A Beginner’s Guide to the B Minor Scale
If you’re familiar with The Eagles’ most famous hit, “Hotel California,” you’re familiar with the key of B minor.
Music in B minor can sound eerie or pensive. Use this key when you’re writing music that needs an ethereal tone.
The B minor scale can seem tough at first, but if you use this beginner’s guide and practice, you will be playing it in no time.
Let’s get started:
Accidentals in the B Minor Scale
The key of B Minor has two sharps: F sharp, and C sharp.
The D Major scale also has two sharps.
The B Minor piano scale is the relative minor to the D Major scale. This means that you will play it like you would a D Major scale, but start and end on the B key.
Conversely, the relative major to the B Minor scale is the D Major scale.
The scales are fundamentally the same, but the root note, or tonic, is different.
Notes in the Key of B Minor
Each note in a scale has a corresponding degree. The names of degrees, such as tonic, dominant, and octave, stay the same no matter what key you’re playing in.
The notes of the scale will change with the key.
The key of B Minor has the following degrees:
- Tonic: B
- Supertonic: C#
- Mediant: D
- Subdominant: E
- Dominant: F#
- Submediant: G
- Subtonic: A
- Octave: B
Note that the tonic and the octave are the same note, but will be at different places on the piano.
How to Play a B Minor Chord
The root chord of B minor, written as “Bm” on tablature, is made up of the notes B, D, and F sharp.
The notes used in the root chord are a triad, and will always be the first (tonic), third (mediant), and fifth (dominant) note of any scale.
Sometimes, chords use variations and can add a more complex tone with extra notes, but for now, let’s look at how to play the root triad.
On your keyboard, find the B key with your thumb. It is the second white key to the left of the set of two black keys.
With your thumb as the anchor of your chord on the B key, use your middle finger and pinky finger to play the rest of the chord.
Right-Hand Middle Finger
Using your middle finger, locate the second note in the chord, which is the D key. In any octave, this key is always in the middle of two black keys.
The easiest way to find it is to skip one white key from your thumb, which would be the C key, then place your middle finger on the next white key.
Right-Hand Little Finger
Your pinky finger will play F sharp. This is the leftmost key of the set of three black keys. This is your final note in the B minor scale’s root chord.
After you have gotten used to playing the B minor chord, playing some variations will help train your ear to hear the different sounds that chords can make. Inversions use the same notes but change the order around to switch up the sound.
A first inversion, for example, puts the notes in the order D, F sharp, B. Brighten up your tone by putting the tonic note (the B) at the top of the chord.
Play the second inversion in the order F sharp, B, D. This makes the sound even more intriguing.
Diminished B Minor Chord
The diminished chord is a simple variation to try after you’ve mastered B minor and its inversions.
Diminished chords lower some of the notes in your triad. The third and fifth notes lower a half step. In the B minor chord, that means your B, D, and F sharp becomes B, C sharp, and F.
If you’ll notice, the C sharp is the second sharp in your scale, but the F sharp diminishes to an F. This discordance is what gives your chord that diminished sound, making it perfect for tense or scary music.
In the same vein, a more complex chord of high tension is the diminished seventh chord. This builds on the original diminished triad of B, C sharp, and F, but also adds the flattened subtonic, or seventh note, of the B minor scale.
Your seventh note in the B minor scale is an A. In the B minor diminished seventh chord, then, this key would be flatted. So, the full diminished chord consists of B, C sharp, F, and A flat.
After practicing both scales until you’re familiar, slowly work on your chord, progressions, and chord shapes.
There are also harmonic and melodic minor scales, but first, you’ll want to work on what you’ve learned.
The B Minor Sound
You can find minor keys throughout music history. You’ll hear them in the Darth Vader’s theme from Star Wars and in most horror films. The minor keys, while beautiful, provide an eerie sound.
Major keys are more cheery, and “resolve” easier to the ear. Minor keys are often used in sad music, like funeral dirges.
You might notice that D major is the complimenting key to B minor. It has the same two sharps as the B minor scale, but sounds completely different. When you are playing in the key of D major, add some of your minor chords to punch up and add complexity to your playing.
Use Music Theory to Advance Your Skills
Knowing how to move between D major and B minor can help you understand composition and add a dramatic flair to your playing. D major, with complementing B minor, is a common key for band music, as guitars can easily transpose into this key.
Study how the B minor chord fits in with other scales as you play piano, and you can learn the secrets of good composition with your knowledge of natural chord progressions.