Jazz Minor

Of all the minor scales that I teach, the one that I call “simple minor” seems to cause the most problems. I believe that the confusion stems from a very bad traditional idea that links two different scales together as if they are one. So the scale that I call simple minor is the way melodic minor goes up, but the melodic minor scale comes back down as natural minor.

Over and over again I tried to explain that this concept is absolutely insane.

A scale is a set of notes. It is not two different sets of notes, which is what melodic minor has come to mean. So let me get that out of the way first. When I talk about simple minor I am simply describing what happens when we take a major scale and lower the 3rd note, which is called “b3”. My name is most logical and my students really prefer it. But jazz musicians call this simple minor scale “jazz minor”.

I am quite comfortable with the name “jazz minor” because I think it is very handy.

I just want to point out that this scale is not any more connected to jazz than it is to traditional music going back many centuries. So that is the first thing we have to get out of the way. We have this very simple minor scale that has at least three names: simple minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor ascending. In other words, there are many terms for something very simple, and one of them is extremely confusing.

Now we hopefully have the naming problem out of the way. It’s time to learn how to make the scale.

After trying to teach this concept in various ways, I have settled on one method because of feedback from many students of all ages. I used to teach this in another way by first explaining natural minor and then showing students how to raise the 6th and 7th degrees of the scale. This method is 100% correct and can also be used.

But for relative beginners, having two different ways to compute an answer is needlessly confusing and causes problems. So for the time being I am going to strongly suggest that people learn simple minor by learning major scales first and then lowering the third degree, which again is called b3.

One final point: since getting to simple minor from major involves only one morphing note, it should be pretty obvious that starting with the simplest major scales is the best method. There are only two simple minor scales that have only one black note: C simple minor and D simple minor. You want to learn those two first. Then A simple minor and G simple minor both use two black notes, so they should probably be next. All other keys will use at least three black notes.

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