Aeolian Scale vs. The Minor Scales | How to Leverage These Sad and Beautiful Sounds

Music has so much power over human emotions. Yet, frequently, songwriters are unsure how to pick notes and chords that effectively represent the sentiments in their lyrics.

The key to understanding how to do this well is through learning scales. If you are looking to invoke feelings of sadness and melancholy, then it's vital to understand minor scales and modes.

Aeolian Mode

Four main minor scales are popular among composers/songwriters. These four are:

  1. Aeolian Scale
  2. Natural Minor Scale
  3. Harmonic Minor Scale
  4. Melodic Minor Scale

This article will discuss all minor scales and how they relate to one another and are different.

You’ll know how to use the Minor Scales to connect with your audience by the end of this lesson.

Let’s get started!

The topic of Music Theory is vast and complicated. It doesn’t have to be complicated and I’ve created a resource that goes through everything you need to know to be a competent musician, songwriter, and producer. I would highly recommend checking out that article as a primer to the rest of this article and other theory posts I have on this site. It’s titled “The Ultimate Guide on Music Theory for Musicians Who Dislike Theory.

Aeolian Scale vs. Aeolian Mode

Suppose you have some familiarity with music theory. In that case, you might wonder what the distinction is between the Aeolian Mode and the Aeolian Scale.

The answer is: “nothing.”

It’s technically inaccurate to call a mode a scale. Still, I’ve found people find it easier to comprehend the idea of modes as a type of scale. We will discuss the relationship of the Aeolian Mode to the minor scales in a moment.

For more in-depth information on Modes of the Major Scale, please refer to my article “How Music Modes Enhance the Feelings in Your Song.

Is the Aeolian Scale a Minor Scale?

Yes. Because Aeolian’s third note is a minor third, it is a minor mode (or minor scale).

What is the Aeolian Mode?

The Aeolian Mode (or Aeolian Scale) is the sixth mode of the major scale. Its sound can be characterized as sad, haunting, and moody.

It’s the second most used mode in popular music behind the Ionian mode (the major scale).

The Aeolian mode is also popular in film music and is heard throughout many types of film genres.

What Major Scale Degree Does Aeolian Start On?

Aeolian begins on the sixth scale degree of the Major Scale.

For example, if you are playing the C Major Scale, you would count up six notes to A. If you made A the tonic note, you would be in A Aeolian.

C Major Scale is in green. The A Aeolian is in orange. Notice how they use the same notes, but have different intervals.

What Are the Minor Scale Intervals?

What gives a mode and the minor scale variations their distinct sonic flavor is the differing interval pattern. For example, here are all the minor scale intervals in comparison to the Major Scale.

IntervalC Major Scale NotesIntervalAeolian ModeIntervalNatural Minor ScaleIntervalHarmonic Minor ScaleIntervalMelodic Minor Scale
CAAAA
Whole StepDWhole StepBWhole StepBWhole StepBWhole StepB
Whole StepEHalf StepCHalf StepCHalf StepCHalf StepC
Half StepFWhole StepDWhole StepDWhole StepDWhole StepD
Whole StepGWhole StepEWhole StepEWhole StepEWhole StepE
Whole StepAHalf StepFHalf StepFHalf StepFWhole StepF#
Whole stepBWhole StepGWhole StepGMinor ThirdG#Whole StepG#
Half StepCWhole StepAWhole StepAHalf StepAHalf StepA

Aeolian Scale vs. The Natural Minor Scale

The Aeolian scale is the same thing as the Natural Minor Scale. When people discuss the minor scale, they frequently mean the Natural Minor Scale or the Aeolian Mode.

A Natural Minor Scale is derived from its related Major Scale and will share the same notes. Thus, the Natural Minor Scale is also known as the Relative Minor Scale.

For example, the Relative Minor of C Major would be A Minor.

The Natural Minor is the “default minor scale”; however, it is less harmonically stable than other minor scales.

A Aeolian Mode (Natural Minor Scale)

The Aeolian Scale vs. The Harmonic Minor Scale

The Aeolian scale is slightly different than the Harmonic Minor Scale. However, harmonic Minor Scales share the same notes as Aeolian (Natural Minor Scale), except a raised seventh degree.

A Harmonic Minor Scale

This gives the Harmonic Minor Scale a more middle-eastern vibe to melodies. This melodic sound is prevalent in Flamenco Music and pairs well with the Phrygian Mode.

The Harmonic Minor Scale is better for harmonically resolved chord progressions (it’s called harmonic for a reason). Because the raised seventh modifies the minor five chord of the Natural Harmonic Scale to a dominant seventh chord, the result is a perfect cadence, as you would find in the major scale.

First Section is A Aeolian. Second Portion is A Harmonic Minor. Listen to how each one resolves.

So if you are looking to create a more committed and satisfying harmony in your song, it would be good to try the Harmonic Minor instead of the Aeolian.

