When you understand piano scales and the musical keys that go along with them, you open up a world of creative possibilities as a musician. Learning each scale will take time and practice, but the effort is worthwhile if you want to become a solid pianist. Today, we’ll take a look at the G minor scale.
Highlights of the G Minor Scale
Musical keys are built around scales, and the G minor scale is the backbone of the key of G minor. Christian Schubart characterized the moods of different musical keys in the 1800s. He characterized G minor as capturing “discontent, uneasiness, worry about a failed scheme” and full of “resentment and dislike.”
Despite that somewhat unpleasant characterization, G minor is a key rife with emotion. Not surprisingly, a number of famous compositions are written in the key. These include “Dido’s Lament” by Henry Purcell, “Summer” from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, and Haydn’s Symphony No. 83, “The Hen.”
Scale Structure, Formula, and Intervals
Just like with any other minor scale, you can figure out the G natural minor scale (we’re focusing on the G natural minor scale, not the melodic minor or harmonic minor scale) by following a series of whole steps and half steps. Starting with the root note (G) and applying the pattern W-H-W-W-H-W-W, we get G-A-B♭-C-D-E♭-F. That’s the G minor scale.
Along with its note name, each note of the G minor scale also has an interval name:
- 1. G – tonic (the root note)
- 2. A – major 2nd
- 3. B♭ – minor 3rd
- 4. C – perfect 4th
- 5. D – perfect 5th
- 6. E♭ – minor 6th
- 7. F – minor 7th
- 8. G (one octave higher) – perfect 8th
As you can see, the G natural minor scale only contains two flats, meaning you’ll only need to play two accidentals (black keys) each time you play the scale. When you know the two flats, you’ll also be able to tell if a piece of music is in the key of G minor just by looking at the key signature. If you see a flat symbol where B is normally located and another where E is normally located, you’ll know the piece is in the key of G minor.
How to Play and Learn This Scale on Piano (With Fingerings)
Learning the music theory behind the G minor scale is important, but so is learning to play it well. Here’s how to play one octave at a time with each hand.
- Start by using your thumb (1) to play G. This is the white key that is four white keys to the right of C.
- Next, use your index finger (2) to play A. This is the white key immediately to the right of G.
- Now use your middle finger (3) to play B♭. This is the first black key to the right of A.
- Then cross your thumb (1) under your fingers and use it to play C. This is two white keys to the right of B♭.
- Now use your index finger (2) to play D, the white key immediately to the right of C.
- Then use your middle finger (3) to play E♭. This is the black key immediately to the right of D.
- Next, use your ring finger (4) to play F. This is two white keys to the right of D.
- Finally, use your pinky (5) to play G, one octave higher than the starting note. This is the white key immediately to the right of F.
- Start with your pinky (5) and use it to play G.
- Then use your ring finger (4) to play A.
- Now use your middle finger (3) to play B♭.
- Then use your index finger (2) to play C.
- Next, use your thumb (1) to play D.
- Then cross your fingers over your thumb and use your middle finger (3) to play E♭.
- Now use your index finger (2) to play F.
- Finally, use your thumb (1) to play G one octave higher.
It can be difficult to learn how to play a scale just by reading instructions. If you’re more of a visual learner, you might appreciate a quick video lesson on how to play the G natural minor scale.
Relative and Parallel Scales
Musical scales are interconnected in surprising ways. One of these connections is the relationship between relative major scales and relative minor scales. Relative scales have the same notes in a different order. The B♭ major scale contains the notes B♭-C-D-E♭-F-G-A, so the B♭ major scale is the relative major of the G natural minor scale.
Parallel scales share the same root note (or starting note), but the rest of the notes in the scale may be different. Both the G major scale and the G natural minor scale start with G, so they are parallel scales. This video offers some more insight into relative and parallel scales.
Chords of the Scale and Their Scale Degrees
We saw above that each note in the G minor scale has a corresponding scale degree. Each chord in the scale also has a corresponding scale degree. You can figure out what chords are in the scale by applying a pattern of Roman numerals (seen in the bulleted list below). Uppercase numerals correspond to major chords, lowercase ones correspond to minor chords, and the degree symbol denotes a diminished chord.
- i. G minor (tonic)
- ii°. A diminished (supertonic)
- III. B♭ major (mediant)
- iv. C minor (subdominant)
- v. D minor (dominant)
- VI. E♭ major (submediant)
- VII. F major (subtonic)
Songs in the Key of G Minor
The key of G minor is an emotional one. You can listen to a few of these popular songs to get a feel for the general mood of the key.
- 1. “Bullet the Blue Sky” by U2
- 2. “Applause” by Lady Gaga
- 3. “All About Us” by tATu
- 4. “DJ Got Us Fallin in Love Again” by Usher
- 5. “Solitary Man” by Johnny Cash
- 6. “Love the Way You Lie” by Rihanna
- 7. “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple
- 8. “What I’ve Done” by Linkin Park
- 9. “What is Love” by Haddaway
- 10. “Do I Wanna Know” by Arctic Monkeys
Common Chord Progressions in the Key
If you write your own music or just want to understand more about the key of G minor, learning some of the popular progressions in the key can help. The songs listed above offer some interesting examples. “Applause” by Lady Gaga has a chorus with the progression i-VII-VI-iv-VII (Gm-F-E♭-Cm-F). “What I’ve Done” has a relatively straightforward chord progression of I-III-VII-iv (Gm-B♭-F-Cm) in the chorus. And the Arctic Monkeys song “Do I Wanna Know” has a chorus with the progression i-i-VI-iv-iv-V (Gm-Gm-E♭-Cm-Cm-D).
Here are a few more common patterns:
- 1. i-iv-V-i (Gm-Cm-D-Gm)
- 2. i-III-VII-iv (Gm-B♭-F-Cm)
- 3. i-v-VI-VII (Gm-Dm-E♭-F)
If you’re like most pianists, learning scales might not be your favorite thing. But hopefully, this list has helped you start to understand the G minor scale a little better. Please let us know what you think in the comments, and be sure to like and share if you learned something!