Posted by Owain on

This year, a new scale appeared on the Associated Board Grade 1 violin syllabus. 'E natural minor'. Plenty of people seem slightly unsure of what this means, because 'natural minor' is a term not everyone is familiar with.

Put one way: it's a scale sticking to the minor key signature, without any accidentals.

Or another: it's the Aeolian mode. (Personally, I dislike the term 'natural minor', with its implication of superiority over other tonal systems.)

Even another: just play the G major scale from E to E...

So why?

Wind, brass and keyboard instruments have always tackled minor scales at Grade 1. The ABRSM decided that bowed strings should also encounter minor tonality at this stage. However, to do so with any melodic or harmonic minor scale would introduce notes and finger-patterns not otherwise required until Grade 2. By using the natural minor, the distinctive sounds of the minor third and the minor arpeggio are covered, while remaining within the existing technical demands of a Grade 1 exam.

Teaching these sounds can be done in any number of ways. Singing in minor keys as well as major ones is important. Reference to the layout of the piano keyboard, showing how C major and A natural minors use the same notes, can be helpful. But with regards to the violin exam, it's just E-F#-G-A-B-C-D-E!