Harmonic Minor Scale

You’ve heard about the harmonic minor scale, but you’re unsure what it is or how to use it.

The harmonic minor scale can be a bit confusing at first, but once you understand how it works, you can use it to create beautiful-sounding melodies and chord progressions.

This article will teach you everything you need to know about the harmonic minor scale. We’ll start by explaining the harmonic minor scale and how it differs from the natural minor scale.

Then we’ll discuss the harmonic minor scales’ intervals, formulas, and notes. Finally, we’ll show you how to map the harmonic minor scale to the fretboard and harmonize it in different keys.

What Is the Harmonic Minor Scale, and why was it needed?

You may already know that a diatonic scale is a subset of the chromatic scale whose literal meaning is “across the octave.” This implies that it is distributed uniformly across the octave with only the intervals of whole and half steps. The only drawback is that it produces a very particular sound.

You may have to look for other scales if you want a different sound. It is always better to have these other scales derived in some way from the diatonic scales.

On the same lines, the Harmonic scale is a 7-note scale derived from the natural minor scale and is known as the “Harmonic Minor Scale.

Why was the Harmonic Minor Scale Needed?

As you know from your knowledge of music theory, on a major scale, the last note before an octave is a major 7th. When played in ascending order, the scale has a strong resolution in the end since the last note is only a half step below the root in the next octave. This leading tone makes composing and improvising melodies very useful, as resolving the tension is very easy.

However, in modes like Aeolian, Dorian, Locrian, and Phrygian, which are in a minor key, the seventh note is a whole tone away from the root. This makes the resolutions in any minor key appear less stable than those in the major key.

The best solution is to alter the sevenths in the minor scale slightly. If you raise the 7th degree in natural minor scales by one semitone, keeping the other notes the same, you get a harmonic minor scale (HMS). A harmonic minor scale has all the properties of the corresponding minor scale, with the only difference being the possibility of achieving stable resolutions.

Structure and Intervals of the Harmonic Minor Scale

As stated earlier, the harmonic minor scale derives its structure from the minor scale, the only exception being the raised seventh degree. This means the last interval is only one-half step from the root, while the second last interval is increased to 3 half-steps. In classical Western music, this interval of three semitones is sonically equivalent to a minor third and is also referred to as the augmented second.

So the structure of HMS is

Whole, Half, Whole, Whole, Half, Whole + Half, Half or W H W W H WH H

In terms of tones, it is T S T T S TS S.

In the detailed form, in terms of intervals, the structure becomes:

R – T – M2 – S – m3 – T – P4 – T – P5 – S – m6 – TS – M7 – S – R

Since it has the raised seventh scale degree, with three semitones between the sixth and the seventh note, it is not a diatonic scale.

Harmonic Minor Scale Formula

As already stated above, the structure for HMS is T S T T S TS S. This translates to the following notation or formula:

1, 2, ♭3, 4, 5, ♭6, 7

This means that any harmonic minor scale can be built by lowering the third and sixth degree of the respective major scale by one semitone.

What Are the Notes of the Harmonic Minor Scales?

Let us consider the notes of the E natural minor scale Em: [E F# G A B C D E]. You can form the E harmonic minor scale by raising the seventh note D to D#, giving you the notes of the Harmonic Em scale as [E F# G A B C D# E].

Scale Degrees1234567
IntervalsRoot M2m3P4P5m6M7
StructureTSTTSTSS
Scale Formula12b345b67
NotesEF#GABCD#

Similarly, for C natural minor scale Cm: [C D Eb F G Ab Bb C], you can raise the seventh note Bb by one semitone to B to form the harmonic Cm scale: [C D Eb F G Ab B C].

Scale Degrees1234567
NotesCDEbFGAbB

The diagram below shows the C Harmonic Minor scale on the fretboard and its intervals.

The table below shows the notes of the Harmonic Minor Scale for all 12 Chromatic scale tones.

Note 1 Note 2Note 3Note 4Note 5Note 6Note 7Note 8(O)
RootToneSemitoneToneToneSemitoneAug 2ndSemitone
ABCDEFG#A
A#B#C#D#E#F#G##A#
BC#DEF#GA#B
CDEbFGAbBC
C#D#EF#G#AB#C#
DEFGABbC#D
D#E#F#G#A#BC##D#
EF#GABCD#E
FGAbBbCDbEF
F#G#ABC#DE#F#
GABbCDEbF#G
G#A#BC#D#EF##G#

Natural Minor Scale vs. Harmonic Minor: What’s the Difference?

