A Beginner’s Guide to the E Minor Scale

Maybe your grandparents have a piano. Maybe you saw The Pianist and wondered what it would be like to play the piano yourself. Maybe you’re a singer-songwriter, and like every self-respecting singer-songwriter, you need those two key instruments in your arsenal.

Either way, the piano is one of those timeless instruments with a strong allure for musicians everywhere.

Here, we’re exploring the E minor scale, one of the essential piano scales.

The E Minor Scale

With all of this in mind, let’s talk about the E minor scale.

The E minor triad or E minor chord is a minor triad containing the notes E, G, and B. The E flat minor chord occurs naturally on:

  • Eb minor / Gb major
  • Bb minor / Db major
  • Ab minor / Cb major

The relative major scale for E minor is G major, which matters because they contain the same notes.

Root Position

To create an E minor chord, you start with the root note, which is E. All other intervals in the chord are built from this note.

An E minor chord is comprised of a minor third (one and a half tones) and a major third (two tones). The root position in E minor is E, G, B, with one and a half tones between E and G and two tones between G and B.

In root position, the notes are always played in this order.

Intervals

In basic terms, an interval refers to the distance between pitches. They’re marked with a number and a prefix.

The number is the number of pitch names (A, B, C, D, E, F, G) from the first pitch to the second pitch. The interval from C to E contains three pitches (C, D, E) and is therefore called a third. An interval with eight pitch positions (E to E, for example) is an octave.

The prefix refers to the quality of the interval, which can be perfect, major, minor, augmented, or diminished.

E minor natural intervals are:

  1. Tonic: E
  2. Major 2nd: F#
  3. Minor 3rd: G
  4. Perfect 4th: A
  5. Perfect 5th: B
  6. Minor 6th: C
  7. Minor 7th: D
  8. Perfect 8th: E (one octave higher)

E minor harmonic intervals are:

  1. Tonic: E
  2. Major 2nd: F#
  3. Minor 3rd: G
  4. Perfect 4th: A
  5. Perfect 5th: B
  6. Minor 6th: C
  7. Major 7th: D#
  8. Perfect 8th: E (one octave higher)

E minor melodic intervals are:

  1. Tonic: E
  2. Major 2nd: F#
  3. Minor 3rd: G
  4. Perfect 4th: A
  5. Perfect 5th: B
  6. Major 6th: C#
  7. Major 7th: D#
  8. Perfect 8th: E (one octave higher)

Don’t worry too much about perfect, major, and minor–it’s another notation to mark the intervals.

Scale Degrees

A scale is simply a succession of notes ascending or descending. Scale degrees tell you where each pitch fits within the scale itself.

The scale degrees for E minor are:

  1. Tonic: E
  2. Supertonic: F#
  3. Mediant: G
  4. Subdominant: A
  5. Dominant: B
  6. Submediant: C
  7. Subtonic: D
  8. Octave: E

The scale and scale degrees are your starting point for E minor, regardless of whether you’re playing the natural, melodic, or harmonic E minor scale.

Natural vs. Harmonic vs. Melodic

At this point, we’ve mentioned natural, harmonic, and melodic scales a few times. Let’s take a moment to clarify what that means for those who are new to piano.

Because E minor is a minor scale, there are three versions of the scale: natural, harmonic, and melodic.

The natural scale is the root of the other scales and contains no flats or sharps. From here, things start to get interesting.

The difference between the natural and melodic scale is simple: the 6th and 7th notes are raised a semi-step. In addition, the melodic scale is played differently depending on whether the music asks for ascending or descending melodic scales.

Lastly, there’s the harmonic scale. Luckily, the harmonic is simpler than the melodic–it has a sharpened 7th note and doesn’t vary based on ascending or descending scales.

Fingerings

The fingerings for E minor depend on whether you’re playing with your left or right hand.

To play E minor on your right hand, place your thumb (first finger) on E, your middle finger (third finger) on G, and your pinky finger (fifth finger) on B. Play the notes together, and voila: E minor in root position.

Luckily, it’s easy to figure out the fingerings for your left hand: just switch the fingers. So your fifth finger plays E, your third finger plays G, and your first finger plays B.

Inversions

Now that you know root fingerings for E minor, let’s talk about inversions.

Inversions are exactly what they sound like–the order of the notes changes.

There are two inversions for E minor:

  1. First: G, E, B
  2. Second: B, E, G

It’s that easy.

Music with E Minor

Where does E minor come into play on the keyboard and on the page? More often than you might think.

A number of classical composers wrote pieces in E minor. Here are a few big ones:

  • Bach: Fugue 10 in E minor
  • Chopin: Prelude in E minor Op. 28 No. 4
  • Beethoven: Sonata No. 27 in E minor Op. 90
  • Brahms: Theme from Symphony No. 4
  • Mendelssohn: Theme from Violin Concerto Op. 64 in E minor

So, if you’re looking for somewhere to start your classical music journey, you’ll have plenty of options with E minor.

Learn All 88 Keys

Now that you know all about E minor, are you ready to learn other aspects of the piano?

Check our site for more educational information on the piano, some great learning tools, sheet music, and reviews.

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