Hi, I am struggling through the basics of theory (scales and triads\chords at this point) and was hoping to clarify something I can't quite grasp.

Is the relative minor of a given key actually minor?
For instance F# is the rel. min. of A, so would the scale to use be F# minor, or F# major? ie does the rel. min. simply identify the root note?
If the A major triad is
A, C#, E
then which triad is better to use with it (based on the rel. minor of F#)
F#, A, C# (F# minor)
or
F#, A#, C# (F# major)

I may be totally lost here, but hope what I am saying makes a bit of sense.
Thanks in advance to anyone who can help me sort this out.

the simplest form of the relative minor uses exactly the SAME notes as the major key to which it is related. this is the "natural" minor scale.

so, take as an example, C major, all the white keys of the piano.
its relative minor is A minor. and it ALSO uses all the white keys of the piano, just starting on A rather than on C.

A major key and its relative minor have the same key signature. Therefore, they cover basically the same scale.

There are variants of the minor scale with alterations, such as the harmonic minor, and the melodic minor. The harmonic minor is the scale we are most "used" to hearing as the "minor scale". It has an artificially raised 7th degree, which in effect gives it a "leading tone" (which the natural minor scale lacks).

The melodic minor has as alterations the 6th and 7th degrees raised a semi-tone, matching the superior tetrachord of a major scale (and in so doing eliminating the augmented second present in the harmonic minor scale between the 6th and 7th degrees). A descending melodic minor scale matches the upper tetrachord of a natural minor scale (the 6th and 7th degrees are lowered to the natural position).

Hope this wasn't too confusing.

And to give a VERY simple answer to your question: yes, the relative minor is always a minor scale.

One of the best ways to become familiar with triad theory is to learn to harmonize a major scale in thirds. Take a C scale, and on each note, build a three-note chord from notes a third above, for instance on C, you' build C,E,G.
On D, you'll build D,F,A. On E, E,G,B, then F,A,C, then G,B,D, then A,C,E, then B,D,F, then youre back to the beginning. This way you'll start hearing the families of triads within a key, some major, some minor, and one diminished. This can be done on the keyborad or guitar, although the keyboard makes it much easier to see the relationships. In any case, the previous response to your question is the correct answer; I'm just elaborating on it.

An excellent primer for Theory is Musictheory.net. This person put a lot of work into this and it should be extrememly helpful to you.

When I many years ago first started to harmonize simple melodies, I found this book most useful: "Teach yourself to compose music". It is simple and straightforward and more instructive than many a treaty on Traditional harmony ( I have read through many of them, it took me years !)
Maybe you could still find a copy of the book in a library, I doubt if you could find it in a store any more.

Oyvind

Thanks much to everyone for the info . I will check into some of these references.

The idea of the relative minor ( at least in basic music theory that you are refering to) is only applied to the scales ( a sequence of n-note with ascending frequency!!)

a major scale and relative minor have the same key signature but a different tonics!

for instance, B Major has 5 sharps as its relative minor ( G# minor)

As opposed to the prarlell minor, they have the same tonic but different key signature:

like C major vs it parallel Cminor. Or BMajor vs Bminor.

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