Natural minor scales

In 2012, we introduced the natural minor as a requirement for all Bowed Strings at Grade 1 and as an alternative to the harmonic and melodic forms for all instruments at Grades 1 and 2, where applicable.

Including the natural minor within scale requirements at the early grades can help develop a student’s understanding of the minor mode, its connection to its relative major, and can begin to encourage a greater understanding of scales, both aurally and theoretically.

Grove’s definition

The natural, melodic and harmonic minor forms are defined by Grove Music Online as follows:

"There are three ways of conceiving the minor scale in tonal theory. The natural minor (ex.1) consists simply of the ascending or descending sequence of tones and semitones given under the scale from A to A.

The sound of natural minor

The natural minor can be heard in a range of musical genres.

Popular tunes that use the natural minor include ‘Moondance’ (Van Morrison), ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (Nirvana), ‘House of the Rising Sun’ (Trad./The Animals), Bamboleo (Gypsy Kings) and ‘The Sound of Silence’ (Simon and Garfunkel). Folk music examples include ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again’, ‘All the Pretty Little Horses’, ‘Farewell to Nova Scotia’ and ‘Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier’. The natural minor is also used within the classical tradition, such as the carol ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ or Tchaikovsky’s ‘Old French Song':

Old French Song

If you are unfamiliar with the sound of the natural minor, here are two more tunes from different musical genres that use it. The first is Hatikvah - Israel’s national anthem. This tune is a firm favourite among Music Medals candidates:


The second is the folk song 'Poor Wayfaring Stranger':

Poor Wayfaring Stranger

Teaching major and minor

Natural minor scales clearly illustrate how a minor scale is related to its relative major, how different modes can be derived from one diatonic system by taking the same key signature and starting on different degrees.

This is very easily demonstrated on the piano, where you can physically see the tones and semitones in a way that is more difficult on a wind or string instrument. In fact for pianists this is particularly straightforward, as the natural minors starting on A, E and D all have the same fingering as C major.

If developing an understanding of the natural minor is omitted from teaching, many students fail to properly grasp this basic relationship between the major and the relative minor. This can impact the depth of understanding of the harmonic and melodic minors and why some of the sharps or flats are placed in the key signature and others as accidentals. The question of why the G# in A minor is not indicated in the key signature is often not addressed with any conviction.

By introducing the natural minor in the lower grades, students can best begin to hear and appreciate how scalic patterns really work, rather than simply learning the harmonic and melodic minor scales kinaesthetically by rote as exercises, without fully appreciating or understanding the way they function theoretically and musically.

Examples of natural minor scales for Grades 1 and 2

The natural minor scale was introduced into ABRSM’s graded syllabuses in 2012 (at Grades 1 and 2 only), and as a result, examples are in most cases not to be found in ABRSM’s books of scale requirements.

This page offers a downloadable resource of all the natural minor scales in ABRSM Grades 1 and 2. For the full scale and arpeggio requirements for each instrument, please consult the relevant syllabus.

Natural minor subjects

This new option applies to all subjects that currently have minor-key scales in Grades 1 and 2.

Candidates have the option of playing natural, harmonic or melodic minor scales (where the requirement used to be harmonic or melodic), apart from the exceptions detailed below.


  • Violin: Grade 1
    E minor scale: natural form only
  • Viola: Grade 1
    A minor scale: natural form only
  • Cello: Grade 1
    A minor scale: natural form only
  • Double Bass: Grade 1
    A minor scale: natural form only
  • Double Bass: Grade 2
    A and B minor scales: choice of natural or harmonic form
  • Guitar: Grade 1
    A and E minor scales: choice of natural or harmonic form
  • Guitar: Grade 2
    A minor scale: choice of natural or melodic form
    D minor scale: choice of natural or harmonic form
  • Harp: Grade 1
    As before, no minor scales are required
  • Harp: Grade 2
    Choice of natural or harmonic form for minor scales


From Grade 3, the natural minor form is not permitted.

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