What Is The BACH Minor SCALE?

What Is The Bach Minor Scale?

Tommaso Zillio

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bach minor scale

Anyone who has studied music for some time may be familiar with the 3 most common ‘flavours’ of the minor scale: natural, harmonic, and melodic.

If not, let me explain what those are for you right now

1: Natural minor, or aeolian, or just ‘minor’, is the most basic form of the minor scale, and in the key of A minor, it would be written as A B C D E F G.

(If you are familiar with the alphabet, this shouldn’t be too complicated just yet!)

2: Harmonic minor is what you get when you raise the 7th note of the natural minor by one half step, i.e. A B C D E F G#

(Now, why we’d want to do that, is a matter for another time)

3: Melodic minor is what you get when you raise both the 6th and 7th note of the natural minor by one half step, i.e. A B C D E F# G#, but…

… this would be simple enough if that was the end of it, but alas, there always has to be something that makes music theory concepts like these more difficult to understand…

And that is: Melodic minor is only played as written above while being played upwards (or ascending).

When descending (playing the scale downwards), you instead play the natural minor.

So these are the three Rings for the Elven-kings… erm the three Minor Scales known to the wise scholars who have perused the ancient (and dusty) music theory tomes.

But they were, all of them, deceived, for another scale was made. In the land of Germany, in the fires 17th century Europe, an unknown dark music theorist forged in secret a master scale. “One scale to rule them all.”

That being the “Bach minor scale” so named because good old Johann Sebastian used it in many of his most famous compositions. (*)

As for what the Bach minor scale is… you will have to check out my most recent video:

(*) See, that’s how I know that it was named by someone in Germany. If it was named by someone in Italy instead, today we’d be talking about the “Vivaldi minor scale”. Oh well…

This video touches on a lot of concepts related to scales and modes, if you want to learn more about these, then my Master of the Modes guitar course will be very helpful for you. Check it out!

Video Transcription

Hello, internet. So nice to see you today. I have a great question. And I want to answer for you.

Thanks for this. I have a question for you. But I don’t know the words in English, so I’ll make it in Spanish.

conozco 4 tipos

conozco 4 tipos de escalas menores que son las siguentes antigua, armonica, melodica, y bachiana.

That’s better. Four are different and I don’t know what they mean in English, but I get confused sometimes with the different points of view in music theory and what is true.

So there’s a lot of confusion between the minor scales. Let’s clarify this confusion. Let’s see, what are those minor scales? How do you use them and all that, okay.

I’m gonna do everything in a minor, okay? Because it’s easier to see in a minor. Why? Because if I take the A minor natural scale, it’s gonna be the easiest thing ever because it’s just the alphabet. It’s A, B, C, D, E, F, G.

I’m gonna write it down, so natural minor. Natural Minor, is A, B, C, D, E, F, G. Nothing strange about that. Okay? And these sounds like the way you expect, okay? It’s an it’s A minor scale, it sounds this way.

Everybody agrees that this is the natural minor scale. And what everybody agrees too, is that there is an harmonic minor scale and the harmonic minor scale works this way. It’s, I’m gonna call it harmonic H A R, and the notes are A, B, C, D, E, F, G sharp, okay?

Only one note of difference, okay? And by the way, if you know these are ready, no problem, because when I get to the Bach scale, you’re gonna see the difference between what you normally do, that’s the harmonic minor scale.

We can play sequentially like we do for the natural minor. Okay, and again, the only thing is; A, B, C, D, E, F, G sharp, and that’s the only difference, okay? Make sense?

And it gives the kind of a different feeling okay? It’s a neoclassical feeling if you ever listened to Yngwie Malmsteen but also a Spanish feeling. If you listen to Flamenco, it’s used in many different ways.

The way it was originally thought, though, it was a scale used to make chords, okay. And so we change this note here, with respect the natural minor to make those chords more interesting.

What’s happened in the natural minor scale is that my first chord is A minor, okay? The chord will be an A minor, which is made by the notes A, C, and E, and my fifth chord in classical music, the first chord and the fifth chord are the most important in the grand scheme of composition. The fifth chord here would be an E minor chord, E, G, B.

And what happens in classical music that you often move between the first chord and the fifth chord and this movement felt a little bit weak by the composer of the time. So you had A minor, E minor, which is a cool, it’s cool, okay, not not a problem, cool movement, but it felt a little bit weak.

What they did, they modify this scale, so that the first chord was still A minor, A, C, E, but the fifth chord could be E, E, G sharp, B, or even E seven, E, G sharp, B, D.

Again, you find all these in music theory book so far. Okay. But this sounds a bit stronger. With respect to before.

The natural is:

Harmonic is:

And again, I can use E seven rather than just E major. And you’ve heard this chord progression over and over and over again. Okay, so far, so good. We changed the scale, to create more interesting chords. Really nothing special. Okay, we do this all the time.

What happened was that if you do these, this scale start to sound interesting for chords, but not, at least again to the ear of the time, it starts to sound strange when you think about melodies. Okay, so they created the melodic minor scale, melodic minor.

Okay, and what they did. the problem with this scale, the harmonic minor, again, for the ear of the time, was that the distance between these F and G, or G sharp, was too big. It was hard to sing. And yeah, indeed, if you try to sing the scale, when you get here, it’s hard to sing these interval correctly in tune, because they are too distant, those notes. It doesn’t feel like a step anymore. Okay?

To avoid this difficulty to make life easier and remember the choir at the time and today too, they assign, the different section of the choir sang different notes, so if I don’t know the tenor voice gets this kind of jump here, it’s hard to get it when everybody else has the easy voice, essentially, it’s easy to get confused.

