A minor and C major relation in soloing

I’ve been practicing A minor a lot recently and am finding I’m starting to feel the resolving root note as C rather than A, I’m imaging it’s based around the specific fingering patterns my hands are currently going through, perhaps you can enlighten me on the theory aspect of this root note switching? I’m aware it’s the relative major/minor though unsure of the theory behind the switch.

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Five other keys will also share this problem! It’s just the nature of the lines you’re playing. If they echo chord progressions in C, then you’ll want to resolve to C major tones. So much music is written in major and minor that you will have absorbed these cliches over time and will be playing them whether you like it or not.

Incidentally, there’s a great example of a major key that modulates to a minor key that is not the relative minor, and it’s one we all know: the theme song to Cheers. The way it’s done is very slick. The III chord in C major is normally E minor. But instead they turn it into a min7b5 - E, G, Bb, D. This makes it the II chord in D minor. This gets you to A7, which gets you to D minor. It’s a II-V-I in D minor. Once you’re in D minor, you pretend you’re back in C major on the II chord. You go to G7, then to C. So it’s II-V-I in C. And you’re back home.

It’s clever, and sounds great. The trip through III as a key center even though it doesn’t have all the same notes, is cool.


Exactly. The Am and C major scales share the same notes. It will depend on if you make the A or the C the root note whether it will sound like Am or C major.
If you’d have a backing track or bassist or something (loopstation, your own recording etc.) playing an Am static vamp (just the Am chord) your playing will sound like it’s in Am. If the backing track is playing a C major vamp, your playing will sound like it’s in C major.
When you don’t have any backing track, sometimes your brain will interpret your playing as if the A is the root note (Am scale) and sometimes as if the C is the root note (C major scale).

I hope this was helpfull.


Hmm sorry, just re-read your post and it seems like you already understand this haha.

Play harmonic or melodic minor and you’ll get more “pull” to the A/the root note of the minor scale. Play the flat 9 and you’ll remove some of the “pull” towards the C.

Treat C major in this context as an inversion of A minor and you’re golden.


Are you feeling the resolution to C as a root, or merely preferring it as a tone to land on? C is, after all, the third of Am, and a great note to target.


I understand the basic concepts but not really the more detailed explanations. So any explanation even if I already know it, helps. As a different point of view is great, as is just a conformation of something.

What are those keys?

As a resolution, it may be that I’m actively trying to avoid the A and playing around it, meaning the C is getting herd over the A.

Just to clarify I’m playing with no backing tracks, so what I’m playing is whats setting the tone.
I’m wondering how many times a note needs to be played for the brain to lock on to that as its root. I wonder if there’s any research on this?

When you talk about a “resolving note” you are actually describing something that is very familiar and comfortable to you. It’s something that you have heard many times, so your ears want to go to that note. I.E.-To “resolve” to that note. Let’s say you practiced the C major scale for a month-starting and ending on the note C. Now you have been playing the A minor scale (do you mean “natural minor” or aeolian mode? There are a couple other A minor-type scales) for a few days. Your ears are still used to the sound of resolving to the note C. You might also be more used to hearing songs in major keys than minor ones?As others have suggested, practice for a few days along to a loop or recording of an A minor chord. Your ears will naturally start hearing notes that resolve to the note “A”. You very well might also resolve to the note “C” at times. This is OK, it is a chord tone that helps define the quality of the chord. But you will now HEAR the note “differently”. Hope this helps…or at least doesn’t confuse you more.

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Don’t know your goals, but advanced improvisers generally have a pretty developed aural imagination. They can hear the context regardless. Simple bassline and arpeggio work might be of help to you.

If you’re asking about the Cheers thing, it’s in C. But the clever shift into D minor happens on the line “Wouldn’t you like to get away…” Which is making II the new key center, not III as I wrote - my bad.

Anyway yeah simplest thing you can do to improve your harmony knowledge - learn chord progressions to common songs and play along. It’s probably how lots of us started, and doesn’t require any theoretical background in an academic sense. It’s the most natural way to learn. And then any background reading you do will make a lot more sense.

Hey Whammy, here is some stuff to try, I put it in this soundslice file: https://www.soundslice.com/slices/Hz3cc/

Basically the rhythm also determines, in part, the feeling of resolution, as demo’d there. This is especially true if you’re talking about a melodic line with no chords or accompaniment.

Also, it really can be heard as both (or as a bunch of other things) depending on context and what you’re playing. There are a lot of specific things to address whatever is going on.

Another example is simply playing the scale but pausing only on your ‘intended’ root.

Another is pedaling that open A string while on the other strings you improvise in A minor scale. THEN trying to hold down a low C note while playing around with other notes of the C scale.

Hope that helps


Scale notes are planets orbiting around the Sun which is the tonic.
Each scale must have its context,A minor and C major = same notes BUT
different “suns” a or c
and this is the real difference between them,no scales notes which are identical.

If it helps, if there’s any way to play this against an A drone, that’ll really help cement the tonic into your head. The alternative is you could do some sort of pedal tone thing where you played the scale but alternated with the root between notes - say, the open A string?

Over time, your ear will get used to this and you’ll be able to treat ANY note in the scale as the tonic - that’s the basis of modes. It’s just a little weird at first, for sure.


yeah, a lot of it is about the set up. If you wake up, pick up the guitar, and start playing the C scale indiscriminately, it can be tough to determine context/tonal center between C major, A minor, all modes, etc. But if you wake up and bang on an Em chord for a full minute, then do 20 seconds scale noodling, bang back on that Em chord, repeat, etc, odds are higher it’s going to start to feel like Phrygian

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Those modal vamps in Advancing Guitarist are handy for showing how to really enforce the sound of a particular mode.

The character of each mode lives in where its minor 2nds are.

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cdefgab with C in bass = ionian scale
defgabc with C in bass = ionian scale in first inversion
efgabcd with C in bass = still ionian scale in second inversion
… etc etc

but cdefgab with D in bass = dorian scale in sixth inversion.

With note A in bass:
cdefgab |
defgabc |
efgabcd |
fgabcde | = aeolian scale in all inversions
gabcdef |
abcdefg |
bcdefga |


in classical theory relative major and minor often considered as one quasi-scale. You can hear it in some songs that are quite ambiguous in terms of tonality (they often have I,IV of s major and i,iv of relative minor). And there’s nothing wrong with resolving in III of a minor since it’s a part of tonic chord which makes it stable, good note to land on.
Such things happen with many scales. For example, if you have harmony in C phrygian and use repeating sequence of i-II sometimes you can hear it as C phrygian, but sometines you hear it as D lydian.