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Master the Harmonic Minor Scale

harmonic minor scale

Introduction to Harmonic Minor Scale

The harmonic minor guitar scale is an exotic-sounding musical scale that is often called the “Arabian Scale”. It differs from the natural minor scale by raising the seventh note in a minor key. This alteration creates a slightly different but distinct sound.

The sound of Harmonic Minor Scales is often associated with a Middle Eastern or Spanish musical flavor. The scale is particularly useful for creating tension and dramatic moments in music on both guitar and piano. Let’s know more about it.

Before that, check out some awesome classical guitars to play these techniques.

Characteristics Of The Harmonic Minor Guitar Scale


Raised Seventh Degree

The only structural difference between the harmonic minor scale and the natural minor scale is the raised seventh degree

In the natural minor scale, the seventh degree is a whole step below the tonic. In the harmonic minor scale, the seventh degree is raised by a half step. This creates a major seventh interval.

Tension and Resolution

The raised seventh degree in the harmonic minor scale creates a tritone interval between the seventh and third degrees. This tritone interval contributes to the scale’s distinct sound and creates a strong tension and a desire for resolution. 

The resolution often involves moving from the raised 7th degree to the tonic note, in the key signature, providing a dramatic and expressive quality to compositions.

Exotic Sound

The harmonic minor scale is often used to evoke exotic or Eastern musical flavors. It is a common choice in genres like flamenco, classical, jazz, and metal, where its unique tonal qualities add tension, drama, and intensity to the music.

Chords

The harmonies derived from the harmonic minor scale are different from those of the natural minor scale. 

One of the most notable chords in the harmonic minor scale is the diminished seventh chord, which consists of stacked minor thirds and is commonly used for harmonic tension and resolution.

Learn more about 12-string guitar chords from here!

The dominant fifth chord also captures the flavor of the scale very well and is used frequently in V7 – I resolutions. The Andalusian Cadence is a famous example of the build of a major scale.

Natural Minor Scale vs. Harmonic Minor Scale

Construction

The formula for the harmonic minor scale is as follows (measured in half-steps or semitones):

  • Root (Tonic), the most important note in the key signature
  • Whole step (Major Second) and its note names along the major scale. and its note names along the major scale.
  • Half step (Minor Third)
  • Whole step (Perfect Fourth), a concept in the lesson, in the major scale, a concept in the lesson, in the major scale

  • Whole step (Perfect Fifth)

  • Half step (Minor Sixth) in the major scale

  • Whole step and a Half step (Raised seventh degree)

  • Half step (Octave)

The formula for the minor scale is as follows (measured in half-steps or semitones):

  • Root (Tonic)
  • Whole step (Major Second)
  • Half step (Minor Third)
  • Whole step (Perfect Fourth)
  • Whole step (Perfect Fifth)
  • Half step (Minor Sixth)
  • Whole step (Minor Seventh)
  • Whole step (Octave)

Sound

The natural minor has a sound ranging from soothing and calm to mournful and melancholic. But the harmonic minor guitar scale’s sound ranges from tense and ominous to downright aggressive. 

The natural minor scale’s softness comes from the flattened third and sixth intervals. On the other hand, the level of tension in the harmonic minor scale depends on how much the flavor note (the raised seventh) is utilized.

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Chord Progressions

The diatonic chords of The Natural Minor Guitar Scale, a favorite among many, are I, ii, III, iv, v, VI, and VIII. This means the root note, fourth, and fifth notes’ chords are minor. The third, sixth, and seventh notes’ chords are major and the second note’s chord is diminished.

Diatonic chords of The Harmonic Minor Guitar Scale are i, ii, iii aug, iv, V, VI, and video. This implies that the root note and fourth notes’ chords are minor in our practice. The third, fifth, and sixth notes’ chords are major. The third note’s chord is augmented and the second and seventh notes’ chord is diminished.

The unstable augmented and diminished chords and the dominant fifth chord create the tense and ominous sound of the Harmonic Minor Scale.

Notes and diagrams of all Harmonic Minor Scales


A Harmonic Minor Guitar Scale

The A Harmonic Minor Scale consists of the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, and G#. It has a convenient shape throughout the guitar neck because of the open A string. This scale is frequently used in gypsy jazz, flamenco, etc. style music.

A# Harmonic Minor Guitar Scale

The A# Harmonic Minor Scale consists of the following notes A sharp, C, C#, D#, F, F#, and A. It has been noted to be used by certain classical composers.

B Harmonic Minor Guitar Scale

The B Harmonic Minor Scale consists of the notes B, C#, D, E, F#, G, and A#. Songs with the Andalusian Cadence have been composed in the B Harmonic Minor scale.

C Harmonic Minor Guitar Scale

The C Harmonic Minor scale consists of the notes C, D, D#, F, G, G#, and A#. This scale is often used by djent artists who down-tune to Drop C.

C# Harmonic Minor Guitar Scale

The C# Harmonic Minor Scale consists of the notes C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A and B. This scale is a hit among Nu-metal artists who perform alternating between D# and Drop C# tuning.

