Introduction: How to Master Minor Key Signatures in One Easy Lesson

We often hear about and learn our Major Key Signatures and scales first when we start learning the piano.

We sometimes hear about Minor Keys but won't start learning those until we've mastered our Major Keys or at least most of them, first.

Why is it important to know your Minor Key Signatures?

Sometimes when we look at a piece and see that the key signature has 2 sharps in it, we usually think that we're playing in the key of D Major, which has F# & C# in it.

But guess what?! There is a Minor Key Signature that also has those same sharps in it. This is the key of B Minor. So, your piece might be in the key of D Major, or it could be in the key of B Minor.

Every Major Key has a Relative Minor Key that shares the exact same key signature. If you only know your major keys, you will have a limited amount of music that you'll be able to play on the piano. This is why you want to learn your Minor Key Signatures and this lesson will teach you an easy way to learn them all!

Let's start with a quick review of key signatures in Step 1.

Step 1: Review of Key Signatures

Make sure that you are up to speed on your Major Key signatures at this point, so you'll understand how we move through the Minor Key Signatures easier.

  • The Key Signature of a piece tells us what notes are sharp or flat and what the tonal center of the piece is. The key signature is one of the first things that you should look at when you are starting a new piece so you'll know the right notes to play on your keyboard.
  • Every Major Key has a relative Minor Key that shares the same key signature. If you remember our last lesson went over the Circle of Fifths and in the chart used in that lesson, you can see each relative minor key on the inside of the circle next to its relative major key.
  • The Key Signature will tell you what key you are in and watch to see if that key changes any throughout the piece.

*Make sure you watch the video at the end of this lesson because I will take you through these 3 points on the keyboard.

Do you know how to find the Relative Minor of any Major Key signature? Let's find out next.

Step 2: How to Find the Relative Minor of Any Major Key

This formula will make it very easy for you to find the Relative Minor of any Major Key. Just do this:

Count down 1&1/2 half steps from the major note and you will land on the Minor Key note.

For example, you need to know what the relative minor of C Major is...just move down 1 1/2 half steps, including the C, and you land on A. A is the Relative Minor of C Major. It's that easy. Let's do one more.

What is the relative minor of G major? Remember the formula...move down 3 1/2 steps, or 1 & 1/2 half steps, and you land on what note...E, right? G, F#, F, to E. You can do this with every single note to find its relative minor.

This formula will Always Work!

Now there are some interesting things about minor scales that we need to talk about in the next step.

Before we go on, however, I want to really encourage you to learn your minor scales. Once you know them you won't have to refer to anything to know what the key signature is and how to play it on the piano.

Step 3: Different Types of Minor Scales

There are 3 different types of Minor Scales.

  1. Natural Minor scales are where the notes are played without any changes going up or down the scale. This is the "purest" form of the minor scale. It is just like playing the major scale but with different notes and a completely different sound.
  2. Harmonic Minor scales are where the next to the last note is moved up one 1/2 step to create a leading tone. Every major scale has a leading tone which is the next to the last note. Leading notes give us the feeling of being pulled into the very last note, giving a sense of finality. In contrast, the Natural Minor scale has no leading tone, which leaves that sense of finality from the leading tone, missing. The Harmonic Scale solves this issue when it's needed in composing.
  3. Melodic Minor scales are where the notes are different going up the scale than they are coming down the scale. This is the only type of minor scale where this happens, so it's easy to remember. Going up, the 6th and 7th notes are raised one 1/2 step each, but coming down, they are lowered again going back to the natural minor form of the scale.

Start with your Natural Minors as they are just like the Major Keys, just with different notes. Then go to your Harmonic Scales and don't forget to learn and practice your Melodic Scales as well, because you will find them in your music pieces.

Now let's take all of this to our keyboards so we can reinforce this lesson and maybe answer any questions you have!

Step 4: Come Practice With Me!

Again, make sure that you are comfortable with all of you major key signatures and review any that you need to by going through the playlist that I've included in the description area of this video.

By now you know that it's really pretty easy to find the minor key of any major key by simply going down 1 & 1/2 half steps from the major note.

And, you've been introduced to the 3 different types of minor scales and how to play them on the piano.

There is a very distinctive sound that minor keys have and especially each one of the different types of minor scales.

I go over each of them in this video as well as showing you on the keyboard how to count down from any major key note to find the relative minor. Watch this video several times as you go through playing each of the different types of minor scales so you can really get a good idea of what you're hearing and listening for in your own playing.

The next time you look at a key signature you're going to be able to tell really quickly whether it is in a minor or major key after mastering this lesson, plus you'll know your minor key signatures! This will open up a whole new level of music that you can now play on your piano.

Ready to practice with me?