The harmonic minor scale | Free guitar lesson, diagrams and theory
Harmonic minor scale
The harmonic minor scale contains seven notes, these are the same as the minor natural scale (aeolian mode) except the seventh degree that is raised by one semitone. Here is a comparison between the natural minor scale (aeolian mode) and the harmonic minor scale.
|C natural minor scale (aeolian mode)||C||D||Eb||F||G||Ab||Bb|
|C harmonic minor scale||C||D||Eb||F||G||Ab||B|
Here is the C harmonic minor scale formula :
|C Harmonic minor scale||C||D||Eb||F||G||Ab||B|
Theoretically the harmonic minor scale should be played over minMaj7 chords, but it can also be used over minor chords like m6, m7, m9, m11, m6/9. Playing the harmonic melodic scale over a minor 7 chord creates tension because of the major seventh present in it. To attenuate this tension you need to resolve you lick on a proper note.
Chords of the harmonic minor scale (Harmonization)
Here are the chords built from each degree of the harmonic minor scale. Triad chords are made of three notes stacked in thirds and quadrads chords made of four notes stacked in thirds too. For example the first chord, C minor(maj7), is built by stacking C, Eb, G and B respectively root, minor third, perfect fifth and major seventh.
Once the harmonic minor scale is harmonized we get one major seventh chord (sixth degree), one augmented chord (III), two minor chords (degrees I & IV), one minor seventh flat fifth chord on the second degree (II), one dominant seventh chord (V) and one diminished seventh chord on degree VII.
Augmented chords are necessarily majors and diminished chords are minor.
|C Harmonic minor scale||C||D||Eb||F||G||Ab||B|
|Triad chords||Cm||Ddim||Eb Aug||Fm||G||Ab||Bdim|
Quadrad chords in the key of C minor.
Harmonic minor guitar position 1
These two recommended patterns shows you how to play the harmonic minor scale on your guitar.
To understand and "hear" this scale it is important to play these patterns by starting with the root "R".
For example, to play the C harmonic minor scale using the first pattern you have to put your first finger on the sixth string at the eighth fret.
You have to learn these fingerings and transpose these patterns in twelve keys.
To play the harmonic mode in other keys you just have to move the root "R" to the desired note keeping the same intervals.
How to play the harmonic minor scale over a minor II-V-I sequence
Here is an example of use of the harmonic minor scale over a minor II-V-I sequence. The following sequence contains three chords related to the harmonic minor scale. By taking the second (Dm7b5), the fifth G7(b9) and the first chord of this scale you get a minor II-V-I progression present in many jazz standards as Autumn leaves, Black orpheus, Blue Bossa, Stella by Starlight...). It is very important to master this jazz sequence.
Basically, you can play the D harmonic minor scale over the whole sequence. You could also play the D locrian mode or a D half-diminished arpeggio over Dm7b5, the G altered scale over G7b9... there are many solutions to improvise over a minor II-V-I sequence that are discussed in the PDF eBook "10 minor II-V-I jazz guitar licks".
In this lick we will play the Eb harmonic minor scale over the Dm7b5 chord starting on the minor third (F). You can also think it as the D locrian # 2 mode. Playing this mode over Dm7b5 can bring an interesting color/tension, the #2 (or #9), to your guitar solos.
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Last edited: 06/03/2017