The Aeolian Scale vs. The Melodic Minor Scale

The Aeolian scale is different than the Melodic Minor Scale. Melodic Minor Scales take the Harmonic Minor scale one step further by raising the sixth and seventh scale degrees.

However, the Melodic Minor Scale is only played when ascending the melody. When descending the melody, you would play the notes in the Natural Minor Scale (Aeolian Mode).

The Melodic Minor Scale was developed to fix the large interval gap in the Harmonic Minor’s raised seventh. The raised sixth gives it a smoother melody in comparison to the harmonic minor. However, the chords created with the Melodic Minor are more clunky (We have examples later in the post).

The Melodic Minor Scale is rare for modern popular songwriting and is generally found in jazz music. Some may even call this a jazz scale.

The Melodic Minor is also simply a Major Scale, but with a minor third.

A Melodic Minor Scale

Can You Alternate Between Different Minor Scales in Your Songwriting?

Yes. Many songs often alternate between different minor scales. Sometimes these changes happen in the same melodic phrases. This is what makes the minor scale unique and flexible.

How to Play the Aeolian Mode

Now that we understand the differences between the minor scales and the basic music theory behind them let’s look at how we can implement them into our songwriting.

Starting with Chord Progressions

I find it’s easiest to start with chords when getting a feel for the difference in minor scales and modes. Then, hearing how the notes stack harmonically is a great way to understand the sonic characteristics and impact on your music.

What Are the Chords of Aeolian Mode?

The chords of the Aeolian Mode (Natural Minor Mode) are less stable than the Harmonic Minor. The Minor Five Chord doesn’t resolve into the Tonic Chord as satisfying like a Major Five to the Tonic. Play around and listen to how the chords create tension and release.

Chord NumeralChord Type (Triad)
iMinor
iiºDiminished
IIIMajor
ivMinor
vMinor
VIMajor
VIIMajor
A Aeolian Chords

What Are the Chords of the Harmonic Minor Scale?

The chords of the Harmonic Minor are the most stable and resolute of the minor scales. Play around with the Four, Five, and Tonic Chord to hear the tension and release.

Chord NumeralChord Type (Triad)
iMinor
iiºDiminished
III+Augmented
ivMinor
vMinor
VIMajor
viiºDiminished
Listen to how one note change alters the entire harmonic composition.

What Are the Chords of the Melodic Minor Scale?

The Melodic Minor Chords are the most clunky of the three scales.

Chord NumeralChord Type (Triad)
iMinor
iiMinor
III+Augmented
IVMajor
VMajor
viºDiminished
viiºDiminished
Listen to how clunky the chords sound. It’s also very difficult to play around in.

How to Play the Aeolian Mode on Guitar

Here’s a quick guitar lesson for you to implement the Aeolian Mode (Natural Minor Scale) into your repertoire. The following are all in G Minor.

Minor CAGED Position 1
Minor CAGED Position 2
Minor CAGED Position 3
Minor CAGED Position 4
Minor CAGED Position 5

How to Play the Harmonic Minor Scale on Guitar

Here’s a quick guitar chart for you to implement the Harmonic Minor Scale into your repertoire. The following are all in G Minor.

Minor CAGED Position 1
Minor CAGED Position 2
Minor CAGED Position 3
Minor CAGED Position 4
Minor CAGED Position 5

How to Play the Melodic Minor Scale on Guitar

Here’s a quick guitar chart for you to implement the Melodic Minor Scale into your repertoire. The following are all in G Minor.

Minor CAGED Position 1
Minor CAGED Position 2
Minor CAGED Position 3
Minor CAGED Position 4
Minor CAGED Position 5

What Notes Are in Aeolian (Natural Minor Scale)?

Disclaimer: I will be combining enharmonic scales (same notes/different names)

ScaleNotesRelative Major
C Aeolian ModeC D Eb F G Ab Bb CEb Major
C#/Db Aeolian Mode
(Enharmonic Scales)
C# D# E F# G# A B C#
Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bbb Cb Db
E Major for C# Aeolian Mode
Fb Major for Db Aeolian Mode
D Aeolian ModeD E F G A Bb C DF Major
D#/Eb Aeolian Mode
(Enharmonic Scales)
D# E# F# G# A# B C# D#
Eb F Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb
F# Major for D# Aeolian Mode
Gb Major for Eb Aeolian Mode
E Aeolian ModeE F# G A B C D EG Major
F Aeolian ModeF G Ab Bb C Db Eb FAb Major
F#/Gb Aeolian Mode
(Enharmonic Scales)
F# G# A B C# D E F#
Gb Ab Bbb Cb Db Ebb Fb Gb
A Major for F# Aeolian Mode
Bbb Major for Gb Aeolian Mode
G Aeolian ModeG A Bb C D Eb F GBb Major
G#/Ab Aeolian Mode
(Enharmonic Scales)
G# A# B C# D# E F# G#
Ab Bb Cb Db Eb Fb Gb Ab
B Major for B# Aeolian Mode
Cb Major for Ab Aeolian Mode
A Aeolian ModeA B C D E F G AC Major
A#/Bb Aeolian Mode
(Enharmonic Scales)
A# B# C# D# E# F# G# A#
Bb C Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb
C# Major for A# Aeolian Mode
Db Major for Bb Aeolian Mode
B Aeolian ModeB C# D E F# G A BD Major

What Notes are in Harmonic Minor Scale?