As already explained, the major differences between these two scales arise from the interval of the seventh note. Natural minor scale as a flat 7th, while HMS has a natural 7th. In addition, you may note the following differences between the two.

  1. All natural minor scales have relative major scales. In the same way, all major scales have a relative minor. But HMS does not have any relative major keys sharing all their notes.
  2. The natural minor scale has the same notes as the Aeolian diatonic mode, while HMS has a raised seventh, making it one scale degree removed from the Aeolian mode.
  3. Natural minor scales align with the key signatures, while HMS does not. They are indicated using a key signature and a sharp incidental together next to the seventh scale degree.
  4. You can create augmented triads with the HMS due to the presence of the raised seventh. This cannot be done with natural minor scales.
  5. The dominant V chord is a major chord in the chord progressions of harmonic minor scales. Consider the example of the D harmonic minor scale. The V chord is A major with A, C#, E as its notes. In the D minor scale, the note C# gets dropped to C, making it a minor triad.

Modes of Harmonic Minor Scale

Hopefully, you understand what the notes of any scale are. If you don’t, it is recommended to go through our article on “Diatonic Modes.” Since the HMS has seven notes, seven modes are associated with it, as detailed in the following sections.

Harmonic Minor Mode (HMM) 1 – Aeolian #7

The first mode is the harmonic minor scale itself, consisting of the following intervals:

Root note, Major 2nd, minor 3rd, Perfect 4th, Perfect 5th, minor 6th, Major 7th

or 1 – 2 – b3 – 4 – 5 – b6 – 7

The mode is named Aeolian #7 because it has all the intervals of a diatonic Aeolian mode, except for a major 7th, instead of a minor one. In A, HMM1 has the following notes: A, B, C, D, E, F, G#.

Harmonic Minor Mode 2 – Locrian #6

As you may be aware, the second mode is formed by starting at the second note of the first mode and following the same notes, so the notes of HMM2 are B, C, D, E, F, G#, A.

This leads you to the following sets of intervals:

Root, minor 2nd, minor 3rd, Perfect 4th, diminished 5th, Major 6th, minor 7th

or 1 – b2 – b3 – 4 – b5 – 6 – b7

This mode is called either Locrian #6 or Locrian natural. If you compare it with the diatonic Locrian mode (1 – b2 – b3 – 4 – b5 – b6 – b7), you will find that it has a major sixth instead of a minor 6th. It is called Locrian natural because the sixth is no longer flat.

Harmonic Minor Mode 3 – Ionian #5

By the same logic, HMM3 starts at the third note and follows the same notes: C, D, E, F, G#, A, B, leading to the following intervals.

Root, Major 2nd, Major 3rd, Perfect 4th, Augmented 5th, Major 6th, Major 7th.

or 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – #5 – 6 – 7

By now, you would have guessed why HMM 3 is called Ionian #5. It has an augmented fifth interval instead of a perfect fifth in the diatonic Ionian structure (1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7).

Harmonic Minor Mode 4 – Dorian #4

HMM 4 has the notes: D, E, F, G#, A, B, C, and the following interval structure:

Root, Major 2nd, minor 3rd, Augmented 4th, Perfect 5th, Major 6th, minor 7th.

or 1 – 2 – b3 – #4 – 5 – 6 – b7.

Compare it with the regular Dorian mode structure and figure out why it has #4 appended to its name. For the balance modes, we will just name the notes and the intervals. You can compare it with the respective regular diatonic modes scale patterns, particularly the raised scale degrees.

Harmonic Minor Mode 5 – Phrygian #3

HMM 5 has the notes: E, F, G#, A, B, C, D, and the following interval structure:

Root, minor 2nd, Major 3rd, perfect 4th, Perfect 5th, minor 6th, minor 7th.

or 1 – b2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – b6 – b7.

Harmonic Minor Mode 6 – Lydian #2

HMM 6 has the notes: F, G#, A, B, C, D, E, and the following interval structure:

Root, Augmented 2nd, Major 3rd, Augmented 4th, Perfect 5th, Major 6th, Major 7th.

or 1 – #2 – 3 – #4 – 5 – 6 – 7.