D Harmonic Minor Guitar Scale

The D Harmonic Minor Scale consists of the notes D, E, F, G, A, A# and C#. This scale is preferred by death metal artists who tend to tune a whole step down from the standard tuning.

D# Harmonic Minor Guitar Scale

The D# Harmonic Minor Scale consists of the notes D#, F, F#, G#, A#, B, and D. This scale is often used by guitarists who tune in D# standard tuning.

E Harmonic Minor Guitar Scale

The E harmonic Minor scale consists of the notes E, F#, G, A, B, C, and D#. This is the most accessible harmonic minor scale shape throughout the fretboard. This is due to both the first and last guitar string being open Es.

F Harmonic Minor  Guitar Scale

The F Minor scale consists of the notes F, G, G#, A#, C, C#, and E. Flamenco music composers have been noted to use this scale.

F# Harmonic Minor Guitar Scale

The F# Harmonic Minor Scale consists of the notes F#, G#, A, B, C#, D, and F. This is one of the less-used harmonic minor scales.

G Harmonic Minor Guitar Scale

The G Harmonic Minor Scale consists of the notes G, A, A#, C, D, D#, and F#. This also is visited a lot by artists who tend to tune a whole step down from the standard tuning.

G# Harmonic Minor Guitar Scale

The G# Harmonic Minor Scale consists of the notes G#, A#, C, C#, D#, E, and G. This scale is often used by guitarists who tune in D# standard tuning.

Learn Arpeggios after you finish learning the harmonic minor scale here!

Why the E and A Harmonic Minor Scale shapes are loved by guitarists

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The guitar is stringed in such a way that both the thickest (6th) and thinnest (1st) strings are open Es. This means that those strings, being played without any frets pressed, sound an E note.

As root notes are heavily utilized in musical compositions, having an open note as the tonic is a godsend. Even more so for E, since it allows one to start at the bottom of the guitar’s range.

The same reasoning applies to the A (5th) string. E being the root for the dominant chord of A, and it being the open note of the 6th string is an additional convenience.

Double Harmonic Minor Scales

The double harmonic minor scale, also known as the Byzantine scale or the Arabic scale, is a captivating and exotic musical scale that is less common in Western music but has a unique and alluring sound. It is constructed by flattening the second and raising the sixth degree of the natural minor scale.

Scale Formula

The double harmonic minor scale can be represented with the following formula (measured in half-steps or semitones):

  1. Root (tonic)
  2. Half step (Minor second)
  3. Whole step (Minor third)
  4. Whole step (Perfect Fourth)
  5. Whole step (Perfect Fifth)
  6. Half step (Flattened Sixth)
  7. Whole and a half step (Major Seventh)
  8. Half step (Octave)

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Characteristics of the Double Harmonic Minor Scale

Distinctive Sound

The double harmonic minor scale has a unique and exotic sound due to the augmented seconds (three half steps) it contains. This results in intervals not commonly found in Western music, contributing to its exotic and alluring character.

Exotic Flavor

The scale is often associated with Middle Eastern, Eastern European, and Mediterranean music due to its captivating and foreign tonal qualities. Using the minor scale creates a sense of mystery and allure.

Unconventional Intervals

The augmented second is a less common interval in Western music, and its use in the double harmonic minor scale adds to its distinctiveness.

Cultural Significance

The scale is a prominent feature of various world music traditions, especially in regions where it is used to evoke a particular cultural or emotional context.

Harmonic Richness

The scale provides a rich harmonic palette, allowing for the creation of complex and colorful chord progressions, which can add depth and complexity to compositions.

By playing the scales in experimental tunings you can discover so many unique sounds! Learn about guitar tunings here.

Famous Songs That Use The Harmonic Minor Guitar Scale


Hotel California by Eagles

Eagles need no introduction, neither does this timeless classic. Hotel California heavily uses the dominant fifth chord and eerie melodies over it. Needless to say, this is all on the harmonic minor scale.

Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits

Sultans of Swing is one of the biggest hits by the British rock legend Dire Straits. The song is mostly on the natural scale, but at the end of every chord progression circle, it shifts to the Harmonic Minor scale.

Paint It, Black by The Rolling Stones

Paint It, Black uses the harmonic minor scale in the key of E, especially in the sitar riff and the guitar solo. The raised seventh degree creates a contrast with the natural minor scale used in the verses.

Desert Rose by Sting

Sting is one of the few pop artists who has dared to use the double harmonic minor scale in a mainstream song. A collaboration with Cheb Mami, Desert Rose is a song that shines like the desert sun. The instrumental melody utilizes the C double harmonic scale’s flavor notes generously.

From root to the octave

The harmonic minor guitar scale is a valuable tool, one we’ll explore in this lesson, for composers and musicians looking to infuse their music with unique colors and emotions. The harmonic minor guitar scale, a favorite among musicians, its distinctive sound and the tension created by the raised 7th degree make it an essential scale in various musical contexts.

Harmonic Minor Scale FAQ

Sabih Safwat

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