Disclaimer: I will be combining enharmonic scales (same notes/different names)

ScaleRelative Major
C Harmonic MinorC D Eb F G Ab B CEb Major
C#/Db Harmonic Minor
(Enharmonic Scales)
C# D# E F# G# A B# C#
Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bbb C Db
E Major for C# for Harmonic Minor
Fb Major for Db for Harmonic Minor
D Harmonic MinorD E F G A Bb C# DF Major
D#/EbHarmonic Minor
(Enharmonic Scales)
D# E# F# G# A# B C## D#
Eb F Gb Ab Bb Cb D Eb
F# Major for D# for Harmonic Minor
Gb Major for Eb for Harmonic Minor
E Harmonic MinorE F# G A B C D# EG Major
F Harmonic MinorF G Ab Bb C Db E FAb Major
F#/Gb Harmonic Minor
(Enharmonic Scales)
F# G# A B C# D E# F#
Gb Ab Bbb Cb Db Ebb F Gb
A Major for F# Harmonic Minor
Bbb Major for Gb Harmonic Minor
G Harmonic MinorG A Bb C D Eb F# GBb Major
G#/Ab Harmonic Minor
(Enharmonic Scales)
G# A# B C# D# E F## G#
Ab Bb Cb Db Eb Fb G Ab
B Major for G# Harmonic Minor
Cb Major for Ab Harmonic Minor
A Harmonic MinorA B C D E F G# AC Major
A#/Bb Harmonic Minor
(Enharmonic Scales)
A# B# C# D# E# F# G## A#
Bb C Db Eb F Gb A Bb
C# Major for A# for A# Harmonic Minor
Db Major for Bb for Bb Harmonic Minor
B Harmonic MinorB C# D E F# G A# BD Major

What Notes Are In Melodic Minor Scale?

Disclaimer: I will be combining enharmonic scales (same notes/different names)

ScaleNotesRelative Major
C Melodic MinorC D Eb F G A B CEb Major
C#/Db Melodic Minor
(Enharmonic Scales)
C# D# E F# G# A# B# C#
Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb C Db
E Major for C# for Melodic Minor
Fb Major for Db for Melodic Minor
DMelodic MinorD E F G A B C# DF Major
D#/EbMelodic Minor
(Enharmonic Scales)
D# E# F# G# A# B# C## D#
Eb F Gb Ab Bb C D Eb
F# Major for D# for Melodic Minor
Gb Major for Eb for Melodic Minor
EMelodic MinorE F# G A B C# D# EG Major
FMelodic MinorF G Ab Bb C D E FAb Major
F#/GbMelodic Minor
(Enharmonic Scales)
F# G# A B C# D# E# F#
Gb Ab Bbb Cb Db Eb F Gb
A Major for F# Melodic Minor
Bbb Major for Gb Melodic Minor
G Melodic MinorG A Bb C D E F# GBb Major
G#/Ab Melodic Minor
(Enharmonic Scales)
G# A# B C# D# E# F## G#
Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F G Ab
B Major for G# Melodic Minor
Cb Major for Ab Melodic Minor
A Melodic MinorA B C D E F# G# AC Major
A#/Bb Melodic Minor
(Eharmonic Scales)
A# B# C# D# E# F## G## A#
Bb C Db Eb F G A Bb
C# Major for A# for A# Melodic Minor
Db Major for Bb for Bb Melodic Minor
B Melodic MinorB C# D E F# G# A# BD Major

Songs that Use the Aeolian Mode (Natural Minor Scale)

Gotye “Somebody That I Used to Know”

Adele “Hello”

Elliott Smith “Everything Means Nothing to Me”

Songs that Use the Harmonic Minor Scale

Billie Eilish “Bad Guy”

Radiohead “2+2 = 5”

Songs that use the Melodic Minor Scale

Carol of Bells

What to Do Next

The Minor Scales are a great way to bring a foreboding, moody, and sentimental tone to your music.

Understanding how to use all three minor scales in your songwriting will improve your skills tremendously and help create more interesting melodies and harmony.

Experiment with the different scales and modes with your next song. If you struggle with the songwriting process, I’ve created a great article, “How to Write a Song in 5 Simple Steps” for you to check out now!

Happy Songwriting!

How to Strum a Guitar
how to write a song
write better lyrics

My #1 Songwriting Tool

Learn from the best songwriters and never get stuck with writer’s block again.

My favorite songwriting tool HookTheory makes music theory and songwriting easy!

Give yourself a break from feeling intimidated about what goes into a strong melody or knowing how chords work together. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *