Minor Keys Summary

What should you really play when someone says "Let's jam in A Minor?" :)

View the full lesson at Minor Keys Summary | JustinGuitar

Trying to get my head around those minor key concepts. So, if playing in the key of A min, the dorian mode can be used to play a solo, and that mode is played from the G major scale, albeit starting from the second note of pattern 1, does this mean that that same scale can be used on different parts of the fretboard based on other patterns (I’m still stuck on pattern 1 for now…)? Also, a different pattern is shown in this lesson for the A minor scale (dorian mode). Are there other patterns for different parts of the fretboard (just like the different patterns of the major scale) or, as mentioned above, is it just a matter of applying the other patterns of the G major scale? Basically, is it possible to get away with just playing the various patterns of the G major scale (but focusing more on note A rather than G) and it’ll work just fine over a chord progression in the key of A minor?

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Welcome to the forum Thierry

A Dorian Mode and A minor scale are 2 different scales. The minor scale is based off the 6th interval of the Parent Major Scale also known as the Relative Minor or Aeolian mode. In the case of A minor it comes from the C Major Scale (A is the 6th interval of C Major scale). So it has no sharps or flats.

The Dorian Mode is based off the 2nd interval of the parent scale. In the case of A Dorian it comes from the G Major Scale (A is the 2nd interval of the G Major Scale) So it has 1 Sharp F#.

So to answer you first question Yes you can play A Dorian anywhere on the neck where you can play the G Major starting with the Note A.
You can also play the A minor (Aeolian Mode) anywhere on the neck where you can play C Major starting with the note A. It sounds more confusing than it is in when using these scales. Once you get it, it all falls into place.


Thanks for the feedback Stitch, much appreciated. I’m happy that, with regards to the natural minor/Aeolian scale, I could use the various patterns of the C major scale on different parts of the neck (once I’ve progressed beyond pattern 1 that is!) but focusing on note A rather than C. Or using the G major scale for the Dorian mode. That’s absolutely fine. But on the “minor key summary” page, the first diagram representing the natural minor scale starting from the root note e.g. note A from string 6 fret 5 in this case. Is this some sort of “pattern” for the natural minor scale, and if so, are there other patterns covering other parts of the neck like there are different patterns for the major scale? And likewise for the diagram of the Dorian mode (4th diagram from the left). Is this a pattern for the Dorian mode and are there other patterns covering the rest of the neck? Surely, there can’t be just one pattern to be played in just one specific area of the neck? I’m going to ignore the other minor scales since Justin reckons the natural and Dorian scales are the most popular ones for rock, and it’s confusing enough anyway :grin:.

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Using the CAGED system there are 5 patterns for every scale and mode. The good new is they are the same 5 pattern for every scale and mode (there are exceptions but you don’t need to know them for now)
The pattern starting on the 6th string is a pattern and works with every minor scale by moving the root note. For example if you move the pattern to the 3rd frt you will be playing the G minor scale.
It might help you understand this better if you look up the CAGED system on Justin’s web site. It’s how the fret board is layed out and will help unlock the fret board and how the 5 pattern work.

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Here are the 5 Patterns Rick mentions that make up the CAGED system, this is G Major.
For Position read Pattern

As you can see all 5 are linked to the following and proceeding shape. The 5th Pattern shown at the 12th fret could also be played in the open position and would link to Pattern 1 at the 3rd fret. As there are 7 intervals in each scale each of the 7 modes can be found based on their correlation to the scale interval, as Rick stated earlier for example Aeolian being built of the 6th interval. So you should be able to find that in all 5 patterns.

Justin’s CAGED series here

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To add to Toby’s reply if you take the root note in any of those 5 patterns and find the 6th interval and start the scale from that note you will be playing the minor scale of that note. Toby posted all the Major scale pattern in G. So the minor scale would be Em.
If you start any of those pattern on the 2nd interval you will be playing the A Dorian mode.


Hi Thierry

I don’t have access to the lesson you posted but it appears to be a lesson on the various minor keys/modes.

Here is a summary of the major keys and chords. To find the minor scale just start at column vi and wrap around…
C major: scale = C D E F G A B, Chords = C Dm Em F G Am Bdim
A minor Scale = A B C D E F G, Chords = Am Bdim C Dm Em F G

There are 7 modes, 3 of them are minor

Now lets say you are are jamming along to a two chord vamp using the chords Am and D. The bass player is droning on the A note so its obviously in the key of A something. In this case you would probably be best using A dorian. Why?

Go to the first chart. Notice that Am and D chords only occur in the the Key Of G. Since A is the second note in the key of G and you are using it as the root note, you are in A dorian.

