Welcome to this lesson on the harmonic minor scale and how you can use it in your own playing. The harmonic minor scale is an important scale in all kinds of music and like the major scale, it has seven unique modes. There are only two commonly used modes of the harmonic minor, the harmonic minor scale and the phrygian dominant scale. To me the harmonic minor scale has a very powerful and classical sound to it and that is probably due to the scales widespread use in classical music. The harmonic minor scale is used quite often in jazz and so it is definitely an important scale to learn.
If you grew up in the 80’s you will have heard the harmonic minor scale and phrygian dominant scale used to death by most of the spandex wearing guitar players who pioneered the neoclassical shred guitar sound.
Harmonic minor intervals
Let’s start by taking a look at the notes that make up the harmonic minor scale. The notes of the harmonic minor scale in the key or C are:
C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, B
We can represent these notes using intervals like this:
1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, 7
The harmonic minor scale is used over min/major seven chords and also to play over minor 2 5 1 progressions If we look at a minor 2 5 1 progression in the key of C, we can see that all of the chords belong to the C harmonic minor scale. This means that it is possible to play the harmonic minor scale over every chord of the minor 2 5 1 progression.
Minor 2 5 1 in C
Dm7b5 | G7b9 | Cmin/maj7 | Cmin/maj7
Here is a list of all 12 possible harmonic minor scales
C harmonic minor scale
C – D – Eb – F – G – Ab – B – C
G harmonic minor scale
G – A – Bb – C – D – Eb – F# – G
D harmonic minor scale
D – E – F – G – A – Bb – C# – D
A harmonic minor scale
A – B – C – D – E – F – G# – A
E harmonic minor scale
E – F# – G – A – B – C – D# – E
B harmonic minor scale
B – C# – D – E – F# – G – A# – B
F# harmonic minor scale
F# – G# – A – B – C# – D – E# – F#
C# harmonic minor scale
C# – D# – E – F# – G# – A – B# – C#
G# harmonic minor scale
G# – A# – B – C# – D# – E – G (F##) – G#
Eb harmonic minor scale
Eb – F – Gb – Ab – Bb – Cb – D – Eb
Bb harmonic minor scale
Bb – C – Db – Eb – F – Gb – A – Bb
F harmonic minor scale
F – G – Ab – Bb – C – Db – E – F
Harmonic Minor Chords
As well as getting to know the notes of the harmonic minor scale, it is also important to learn the chords that make up the harmonic minor scale. Here are the chords of the harmonic minor scale.
I min/maj7, II m7b5, III maj7#5, IV min7, V7b9, VI maj7, VII dim
I have written out the chords for the C harmonic minor scale below.
Cmin/maj7, Dm7b5, Ebmaj7#5, F minor 7, G7b9, Abmaj7, B diminished
As you can see there are some really interesting chords in the harmonic minor scale and they are really useful for writing and composing music.
Harmonic minor modes
There are seven modes of the harmonic minor scale but only two of them are regularly used. I would suggest learning mode one (the harmonic minor) and mode five (the phrygian dominant scale) really well but I wouldn’t worry too much about the other modes. Some of the harmonic minor modes can be useful to get ideas and new sounds but you will find very little use for them in day to day playing. Here is a list of all seven modes of the harmonic minor. Some of these scales may have multiple names but I have chosen the ones I think are most descriptive.
1 Harmonic minor mode
The first mode of the harmonic minor scale is unsurprisingly the harmonic minor scale itself. This scale is used to play over minor 2 5 1 progressions and also over the dark sounding minor/major 7 chord.
The intervals of the harmonic minor mode are:
1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, 7
2 Locrian Natural 6th
The second mode of the harmonic minor scale is the Locrian natural 6th. This scale is very rarely heard but can be used to play over minor 7b5 chords.
The intervals of the Locrian Natural 6th mode are:
1, b2, b3, 4, b5, 6, b7
3 Ionian #5 mode
The third mode of the harmonic minor scale is the Ionian #5 mode and it is used to play over the gorgeous sounding major 7#5 chord. I love the sound of this scale but you will find that it is very rarely used in traditional jazz music.
The intervals of the Ionian #5 mode are:
1, 2, 3, 4, #5, 6, 7
4 Dorian #4
The fourth mode of the harmonic minor scale is the dorian #4 mode. You will not hear this scale played very often.
The intervals of the Dorian #4 mode are:
1, 2, b3, #4, 5 ,6, b7
5 Phrygian dominant mode or Phrygian major mode
Out of all the modes of the harmonic minor, this is the one you will probably hear most often. It is a really great sounding scale for playing over the dominant 7b9 chord. This mode is also called the Phrygian major scale.
The intervals of the Phrygian dominant mode are:
1, b2, 3, 4, 5, b6, b7
6 Lydian #2
Mode six of the harmonic minor scale is the interesting sounding Lydian #2 mode. Again this mode is rarely used and you do not need to worry about it too much.
The intervals of the Lydian #2 mode are:
1, #2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7
7 Super Locrian Diminished (Locrian bb7)
The seventh and final mode of the harmonic minor scales is the super locrian diminished scale. You will not need to know much about this scale and it is very rarely used.
The intervals of the Super locrian diminished scale are:
1, b2, b3, 4, b5, b6, bb7
I hope you enjoyed learning more about the harmonic minor scale and the harmonic minor scale modes. Take your time to get to know the sounds of the harmonic minor scale because it is a really useful tool to learn and will greatly expand your musical vocabulary.
You can learn more about guitar scales by checking out Jamplay which is a great way to learn scales on guitar.