How to Teach Natural Minor Scales with the Switcheroo

What way were you taught about natural minor scales? Do you even remember? I do, and I think the way we go about teaching this is a little odd…

How to Teach Natural Minor Scales with the Switcheroo

How to Teach Natural Minor Scales with the Switcheroo

The standard way of teaching natural minor scales (at least in this country) is as a segue to harmonic minor scales. We don’t stop there, it’s just how we get where we’re going.

This is the process I was taught:

  • Go up three semitones to find the relative major scale
  • Take this key signature as the basis for your minor scale, creating a natural minor
  • Add the sharpened seventh to make the harmonic minor scale

I’m not saying this isn’t valid…just saying there’s another way to look at it, which is: Natural minor scales are simply major scales, but starting on the 6th or la.

Yes, I know this is obvious. But I don’t think many teachers introduce the natural minor scales this way, do they? At least not explicitly.

Here are a few ways I’ve been experimenting with making this connection explicit for my students.

Natural Minor Scales Switcheroo

Alphabet Blocks

Ask your student to form a major scale with alphabet blocks (I shared how I made these originally here). Then move two blocks down to the bottom. Ask her to play the new pattern on the piano so she can experience the difference in sound.

Solfa Signs

If your student already knows her solfa hand signs reasonably well, this can be a great first experience of the natural minor scales.

Cue her singing of the major scale with your hand signs (sing along if necessary to boost her confidence). Then cue the relative natural minor by starting and finishing on la.

Follow this with a discussion about the different sound and feeling, and how this is created. Then apply the scales on the piano.

This is a truly tangible experience that will mean something to your student – not a dry theoretical explanation.


Ask your student to place hedgehogs (or another token) on the keys in the major scale pattern. Then ask her to move the top notes down to the bottom to form the relative natural minor scale.


Magnets on Staff

Similarly, you can do this with magnets if you have a magnetic whiteboard with a grand staff. I like to do this at a subsequent lesson to revise and refresh my student’s understanding of the natural minor scales.

Natural Minor Scales Flipped Learning Video

In these videos, I teach students about natural minor scales, using examples examples on the staff and on the piano.

Feel free to send these videos to parents for their kids to watch, use it in group lessons or as part of lab time.

These videos are designed to be clear and concise so that students can watch them – and then get on with some writing work for reinforcement. Saving you time to do fun activities during the lesson time.

These videos correlate directly to Thinking Theory Book Three page 18. View the full Thinking Theory series here and see what makes these workbooks so special.

More Flipped Thinking Theory

If you liked this music theory video, you might also like these others:

How do you introduce natural minor scales?

Do you do what I do? What my teachers did? Share your ideas in the Vibrant Music Studio Teachers community on Facebook or in the comments below.

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