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Guitar Theory:
The Harmonic Minor Scale


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Minor scales have three forms. They are the Natural Minor, Harmonic Minor and Melodic Minor. Natural minor is the relative minor scale of the basic Major Scale. In Modal theory we call these scales IONIAN (the basic Major) and AEOLIAN (the Natural Minor scale built from the Basic Major's 6th degree).

In Western music our Minor sound is strongly rooted in the Natural Minor scale harmony. Although other colors are at times implied, the majority of sounds we hear in popular music (written in Minor Keys) do in fact come from the harmony of the Natural Minor scale.

However, when minor keys contain certain chords (popular to many styles of music) we encounter a problem with the Natural Minor Scale's 7th degree. Look over the examples given below.

Example 1). Natural Minor Progression


In example 1, the chords all exist from the harmonized Natural Minor scale. Many progressions in popular music will often replace the chord from the fifth scale step (in our example this would be the Emi chord) with either a major triad, or a dominant seventh chord. Look at Example 2.

c harm minor

Example 2). Minor Progression with a Major V Chord to strengthen resolution to Tonic.


In example 2, the chord in the final measure is now major quality. If we analyze the notes of the E Major chord we find the notes; E, G#, B. The G# note obviously does not exist in the A Natural Minor scale. It does however exist in the A Harmonic Minor scale.

To play melodies over the chord progression in example 2, we need to perform the A Harmonic Minor scale over the E Major chord in measure four. Measures one through three would not require (nor support) the sound of Harmonic Minor. In those measures we would perform the Natural Minor scale.

In jazz music we often find many II mi7(b5), to V7 chord progressions, (see example 3).

Example 3


These progressions occur in a great many songs. One way to play over them, is to perform Harmonic Minor over the II mi7(b5), to V7 chords (the DMi7(b5) and G7 in example 3) and switch to the Natural Minor over the Tonic chord, (Cmi).