Learn Guitar Scales: The Harmonic Minor Scale

Learn Guitar Scales: The Harmonic Minor ScaleBy Mike P Hayes

The Harmonic minor scale is an important scale to learn because as the name implies, mastery of this scale will enable us to accurately analyze many of the more complex chord progressions and help us identify subtle key-of-the-moment sections in popular styles of music.

Previously we have discussed the natural minor scale (Aeolian mode) and found that although the Aeolian mode is an extremely useful scale that can help us create many different moods and textures the mode itself does not produce any new chord structures i, e., the Aeolian mode produces the exact same chordal structures as it’s related major scale.

For example:

C major scale chords (triadic version)

C – Dm – Em – F – G – Am – Bdim – C

A Aeolian mode chords

Am – Bdim – C – Dm – Em – F – G – Am

Notice how these are the same chords only starting from a different chord.

Here’s another example, this time using four note chord structures.

C major (scale tone seventh – 4 note chords)

CMaj7 – Dm7 – Em7 – FMaj7 – G7 – Am7 – Bm7b5 – CMaj7

A Aeolian mode chords

Am7 – Bm7b5 – CMaj7 – Dm7 – Em7 – FMaj7 – G7 – Am7

Again, no new chords.

In the 1600’s the desire for a stronger harmonic resolution created the need for different types of minor scales e.g., Harmonic minor, Melodic minor etc.

Whereas the major scale had a strong perfect cadence with the G7 (chord five) resolving to the one chord (C); the Aeolian mode did not produce a strong perfect cadence (Em7 resolving to Am7).

The solution was to raise (sharpen) the leading note of the scale (the seventh note).

Hence the natural minor:

A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A

Became the Harmonic minor ( natural minor scale with a sharpened 7th note).

A – B – C – D – E – F – G# – A

It was named the HARMONIC minor because of all the new rich chords produced with the one simple modification to the leading note (7th note).

In it’s triadic version the Harmonic minor produces the following chord structures.

minor – diminished – augmented – minor – major – major – diminished – minor

Am – Bdim – C+ – Dm – E – F – G#dim – Am

The scale tone 7th version (four note version) of the Harmonic minor produces the following chord structures.

minor (major 7) – minor 7th, flat five – major7(aug) – minor 7th – dominant 7th – major 7th – diminished 7th – minor (major 7th)

Am(Maj7) – Bm7b5 – CMaj7(+) – Dm7 – E7 – FMaj7 – G#dim7 – Am(Maj7)

As you can see there is a whole new set of chords all derived by changing one note.

The process of creating scale chords by layering the notes of the scale upon one another in thirds creates the chord structures, here is an example of this process (example presented in A Harmonic minor).

G#

E

C

A

Am(Maj7)

—–

A

F

D

B

Bm7b5

—–

B

G#

E

C

CMaj7#5

—–

C

A

F

D

Dm7

—–

D

B

G#

E

E7

—–

E

C

A

F

FMaj7

——

F

D

B

G#

G#dim7

———

Notes:

Chord 1: is a minor chord with a major 7th (think of it as a minor chord with a major 7th added).

Chord 2 is a minor 7th flat five also known as the half diminished chord.

Chord 3: is a Major 7th chord with an augmented (sharpened) fifth.

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