Aeolian is the sixth mode of the major scale, which means it’s the same as playing a C major scale from A to A.
This mode is used to solo over minor chords when you want to bring out the b6 (b13) interval, such as Am, Am7, Am7(b6), etc.
Aeolian also commonly referred to as the natural minor scale, as it’s often used as a tonic minor sound in rock, pop, classical, and other musical genres.
In this article you see this mode referred to as both natural minor and Aeolian so you get used to seeing them as the same thing.
In this lesson, you learn how to build the natural minor scale, how to use it in your solos, one and two-octave fingerings, patterns, and common licks in the style of Miles Davis and others.
Though not as commonly used in jazz as Dorian and melodic minor, Aeolian is an essential scale for any jazz guitarist to have under their fingers.
Natural Minor Scale Construction
The natural minor scale contains seven notes and has no accidentals in the key of A Aeolian.
This means that if you play A Aeolian on the piano, you only play the white keys, no black keys, on the keyboard.
These seven notes can be written a number of ways such as intervals:
Or you can think of them as specific intervals such as:
In this case, the legend for each symbol would be:
- P = Perfect Interval
- M = Major Interval
- m = Minor Interval
While these intervals are common, you can also think of the upper notes as extensions.
This means that you think of Aeolian with this pattern:
I prefer this way as it allows you to visualize the upper colors of the scale over any minor chord you’re soloing over.
Here’s how A natural minor looks with both notes and intervals.
You can use either system, 2-4-b6, 9-11-b13, or a mixture of both depending on the musical situation.
Try both out and see which fits better for you, and then go forward with that interval system.
Either way, notice that Aeolian has a b6, which is the characteristic note of the scale and distinguishes it from Dorian, which has a natural 6th.
When soloing over minor chords, highlighting the b6 brings out the Aeolian sound, which you hear in the examples below.
Natural Minor Scale Application
Now that you know how to build this scale, let’s look at how you apply this important scale to a soloing situation.
Aeolian is used to solo over a number of chords in the minor family.
These chords include:
These minor family chords are all built from the Aeolian scale, and therefore it’s the scale that’s used to solo over these chords.
Here’s an example of an Aeolian fingering and three chords from that fingering to see how they relate to each other on the fretboard.
To begin using this theory knowledge, put on a minor backing track and solo with any fingering you learn in this lesson.
Though you won’t use this scale as much as Dorian, it’s worth exploring, especially on modal songs where you can alternate between both scales in your solo.
To help you practice the material in this lesson, here’s a backing track to jam with as you learn the following material.
Natural Minor Chords for Guitar
To help you understand this scale and its relationship to harmony, here are a number of Aeolian chords that you can learn and add to your minor key comping.
To begin, here are four chords from the 6th string that are based on the Aeolian scale.
Here are four more chords, this time with 5-string root notes to study and add to your rhythm guitar playing.
Natural Minor Scale One Octave Shapes
To help you take this scale onto the fretboard, here are one-octave Aeolian shapes that you can work on in your practice routine.
These one-octave shapes come in handy when soloing over fast moving chords or at fast tempos.
When learning these shapes, work them in 12 keys and solo over various minor chords using these shapes as the basis for your lines.
This ensures that you’re working Aeolian scales from both a technical and improvisational standpoint.
You can also practice these scales with your middle finger on the first note of each one-octave shape.
Once you have these four shapes under your fingers, move between the first four and these four in your practice routine.
Lastly, here are four shapes that begin with your pinky finger on the first note.
Again, work these shapes in 12 keys and solo over minor-based backing tracks to be creative with these scales in the woodshed.
Once you have all three sets of shapes under your fingers, move between any of these scales in your technical and improvisational practice routine.
Natural Minor Scale Two Octave Shapes
You can take these patterns a step further by learning two-octave shapes in 12 keys on the fretboard.
Two-octave Aeolian shapes come in handy when you’re soloing over longer chord changes or tunes that don’t often change keys.
There are a number of ways to build two-octave Aeolian shapes, here are four of my favorites to get you started.
Learn one shape at a time, and then combine two or more in your practice routine as you dig further into these important scales.
Natural Minor Scale Patterns
As well as working Aeolian scales by playing them in a number of keys, you can check out scale patterns over any of the scales that you’ve learned so far.
To begin, here’s an ascending pattern that you can use to expand your technique and learn scale shapes at the same time.
The pattern is built by alternating 3rds, in this case ascending the scale shape.
This means that you play 13, 42, 35, 64, etc. as you work your way up the scale.
Go slow, work it through one and two-octave shapes, and in different keys as you take this pattern around the fretboard.
Click to hear aeolian scales 1
You can also work this pattern descending any scale pattern you know.
Again, you’re playing every second note, which creates the intervals 68, 75, 46, 53, etc. as you work your way down the Aeolian fingering.
Click to hear aeolian scales 2
Once you have one or both of these patterns under your fingers, put on a backing track and add them to your solos.
You don’t have to play them in every phrase, but adding these patterns here and there will spice up your improvised phrases.
3 Natural Minor Scale Licks
As well as learning patterns, you can study licks to expand your vocabulary and build your understanding of this scale in a soloing context.
This first lick is based on Miles Davis’ solo on the tune “Milestones,” where the bridge section is an Am7 (Aeolian) chord.
Click to hear aeolian scales 3
Here’s another Miles Davis inspired lick, accenting the b13 (F) at the end of bar one before climbing up the scale and finishing on the 9th, B.
Click to hear aeolian scales 4
This final lick uses a triplet to set up the F triad, which outlines the b13 interval, before working descending 3rds down the scale.
Click to hear aeolian scales 5
Once you have these licks down, write out 3 Natural Minor licks of your own as you build your soloing vocabulary with this important scale.