The C Minor Scale: A Complete Guide

By Jade Bultitude
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The C Minor scale is a 7 note scale that uses the following notes:

C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab and Bb

C natural minor scale with note names, treble clef

The scale is usually written as starting and ending on C and it can be repeating at higher or lower octaves. C Minor is a diatonic scale, which means that it is in a key, in this case the key of C Minor!

The Natural Minor Scale

There are three types of minor scale: the natural minor, harmonic minor and melodic minor. In this post we will stick to C Natural Minor Scale, but you learn about C Harmonic Minor and C Melodic Minor in our other articles. 

How is the C Natural Minor scale created?

All Natural Minor scales follow a specific pattern of tones and semitones (steps and half steps). The tone pattern is:

Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone

If we take the start at a G and follow the pattern we will get the G Natural Minor Scale. To create the C Natural Minor scale, follow the tone/semitone pattern starting on the note C.

 Whichever note you start on, you will always achieve the minor scale starting on this note. 

C natural minor scale with tones and semitones added

C Minor Scale on the Piano

As you can see, if we were to play this scale on the piano diagram we use three black keys for the three flats in this key.

C natural minor scale on piano with keys labelled

To play this scale on the piano use the fingers written below.

C natural minor scale piano fingering right hand

C Minor Scale on the Guitar

To play the C Natural Minor scale on the guitar use the tab below.

C natural minor scale guitar tab two octaves

Degrees of the Scale: C Minor  

Each note in the C Minor scale has a position that we call the degree of the scale. The first note of the scale is called the ‘tonic’ note.

C natural minor scale with degress of scale named

Key Signature for C Minor

Rather than writing the flat signs on the individual notes, we can now make use of the key signature. C Minor is the relative minor of Eb Major. You can work this out because C is the sixth note of Eb Major.

This means that they both share a key signature and have 3 flats: Bb, Eb and Ab.

C natural minor scale key signature

Here is C minor written out with the key signature.

C natural minor scale one octave treble clef with key signature

C Minor Scale in Different Clefs

Treble Clef

Below is the C Natural Minor Scale written out in the treble clef, both ascending and descending.

C natural minor scale, treble clef, ascending and descending

Bass Clef

Below is the C Natural Minor Scale written out in the bass clef, both ascending and descending.

C natural minor scale, bass clef, ascending and descending

Alto Clef

Below is the C Natural Minor Scale written out in the alto clef, both ascending and descending.

C natural minor scale, alto clef, ascending and descending

Tenor Clef

Below is the C Natural Minor Scale written out in the tenor clef, both ascending and descending.

C natural minor scale, tenor clef, ascending and descending

What is the Relative Major of C Minor

circle of fifths with c natural minor and e flat major highlighted

As you can see from the circle of fifths diagram C Minor is the relative minor of Eb Major. Or to say it another way: Eb Major is the relative major of C Minor. This means that Eb Major and C Minor share the same key signature which has 3 flats. 

Both scale are identical except for the fact that C Minor start on an ‘C’ and Eb Major starts on an ‘Eb’.

What are the chords in the C Minor scale?

There are chords starting on each note of the C Minor Scale. To learn more, see our dedicated post on C Minor Chords. 

What do we mean when we say a piece is ‘in the key of C Minor’?

  If we say that a piece of music is in the key of C Minor, this means a few things:

  • The key signature will have 3 flats (Bb, Eb, Ab) as the relative major is C major.
  • The tonic (or root note) of the piece will be C natural. This note will sound the most stable in the whole piece.
  • The piece will mostly use notes from this scale, these could be in any octave.
  • The chords used will be those chords that are in C Minor. 

What’s next….

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AUTHOR
Jade is an experienced musician and teacher as well as being the founder of Music Theory Foundations. She has been helping people learn music theory for more than 10 years from pre school children all the way to degree level studies.

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