There is more than one type of minor scale. There is natural minor, harmonic minor, melodic minor, Dorian minor, Phrygian minor and more. General speaking, the plain, or “natural,” minor scale is the sixth mode of the major scale, Aeolian. Just as the first mode of the major scale, Ionian, is simply referred to as the “major scale” (even though there are two more major modes), the sixth mode is usually referred to as simply the “minor scale” (even though there are more minor modes). For this reason, the first and sixth modes are called “relative” major and minor.
Attached is an image illustrating guitar fretboard patterns for the G major scale. G’s relative minor is E. You don’t need to learn new patterns to change from G major to E minor. You don’t need to move patterns either because the notes of G major are exactly the same as the notes of E minor. If you play the notes and patterns over a G major chord, or a progression that is tonally centered on a G major chord, then your ear will hear G as the center of the scale too, producing a G major tonality. If you play the notes and patterns over an E minor chord, or a progression that is tonally centered on an E minor chord, then your ear will hear E as the center of the scale, producing an E minor tonality.
An example of a song centering on G is “Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton. An example of a song centering on E minor is “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath. You can actually use the exact same notes and patterns on both songs. Try it!
This is assuming that you’re using chords from the G major/E minor scale (I ii iii IV V vi). G major and E minor are present in other keys too. If you play something tonally centered on one of these chords but in another key, then you need to use major scale notes and patterns that correspond to that key. To learn more about this, see Fretboard Theory Chapter 8: Modes.
There are many different types of minor scales that can be constructed. The most common are Aeolian mode (natural minor), Dorian mode and harmonic minor, in that order. The rest are used very little, if at all, in popular music. Understanding and applying scales correctly requires that you learn about major scale patterns, chord progressions, playing by numbers and modes. All of these topics are taught in my guitar theory books and DVDs. Click the link to sign up for a free preview.
To learn more about music theory for guitar, including scales, chords, progressions, modes, and more, sign up for a free preview of my Fretboard Theory books and DVDs by using the form on this web page.
Play Until Yer Fingers Bleed!
Mr. Desi Serna