Some people describe natural minor scales and minor keys as sounding “sad,” but there’s much more to them than that! These complex scales can add life and flavor to your music if you learn how to use them. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the F natural minor scale.
A Quick Intro to the F Minor Scale
The F natural minor scale is at the center of the key of F minor. It typically isn’t one of the first scales new pianists learn, as its assortment of flats and sharps can be challenging to remember and play on the piano keyboard.
The key of F minor contains layers of emotion. Classical pianist Glenn Gould described the key as being “halfway between complex and stable, between upright and lascivious, between gray and highly tinted.” Thanks to its nuanced quality, the key of F major is somewhat common in classical music. Notable compositions include “Winter” from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, Appassionata Sonata by Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4.
Structure, Formula, and Intervals of the F Minor Scale
If you are looking to find the natural minor scale (also called the Aeolian mode) of any key, all you need to do is follow a simple formula of whole steps and half steps:
whole step-half step-whole step-whole step-half step-whole step-whole step
You can abbreviate this helpful pattern as W-H-W-W-H-W-W. To get the note names of the F natural minor scale, you start with the root note (F) and get F-G-A♭-B♭-C-D♭-E♭. Each of the seven notes of the scale has a scale degree name as well:
- F: Tonic (the root note)
- G: Supertonic
- A♭: Mediant
- B♭: Subdominant
- C: Dominant
- D♭: Submediant
- E♭: Subtonic
Some people also include the eighth note of F, which is an octave higher than the first note of the scale. It’s referred to as the “octave.”
One useful piano skill to learn is the ability to tell what key a piece is in by looking at the key signature. The F natural minor scale contains four flats: A♭, B♭, D♭, and E♭. If you look at a key signature and see four flat symbols (located where A, B, D, and E usually are on the staff), you’ll know the piece is in the key of F minor.
How to Play and Learn the F Minor Scale (With Fingerings)
If you’ve already learned a few scales, you can see how the fingerings go. Below, we’ve given you a rundown of how to play one octave of the F minor scale on the piano keys with your right hand and your left hand.
We’ve also included finger numbers. Remember that they are thumb (1), index finger (2), middle finger (3), ring finger (4), and pinky (5). If you’re a visual learner, check out this video lesson showing you how to play it with both hands.
- Start with F (the third white key to the right of middle C). Play it with your thumb (1).
- Now play G (the next white key to the right) with your index finger (2).
- Next, play A♭ (the next black key) with your middle finger (3).
- Now play B♭ (the next black key to the right) with your ring finger (4).
- Then cross your thumb (1) under your fingers to play C (the second white key to the right of B♭).
- Now play D♭ (the next black key to the right) with your index finger (2).
- Then play E♭ (the next black key to the right) with your middle finger (3).
- Finally, play F (two white keys to the right) with your ring finger (4).
- Start by playing F with your pinky (5).
- Then play G with your ring finger (4).
- Next, play A♭ with your middle finger (3).
- Now play B♭ with your first finger (2).
- Then play C with your thumb (1).
- After that, cross your fingers over your thumb and use your middle finger (3) to play D♭.
- Use your index finger (2) to play E♭.
- Finish the scale by playing F with your thumb (1).
Relative and Parallel Scales
When you’re improvising or playing solos on the piano keyboard, it can be very helpful to understand both relative and parallel scales. Relative scales contain the same notes, and each major scale has a relative minor scale. The A♭ major scale contains the note names A♭-B♭-C-D♭-E♭-F-G. These are the same notes as the F natural minor scale, so these are relative scales.
Parallel scales have the same root notes or starting notes. The F major scale and F natural minor scale both start with F, so they are parallel scales.
Chords of the Scale and Their Scale Degrees
Now that you know the F natural minor scale, you probably want to know what chords fall under the key of F minor. You can find the basic chords in the key by applying the formula i-iiᵒ-III-iv-v-VI-VII. Each of these numerals has a corresponding chord and scale degree:
- i. F minor (tonic)
- iiᵒ. G diminished (supertonic)
- III. A♭ major (mediant)
- iv. B♭ minor (subdominant)
- v. C minor (dominant)
- VI. D♭ major (submediant)
- VII. E♭ major (leading tone)
Songs in The Key of F Minor
The key of F minor is complex and full of emotion. Sometimes the best way to get a sense of the mood of a key is to listen to a few songs in that key. Here are some popular ones:
- 1. “Party Rock Anthem” by LMFAO
- 2. “Say It Right” by Nelly Furtado
- 3. “Starry Eyed” by Ellie Goulding
- 4. “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt
- 5. “ET” by Katy Perry
- 6. “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day
- 7. “Killing Me Softly” by Roberta Flack
- 8. “All of Me” by John Legend
- 9. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana
- 10. “Genie in a Bottle” by Christina Aguilera
Common Chord Progressions in the Key of F Minor
The songs above have some interesting and unexpected F minor chord progressions. The chorus of “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt has a chord progression of i-iv-VII-V-iv-V-i-i-iv-V (Fm-B♭m-E♭-C7-B♭m-C7-Fm-Fm/A♭-B♭m7-C7). As you can see, some of the chords are modified. The verses of “Say It Right” by Nelly Furtado have a somewhat more straightforward progression of iv-i-VII-VI (B♭m-Fm-E♭-D♭). The alt-rock classic “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” has a chorus with a VI-III-VII-i (D♭-A♭-E♭-Fm).
If you’re interested in learning some common F minor progressions, try i-III-VII-iv (Fm-A♭-E♭-B♭m), i-VII-VI-V (Fm-E♭-D♭-C), i-iv-V-i (Fm-B♭m-C-Fm), and i-v-VI-VII (Fm-Cm-D♭-E♭).
The F minor scale is one of the most beautifully nuanced of the piano scales. Hopefully, you’ve gained a new understanding of what it’s made of and how it works. Let us know your thoughts below, and please like and share if you learned something from this list!