The Major Scale: Part 8: The 6th Degree Position

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Music Theory: F Major Scale: 6th Degree Position

This is the degree position that we get our “relative minor” key from. What’s a relative minor? Well each of the major keys has an evil twin (just kidding). This “related” scale sounds much more sadder on the emotional side when compared to its major key counterpart.


For most people this is their first introduction to what a “mode” is. A mode is a scale that is derived from the major scale. So, in this case, when you use the 6th degree as the starting point (tonic) and ascend till you reach the 6th degree again, you have a new scale with a different sound. 

So, if you take any key and go to the 6th degree you will get the starting point of the relative minor/natural minor for that key. We can also refer to it as being the aeolian mode but more on modes later.


But why does it sound “more emotional” or “sad” then the major scale? Well, lets take a quick look at this new scale and compare it to the major scale.

Remember that the notes of the major scale can be analyze and given special names called degrees. These degrees can be thought of in the most basic way as series of numbers. Now, if we wrote out the major scale starting on the 6th degree you can see there is a different formula that appears. Let’s compare it to its major scale parent. In this case we are using the F major scale.


Notice how the 3rd has become a b3rd (flat third or minor 3rd). If you don’t know what a flat third (symbolized by “b3”) is then just know that when you move a note a half step down (one fret down) it means that it has been flatteded. Also, the 6th and 7th degrees have move down half a step as well. This change in the formula is what gives the natural minor its own unique characteristics. This is why one scale will sound “happy” and another one “sad”.

If you are a bit confused don’t worry. I’ll be explaining flats and modes and other things in more detail in later articles.

More Thoughts On The 7 Basic Positions (7BP)

Some of you maybe asking yourselves “why learn the 7BP’s when we can just go ahead and use the 3NPS (3 note per string) versions right away?”. This is a good question. Well, you are right. You can just go ahead and learn the 3NPS and get along fine. The 3NPS are definitely faster and easier to play. However, let me make a case for it. You don’t have to believe me now but just tolerate the next few points.

Small Chunks & Pivot Points

The 7BP’s are smaller and easier to see on the fretboard for the novice which makes it easier to learn. At least I think so. Once you learn them you’ll be able to convert them quickly to the 3NPS in no time. The second point is that the 7BP’s can be used as basic “pivot points” when going from one position to the next. Watch the following video for an example.


There are many ways to move around the fretboard and this idea of pivoting/linking is just one. Here you could see that from the 5th position you can play ascending/descending into the 4th position or the 6th position. When you can see the 7BP version of the 5th position it then becomes easier to see how the position can make these basic pivots into one another. As a result, the 7BP and the 3NPS, can set you up to learn and maneuver the fretboard in ways that you might not have thought of. 

© John Culjak 2016-2017