Look at that first chart.
Notice that the notes of A minor (aeolian) are (A B C D E F G)
Notice that the notes of A dorian are (A B C D E F# G)

Notice that the notes of D major chord are ( D F# A) . Therefore A dorian ( a minor mode) would be a better choice of scale.

This might be what Justin is trying to explain. Maybe not.

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OK, thanks a lot for the feedback guys! I’ve only learnt “pattern 1” so far, that’s why some of the diagrams didn’t ring any bell… The diagram I was referring to in the lesson matches the diagram for pattern 5 posted by TheMadman. Anyways, I’ll stick with pattern 1 for now until I’m happy with my improvisation accomplishments (quite a long way to go) before moving on to the other ones. In any case, thanks for answering my questions, it does make more sense now!


Hello @Thierry1 and welcome to the community.

You have asked some searching questions that, as you can see from the terrific responses given, require explanations and understanding somewhat beyond your current play and theory knowledge level.

For now, I would say continue to explore and play with and enjoy pattern 1 of the major scale - in different keys ideally.

In addition, do similar with pattern 1 of the minor pentatonic scale if you have reached that part of the course.

Here you are learning theoretical concepts beyond your practical technique. If you like the intellectual pursuit of it then great, enjoy it.
In terms of being able to use it today, tomorrow, next week then you need to be patient. Playing in minor keys (Aeolian or Dorian) is some way off. Playing in other modes is even further down the line.

Walk, enjoy the scenery, smell the flowers, no need to sweat and strain.

I hope that helps.

Cheers :smiley:

| Richard_close2u | JustinGuitar Official Guide, Approved Teacher & Moderator

Are there 5 patterns for each one of these types of Minor Scales, Natural, Harmonic, Melodic, Dorian and Phrygian, like the major Scale has? So are they listed here somewhere?

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There are 5 patterns using CAGED, The good new is they are the same 5 patterns for every scale and Mode the only thing that changes is the Root(starting point)
Except the Melodic and Harmonic. The Melodic Minor is the Major scale with a flat 3rd and the Harmonic Minor has it’s own 5 patterns.

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Best to watch this before venturing down the Scale Rabbit Hole.



Yes, but no.

If you thought … 7 major scale modes (though only 6 really get used so strike 1 of them off) plus harmonic minor plus melodic minor then you would be facing the prospect of learning 80 scale patterns.
That’s not anything that anybody should ever do, ever.

Efficiency in all.
Many of the scale patterns are the same in terms of note placements. It is how they are used and what you do with them that matters.

I hope that helps.

Cheers :smiley:

| Richard_close2u | JustinGuitar Official Guide, Approved Teacher & Moderator

Thank you for these comments Richard.

I’ve only been playing for a little over a year, and while I try to play everything Justin teaches, my ability level doesn’t yet allow it. I dove into theory when I retired about 9 months ago and I’m loving the journey. It’s very mathematical and I’m a math guy absolutely loving the intellectual exercises. I also go for long walks every day and your walk analogy sent the panic of having to learn to play all the minor scales away. You folks are doing great work and I needed to let you know that you all are appreciated.

Thanks again,


Hi all,

Looking to clear something up.
I am mucking about with chord progressions, simple stuff like
I - V - VI - IV
I have been just using the Major scale and was interested doing the same thing with minor.
Is all these different minors, harmonic, modes, etc is simply for playing notes over chord progressions, the actual chords themselves don’t change?

Also, if I take a play I - V - VI - IV - Cmaj and and Aminor chords will mix together well. Like that is a short cut to know which chords will work together because they are relative. I’m thinking more about playing with chords than noodling over them.

Thanks in advance, Keith

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The chords do change. E.g. the V chord of the harmonic minor is a major chord, not a minor chord. This overview shows the diatonic chords for each A minor scale / mode.

That’s just the theory though. You’ll often encounter chord progressions that just borrow a chord from a parallel minor scale / mode. The major V chord is quite popular because of the resolution it offers.

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The chords do change as Jeff’s graphic shows.
Don’t worry about even thinking of modes or harmonic / melodic minor.
Simply think in terms of music in a minor key and when you come to the 5 chord you can choose for it to be the diatonically correct chord (a minor 5 chord) or a common-place swap (a major or dominant 7th 5 chord).


| Am | G | Am | Dm | C | F | Em | Am |

All chords are diatonic.

| Am | G | Am | Dm | C | F | E7 | Am |

The E7 is not diatonic and can be explained in many ways but don’t dig too deep just yet.

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This is excellent, thanks Jeff I’ve already copied and pasted this into my little folder of guitar stuff. Much appreciated.

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