misunderstandings about the relationship between the natural minor scale and the Aeolian mode stem from semantics. The Aeolian (natural minor) can be thought of as music starting from the 6th chord of the major scale or the 1st chord of the natural minor scale. It’s both. For many, it is more intuitive to think of a minor blues progression as 1,4,5 rather than 6,2,3.


In summary, the natural minor scale is indeed a mode of the major scale, specifically the Aeolian mode. It shares the same notes and key signature as its major counterpart, but it is essential to differentiate it from other minor scales like the harmonic and melodic minor scales. Understanding the relationship between the natural minor scale, the Aeolian mode, and the major scale is vital for grasping more advanced music theory concepts and exploring the rich world of harmony and composition.