Harmonic Minor Mode 7 – Mixolydian #1 or Super Locrian.

HMM 7 has the notes: G#, A, B, C, D, E, F, and the following interval structure:

Root, minor 2nd, minor 3rd, diminished 4th, diminished 5th, minor 6th, diminished 7th.

or 1 – b2 – b3 – b4 – b5 – b6 – bb7.

As you would have noticed, this scale differs from other scales and has three minor and three diminished intervals. It has different names assigned to it, as discussed below:

  1. Mixolydian #1: This mode differs from what you have seen in the first six modes when you compare it with the normal Mixolydian mode. You have to lower all the notes of the normal Mixolydian mode by one semitone and then raise back the root by one semitone to get this scale.
  2. Super Locrian: You get this mode by flattening the fourth and the seventh notes of the normal diatonic Locrian mode.
  3. Altered scale: The term altered scale is usually used for the 7th mode of the melodic minor scale. But some musicians also call this an altered scale or altered diminished scale because each of the scale degrees of the major scale is altered in this mode.

HMM interval structure table.

The below table summarizes the interval structure of all seven modes of the harmonic minor scale.

Aeolian #7IntervalRM2m3P4P5m6M7
Notes12b345b67
Locrian #6IntervalRm2m3P4P5M6m7
Notes1b2b3456b7
Ionian #5IntervalRM2M3P4Aug5M6M7
Notes1234#567
Dorian #4IntervalRM2m3Aug4P5M6m7
Notes12b3#456b7
Phrygian #3IntervalRm2M3P4P5m6m7
Notes1b2345b6b7
Lydian #2IntervalRAug2M3Aug4P5M6M7
Notes1#23#4567
Super LocrianIntervalRm2m3dim4dim5m6dim7
Notes1b2b3b4b5b6bb7

Mapping the Harmonic Minor to the Fretboard

The diagrams below show the five positions of the G harmonic minor scale mapped on the fretboard.

Harmonizing the Harmonic Minor Scale

Harmonizing a scale means building chords for each of its scale degrees. Triad chords are built by stacking the interval of thirds (minor and major thirds) over the root notes. Let us use the G harmonic minor scale for the purpose. The notes of the harmonic minor scale are [G A Bb C D Eb F# G]. They are also shown on the fretboard in the diagram below.

Chord from the Scale Degree 1

The tonic chord is built from the first degree of the scale, with G as the root note.

G – m3 – Bb – M3 – D.

It is a minor chord with G, Bb, D as its notes.

Chord from the Scale Degree 2

The second-degree chord is built with A as the root note.

A – m3 – C – m3 – Eb.

It is a diminished chord with A, C, Eb as its notes.

Chord from the Scale Degree 3

The third-degree chord is built with Bb as the root note.

Bb – M3 – D – M3 – F#.

It is an augmented triad chord with Bb, D, F# as its notes.

Chord from the Scale Degree 4

The fourth-degree chord is built with C as the root note.

C – m3 – Eb – M3 – G.

It is a minor chord with C, Eb, G as its notes.

Chord from the Scale Degree 5

The fifth-degree chord is built with D as the root note.

D – M3 – F# – m3 – A.

It is a major chord with D, F#, A as its notes.

Chord from the Scale Degree 6

The sixth-degree chord is built with Eb as the root note.

Eb – M3 – G – m3 – Bb.

It is a major chord with Eb, G, Bb as its notes.

Chord from the Scale Degree 7

The seventh-degree chord is built with F# as the root note.

F# – m3 – A – m3 – C.

It is a diminished seventh chord with F#, A, C as its notes.

Hence, by harmonizing HMS, you get the chord qualities as two minor chords, two major, two diminished, and one augmented triad. This is represented as {i, iidim, IIIaug, iv, V, VI, viidim}.

Scale Degree1234567
Chord Designationiii°IIIaugivVVIvii°
Chord QualityminordiminishedAugmentedminorMajorMajordiminished
Chord NameGmAdimBbaugCmDEbF#dim

Conclusion

That’s all for now on the harmonic minor scale. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comments section below. I would also love to hear about your experiences with this scale, so please share them too!

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