So what they did, they say let’s create the melodic minor where we keep the G sharp. Okay? We keep as much as we can. But we make this F an F sharp. So now, this is two frets, or a full step. And this is two frets, or a full step and not the three half steps you have here, okay, so that this case, it’s easier to sing.

And honestly, it sounds pretty good, too. Okay, again, so far, you find these in music theory book. This scale, again, a melodic minor sounds this way. And again, you have A, B, C, D, E, F sharp, G sharp, A.

But I’m already doing something controversial here. Because if you look in music theory books, what happens is that when you play this scale going up, you play what I just wrote. But music theory books insist that when you play the scale going down, you instead play the natural minor scale to be formally correct I should go. The scale going up, and going down, the natural.

Which is a cool sound. Okay. But it’s a bit confusing why this scale changes, okay. And it’s not the way we, it’s not something we can call scale today. Okay? Today, a scale is just a set of notes. So we don’t really we’re not really used to change it.

I mean, if I talk about the lydian scale, it’s a definite set of notes. If I talk about the mixolydian scale, it’s a definite set of notes. Why this scale seems to change depending on the direction you go.

Nothing strange. But if we stop here, like most music theory books do, then something strange happened because you see, for instance, Bach or Vivaldi use these scale here, the melodic minor going down without coming back to the natural, they use those notes going down.

And if you if that’s the whole theory, you have, then you have a missing piece, because no place here, you can go down and use those notes. It seems like a small thing, but people have fought battles over that. And myself, I made a video some time ago saying that you can totally use the melodic minor going down and keeping the G sharp and F sharp. And boy, you could not imagine the hate email. Okay.

That’s what we have so far. But when these questions came in, okay. The person making the question mentioned a Bach scale, a Bachian scale. Okay. And I think he’s a Spanish speaker and he was called the scholar by Kiana Okay, so I did my research and apparently, in South America, and apparently also in some European conservatories, apparently also in Italy, I didn’t, I didn’t know that, in some conservatory, they teach you that there is a fourth scale. Okay, a fourth minor scale. And they call these the Bach scale, which is exactly the right name for it by the way. It’s exactly the name I would have given it if I could.

The Bach scale. It’s exactly like the melodic minor. Okay, the difference between those two is that when you use the melodic, you have those notes going up, and you have those other notes going down. Okay. So in the melodic minor scale, you change it, but if you go up or down.

In the Bach scale, it’s a scale like we normally understand and it’s the same scale going up and going down. And these explained what Bach was doing okay, so again, it’s just a question of names and definition, but the thing is, if you want to change the notes, you call it melodic minor. If you want to keep the same notes, you use the Bach scale.

Interestingly enough, this is also what we will call the jazz minor scale. Some people call these in jazz colleges or at least some jazz colleges, they call this scale the jazz minor scale. Okay, meaning that it’s like the melodic but they’re not doing all this nonsense of changing the notes, which I mean, I say it’s nonsense, but in reality, there is a base on these Okay, there is an interesting, there is a reason why we are changing these, okay?

The reason has nothing to do with scales per se. The reason is that originally people were not even thinking about those notes as scales, and they were thinking about these as just a ways to build music but not set of notes. And they did that there are some exercises in counterpoint. When whenever you move up from the fifth note of the scale, E, to the first of the scale, so from E to A going up, then you will use those note here. So you find that half step at the end, okay? Because you have a full step full step, half step here before the eighth.

And whenever you move down from A, the first not of the scale to E, the fifth, you move this down here. So the half step is at the end between F and E, because by the aesthetic of the music of the time, that sounded cool to put the house step at the end of the melodic statement at the end of your melody. That was sounded cool to them.

Okay, so again, maybe this is a scale, maybe this is a procedure, maybe this is something else. But that’s the idea. Now, the thing again, that surprise me is that in most Anglo Saxon or English speaking, universities or colleges, as far as I know, but at least in the books of theory, I found in those languages, they explain you only those three. And so when you see Bach or Vivaldi, going down with those notes, you are left with a big like, What the heck are they doing? Okay?

But again, in South America, in Italy, in some other colleges or universities in Italy, they teach you about these Bach scale, I think this is the best way of naming all those scales, actually, I think that’s genius, because it’s actually we can finally distinguish between if you change the notes, or if you don’t change the notes.

So natural ABCDEFG. harmonic, made, usually invented to create chords, that’s why harmonic ABCDE F sharp, G, melodic invented to create melodies, A, B, C, D, E, F sharp, G sharp going up, A, G, F, E, D, C, B, A coming down Bach scale, or just minor ABCDE, F sharp G sharp both going up and going down. And in this way, finally, we have some clear naming of all these messy situation.

Now, all those scales sounds cool, okay, and all those scales can sound ancient or modern depending on how you’re using them Okay, now, again, this is called the Bach scale and also the jazz minor scale and so the very old music and the very new music, makes sense?

I hope all this clarify all this problem of the minor scale I hope you can find some use for these scales, just play them on your guitar, hear how they sound, we can do more videos about how to use those okay.

If you like this idea of studying scales I go way more in depth on my course master of the modes. Where I we do the more the scales and modes and all the modes of all the scales too essentially, so we do we go in depth on scales and modes, how to play them on your guitar, how to make them sound good in improvisation and how to use the modes of the scale to create ultra modern music. Okay, very good.

If you liked this video, smash that like button don’t forget to subscribe. If you have any questions on these or anything else about music theory, writing them in the comments. I love reading your comments and making videos on these. This is Tommaso Zillio for MusicTeoryForGuitar.com, and until next time,


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