How to Play Minor Scales on the Piano

Lisa Witt  /  Scales and Keys / Aug 11

Scales give us the tools we need to create beautiful sounds on the piano. But it can be hard to know HOW to play minor scales and make them sound good!

This lesson was requested by one of our very own Pianote members! Thank you, Archita, for getting us excited about playing these beautiful, hypnotic sounds!

Today, we’ll learn how to build a dreamy piece using harmonic and melodic minor scales.

This lesson will familiarize you with how to play minor scales and get you creating some truly beautiful sounds.

To keep things simple, we’ll stick to the key of A minor.

It’s the relative minor of C major, which means its natural scale doesn’t have any sharps or flats.

But as you’ll see, we’re going to look beyond the natural scale today to explore the harmonic and melodic minor scales.

Let’s dive in!

The Left Hand Motif

First, let’s establish some rhythm by playing a repeating left-hand motif. We’ll steadily rock between A and E-A. This pattern is based on the A minor root chord (A-C-E).

If your hands are small, don’t worry! Here’s a secret: Press down the sustain pedal and gently float between the keys. You can then let go of the lowest A when you play the E-A.

The Right Hand Harmonic Minor Scale

Once you’re comfortable playing the left hand motif, play the A minor harmonic scale over it. The order of the notes doesn’t matter. Play around!

As a refresher, these are the notes of the default A minor natural scale:


In the A minor harmonic scale, we raise the 7th note, turning G into G#:


(Want to know why there are different types of minor scales? Check out this lesson for details!)

Explore the top end of the scale (like E-G#-A), especially the G#.

The G# is what makes the A minor harmonic scale so special. It really adds tension to the scale, and sounds beautiful when you resolve the G# back to A.

The Right Hand Melodic Minor Scale

Next, let’s try doing the same thing with the A minor melodic scale. In this scale, we raise the 6th and 7th notes going up:


…And lower (un-sharp) the 6th and 7th notes coming back down:


In other words, the melodic minor scale goes back to being a natural scale on the way down.

Play the A minor melodic scale over your left hand. Try varying your rhythm and the order of the notes.

There is no right or wrong way to experiment and explore!

Add a Second Left Hand Motif

Now let’s make things a little more interesting by adding a second motif in our left hand: F and C-F.

This pattern contrasts nicely with our A and C-E motif.

Then, continue playing harmonic minor notes and melodic minor notes with your right hand. Once again, have fun and experiment.

Once you’re comfortable with A minor, you can try this exercise in other minor keys too.

I hope this little exercise in hypnotic minor keys is both fun and educational! Thanks again to Archita for requesting this topic.

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 19 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others.

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