After the major scale, most people learn the natural minor scale straight away, as those are two of the most used scales in music.
The natural minor scale is a 7 note scale that has a few fundamental differences in comparison to the major scale. In summary, it’s the same, but with the 3rd, 6th and 7th degrees flattened. We’ll get more into detail throughout the article.
This guide is going to be focused on the E natural minor scale, one that most guitarists are familiar with.
However, keep in mind that the concepts you’ll learn here are applicable to the natural minor scale in any key, after you transpose the notes accordingly.
The E Natural Minor Scale – General Knowledge
The natural minor scale comes from the major scale – you can say that the natural minor scale is built upon the 6th degree of the major scale. What does this mean exactly?
For instance, if you’re in C Major, your 6th degree is A. This means that C Major and A minor share the same notes, but the first is major, and the second is minor.
In the case of E minor, since it is the 6th degree of G Major, we know that they will both have the same notes.
If you check the Circle of Fifths, you’ll see that G Major and E minor both have F# as their only accidental. The outer keys are major and the inner keys are their relative minor keys.
Consequently, E minor natural scale has the following notes:
- E, F#, G, A, B, C, D; or alternatively: 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7, if you think about it from a scale degree perspective.
Always keep in mind that the examples and shapes you’ll learn are applicable to any other minor scale if you transpose it to the correct key!
The Natural Minor Scale Formula
In some cases, it might actually be easier for you to think about the scales as “formulas”, and associate the natural minor scale with its numerical representation (1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7).
The following table will help you get a more visual idea of how the natural minor scale is built.
Again, this table refers to the E natural minor scale, but the intervals between the notes are the same regardless of your key center.
|Minor Scale Degrees|
The E natural minor scale throughout the fretboard
For you to develop an ability to glide effortlessly through the fretboard, you need to know the notes as well as the palm of your hand.
If you have this kind of knowledge, you will always know exactly which notes you can play on top of each chord during a song.
This will also help you immensely when composing your own tunes, since you’ll know about all your available options.
However, this is something that takes time and commitment to master, but that is the reason why it is one of the skills that separate the real pro players from the rest.
Fortunately, we guitarists are lucky that our instrument works very visually. It is possible to divide our fretboard into specific sections, each having a unique note pattern that is movable around the neck.
This means that if you dedicate enough time to mastering each of these regions, and then work on connecting them all together, you’ll be able to quickly visualize all the notes of a certain scale immediately!
One of the most popular methods to achieve this knowledge is called the CAGED System, which will be discussed in the next section.
The CAGED System is a wonderful method of memorizing the fretboard that has been studied by thousands of guitarists who rely on it to know where they can play at all times.
It consists of dividing the neck in 5 different and unique sections that can be called “enclosures” or “boxes”.
The name “CAGED” comes from the chord shapes around which the enclosures are built. These are the chords that most guitarists learn early on:
- C Major
- A Major
- G Major
- E Major
- D Major
For starters, we’ll take a look at a diagram that illustrates the E natural minor scale across the entire fretboard, and then, divide it into the 5 CAGED enclosures that you should study if you want to memorize this scale like a true pro.
Once you’re comfortable with each of the individual boxes, start working on connecting them with each other.
You are guaranteed to notice that you are not “fishing” for notes so often, since you’ll develop a better spatial awareness of where each important note is.
You should start by memorizing the root note locations of each shape, as these will be your primary points of reference to find the shapes and the rest of the important notes within them.
Here’s the E natural minor scale on the guitar’s neck:
Now, let’s divide this diagram into the 5 CAGED enclosures that you must study to master the E minor natural scale on the guitar.
Each position will be based on one of the CAGED chords. You’ll see the frets they encompass, the note patterns, and there’s a tab that goes with each one so you can practice it whenever you want.
Note: if you’ve learned the G Major CAGED positions already, you’ll be happy to know that the E minor positions are the same, only with a different root note!
This is because G Major and E minor are relative scales, as discussed before.
The first E minor CAGED position you’ve got on the guitar is based on the G Major open chord shape, as you can see on the diagram below:
When playing in E minor, you’ll find this enclosure between the open strings and the 4th fret.
Your root note appears three times in this section – on the 6th, 4th and 1st strings.
You also might have noticed that the note B appears twice in a row (4th fret of the 3rd string and open 2nd string).
It should be more comfortable to ignore the one on the 3rd string and play the open B string instead, since you need to stretch your fingers less.
This is also how the tab below teaches you to play through this box, so you can just follow it.
