What's The Harmonic Major Scale?

The harmonic major scale aka Ionian b6 mode or Ethiopian scale (1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - b6 - 7) is built the same way as the diatonic major scale, but with a lowered 6th. This scale is not very well-known but can be intersting for those who want to add more exotic feel to their jazz improvisations.  It is generally played over a major 7 chord, however it's difficult to use because it sounds a little bit weird and dissonant. 

Formula Chart

As shown in the chart below, the harmonic major scale interval pattern is W - W - H - W - H - WH - H giving the formula : 1 (root) - 2 (second) - 3 (third) - 4 (fourth) - 5 (fifth) - b6 (minor sixth) - 7 (seventh).

The harmonic minor scale is sometimes reffered to as Ethiopian scale or Nat Bhairav (Indian scale).

C Harmonic major scale C D E F G Ab B
Formula 1 2 3 4 5 b6 (b13) 7
Intervals W W H W H W+H H

Comparison With The Major Scale

The only difference with the major scale (Ionian mode) is the sixth.

C Harmonic major scale C D E F G Ab B
Formula 1 2 3 4 5 b6 (b13) 7
C major scale (Ionian mode) C D E F G A B
Formula 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Harmonic major versus ionian mode

Comparison With The Harmonic Minor Scale

You see that the harmonic minor scale has a b3 whereas the harmonic major scale has a major third (3).

C harmonic major scale C D E F G Ab B
Formula 1 2 3 4 5 b6 (b13) 7
C harmonic minor scale  C D Eb F G Ab B
Formula 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 (b13) 7
Harmonic major versus harmonic minor

Harmonic Major Scale Guitar Diagrams

The two guitar diagrams below show you how to play the harmonic major scale on guitar using "one-octave", "two-octave" and "3 notes per strings" shapes.

Harmonic major scale guitar 1
Harmonic major scale two octave shapes for guitar
Harmonic major scale guitar shapes 3 notes per string

Triads Built From The Harmonic Major Scale

There are four types of triads in the harmonic major scale. Two major triads (degrees I and V). Two minor triads (degrees III and IV), one augmented triad (sixth degree) and two diminished triads on the second and seventh degree.

Exemple in the key of C :

  • Cmaj (C-Eb-G)
  • G maj (G-B-D)
  • Em (E-G-B)
  • Fm (F-Ab-C)
  • Abaug (Ab-C-E)
  • Ddim (D-F-Ab)
  • Bdim (B-D-F)

Seventh Chords Built From The Harmonic Major Scale

When stacking thirds on each degree of the harmonic major scale we get seven chords. These chords can be extended with a 9, 11 or 13 and arpeggiate in order to create interesting jazz lines.

  • I maj7 (9, 11, b13)  
  • ii m7b5 (9, 11, 13) 
  • iii m7  (b9, b11, b13) 
  • iv minMaj7 (9, #11, 13) 
  • V7 (b9, 11, 13)  
  • VI maj#5 (#9, #11, 13)
  • vii dim7 (b9, 11, b13) 

This short exercise consists in playing a repetitive C harmonic major line with four drop 2 C major 7 chords.



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Last edited: 2021-05-20

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