Harmonic minor scale is really similar to Natural Minor Scale.
Difference between harmonic and natural minor scales
The only difference between both scales is what is in the seventh degree. In the natural minor scale, the seventh degree is minor, while in the harmonic minor scale, the seventh degree is major.
For you to see the difference, we will use as example the natural minor scale of A and the harmonic minor scale of A. Compare them:
- Am Natural: A, B, C, D, E, F, G
- Am Harmonic: A, B, C, D, E, F, G#
You can see that the only difference is in the seventh degree (in this case, G). This seventh major degree in the harmonic minor scale increased the distance between 6 and 7 degrees, shortening the distance between 7 and 8 degrees. This changing gave it a really interesting sound.
Harmonic minor scale drawing
Check bellow the drawing of A harmonic minor scale (the seventh degree is highlighted in red):
Try to play this scale repeatedly to feel its melody. Notice how just the scale itself has already a pleasant sound.
Harmonic minor chords
The harmonic field created by Am harmonic scale is the following:
Observation: the method to create this harmonic field is the same that we used to create the major harmonic field to a major scale. The only difference is that here we used the harmonic minor scale. We will not do all the procedure again to no become boring.
In a generic way, harmonic minor chords can be seen in the following way:
Im7M – IIm7(b5) – III7M(#5) – IVm7 – V7 – VI7M – VII#dim
Nice, so in theory, always when we identify one of these chords/degrees in a song, we can use the harmonic minor scale in our solo, because the harmony allows it. The problem is that, in practice, the chords Im7M and III7M(#5) rarely appear, and the other chords with the extensions m7(b5), m7, 7, 7M, appear in innumerous contexts, what makes the approach hard, because they can belong to another harmonic field that not the harmonic minor. In this case, to use this scale with these chords, you need to identify, for example, if the chord with extension m7, let’s say Em7 is the fourth degree in the song, IVm7, as we say in the drawing of this field:
Im7M – IIm7(b5) – III7M(#5) – IVm7 – V7 – VI7M – VII#dim
For this, the song would need to be in B minor, so then you could play B harmonic minor scale in the moment that this chord Em7 would appear, because the corresponding harmonic field would be:
Though, if the song was in G major and the chord Em7 appears, it would be the sixth degree, VIm7, that belongs to a major harmonic field, in other words, it wouldn’t allow the use of B minor harmonic scale with it (generally speaking). You can see the harmonic field of G major:
This makes our life harder, because we would need to pay attention all the time in corresponding degrees and tonalities to know when we can or cannot use the harmonic minor scale.
Thankfully that, in practice, as we said in the article “scales application”, hardly you will use this scale thinking about harmonic fields this way. The easiest way to discover this context of when you can use this scale is paying attention to the fifth degree, as we will explain.
How to use the harmonic minor scale
The context that harmonic minor scale mostly appears in solos, riffs or arrangements is when a chord V7 solves in a minor chord. This resolution is typical in the minor harmonic context, because it doesn’t exist nor in the natural major harmonic field as in natural minor. In the major field, V7 solves itself in a major chord, as we already know. And in the minor field there is not V7, because the fifth degree is minor (Vm7):
Thus, the resolution “V7 – Im7” is typical to Harmonic minor chords. This is really important to know because this is the sequence that mostly appears in songs when the subject is harmonic minor. Besides that, the dominant V7 is really easy to be identified by our ear, especially in the context of minor tonality. We will show some examples of use of this scale. Notice that in the resolution “V7 – Im7” the harmonic minor scale is played over the chord V7, because it is it that characterizes the harmonic minor tonality.
Observation: when we say “played over the chord V7” it means that is the harmonic minor scale of first degree (Im7), but played in the moment that the chord V7 appears. Don’t be confused, because we are not saying that is the harmonic minor of fifth degree. For example, if it appears the chord E7 solving the chord Am, we would use A harmonic minor scale in the moment that E7 was being played. We would not use E harmonic minor! Be careful to not mix the ideas!
Practice a lot this scale in this context and try to identify songs that have this progression V7 – Im7. Your ear will be used to this resolution quickly and it will be acute to perceive it when it appears. Check bellow, in the file from Guitar Pro, an example of solo in this context. Certainly this will help you stimulating your ideas to understand better this application!
In the solo of this file, the harmony is in A minor tonality. The dominant F#7 is which allowed the utilization of A harmonic minor.
Practice now this context of harmonic minor scale downloading this backing track: Harmonic minor scale Train.gpro
This base is in A minor. When the chord E7 appears (dominant), you can use the harmonic minor scale of A.
Do you want to show your talent and ideas? Make a video of your improvisation about this base, put it in Youtube and send its link to “Contact Us”. The best solos using this scale will be shown here!
Just a curiosity: one musical style that uses a lot the harmonic minor scale is the Spanish Music.
Go to: Melodic minor scale
Back to: Module 8