The following advice is for you to take into consideration when studying all of these CAGED enclosures:
- Practice every individual enclosure first. Follow the instructions on the tabs so that you can cover all of the E natural minor notes that are found on each box.
- As you play through each enclosure, make sure to always be aware of where the root note is (in this case, E).
- Play through each tab with a metronome click set to 60bpm, playing one note per beat. You are not aiming for speed at first. You must concentrate on memorizing the finger patterns for each enclosure, and the root note locations.
- Increase the tempo by 10bpm once you are playing through them easily, without mistakes, and keep bumping up the tempo until you’re comfortable.
Remember, you should know how to play the scale from E to E – if you start playing it on F# you’re not playing the E natural minor scale, but you must know where all of its notes are present in each enclosure.
That knowledge is what will allow you to be musical with the shapes you’re learning.
The second CAGED enclosure is based on the E Major chord shape, as illustrated below:
In E minor, this box can be found between the 2nd and 5th frets.
Check the corresponding diagram here:
Contrary to the previous enclosure, this one does not start with your root note, if you decide to play it starting on the lowest note, which is an F# in this case.
However, it is advisable to know the whole pattern, as it will bring you several advantages long term.
The root note appears twice here – on the 4th and 2nd strings.
When playing through this section of the neck, you should use your index finger for the 2nd fret, your middle finger for the 3rd fret, your ring finger for the 4th fret, and your pinky finger for the 5th fret.
That way your finger movements will be the most efficient they can be.
Here is the corresponding tablature to help you learn this enclosure:
The following CAGED enclosure is based on the D Major open chord shape. Check the diagram below for a reminder:
In E minor, you’ll find this enclosure between the 4th and 8th frets.
Your root note comes up twice – in the 5th and 2nd strings.
When you transition from the 5th string to the 4th, you must shift your entire hand one fret back, and then one fret forward again when you transition from the 3rd string to the 2nd.
Next, you have the tab that represents this enclosure, so you can get familiarized with this finger pattern.
Our 4th CAGED position is based on the C Major open chord, as seen on the following diagram:
Transposed to E minor, this enclosure can be found between the 7th and 10th frets.
The root note comes up twice – in the 5th and 3rd strings.
Since this position covers 4 frets (just like position 2), you should simply assign your four left hand fingers to one fret each.
Next, here’s the corresponding tablature so you can learn this enclosure easily.
As always, prioritize building muscle memory over playing through this pattern as fast as you can!
Our final CAGED position is based on the A Major open chord shape, as illustrated by the following diagram:
When transposed to E minor, this box is located between the 9th and 13th frets.
Keep in mind that the fretboard repeats itself after the 12th fret. This means that the C on the 13th fret of the 2nd string is the same as you have on the 1st fret of the same string.
Your root note comes up 3 times in this pattern, and it allow you to cover 2 full octaves of the E minor scale, while most shapes cover only two.
Start on the 6th string with your middle and pinky fingers. This way, your hand will be positioned more correctly to play the remaining notes inside this box.
Here is your last tab so you can learn how to play this enclosure ascending and descending.
Connecting the E natural minor shapes
Obviously, the main point of learning all of the previous 5 enclosures is to be able to connect them seamlessly when you’re playing, instead of playing awkward jumps across the fretboard.
In order to connect them fluently, you should start by looking at the diagram that shows you all shapes together, and highlight the regions that share some notes – those will be your points of connection.
The diagram below shows you the same E natural minor on the fretboard, as well as the regions where two enclosures share common notes.
The roman numerals refer to the fret numbers.
You can use several different techniques to combine these enclosures seamlessly in a musical way. You don’t want to sound like you’re playing an exercise while you’re improvising or writing a solo!
For instance, you can use slides or arpeggios to travel from one enclosure to the next, just keep an eye out for those points of connection highlighted on the diagram above so that you can do this smoothly.
Also, remember that the point of this system is being able to quickly figure out the notes that belong to any key center, so make sure to practice them in different keys once you’ve memorized the root note locations of each box!
It is this kind of fluency and spatial awareness that you should aim for when studying your instrument. It might seem very challenging at first, but if you maintain yourself motivated consistently, your progress will be commendable.
In summary, if you haven’t put in the hours to master the natural minor scale yet, it should definitely be on your plans for the near future.
Countless guitarists use it, and since E minor is a very popular guitar key, it is also a great minor scale to master first.
Always remember its formula: “1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7”.
While it isn’t the most difficult scale to memorize and apply, you still have to be disciplined and study it methodically to obtain good results, and that’s where the CAGED System can help you out.
Memorize each enclosure, learn how to connect them, and you’ll be writing your own minor scale lines sooner than you expect!