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Introduction to Harmonic Minor on Guitar


Today we will talk about the Harmonic Minor scale. It is on it is own a parent scale of another modal tree. It is the modal tree of the harmonic minor scale and it has 7 modes as well.

We will talk today about the fundamental difference between the harmonic minor and the natural minor. Those two scales are very similar and they have only one note that makes all the difference

Lets listen to this backing track we have here, it is in a Latin style which quite often involve playing the harmonic minor scale and that gives it its unique sound and feel.

Chord progression Am Em B7 Em

What makes it “harmonic”?

Natural Minor Vs. Harmonic Minor

If we look at the chord scale (the unique chord on each of the 7 scale degrees) of the Natural minor we will notice that it has a minor V dominant chord (chord on the fifth scale degree). Here is a the chord scale

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Em F#dim G Am Bm C D

But since we have a B7 which is a major chord triad with a dominant 7th we can not play the note D included in the Natural Minor scale. We have to raise it by a half step to become D# which plays in harmony with the B7 chord

Because of this amendment to the natural minor scale it becomes the Harmonic Minor scale and it has a raised 7th note similar to the one included in the parent G major scale.

Look at the scale diagrams below, focus on the position starting on fret 7 on the A string. see the one note difference between the two scales.

Once you get familiar with that we can start our improvisation journey to play along with the backing track.

Improvisation Tips

That was just a quick music theory introduction. Now look at the diagram above and as usual.. Start by looking at the locations of the root note E all over the different places on the fretboard.

Then lets focus on that position on fret 7 A string. Start to play from the 7th to the root. from D# to E on the A string. This helps establish a stable sound of the root in your ears. Then try to improvise a short phrase of 2 or 3 notes on the same string.

On frets 7,8,10. Make sure to add emphasis that D# along with the chord B7, else play the other scale notes.

Lets move to a new position now. Fret#12 on E. Look at the diagram above. See that pattern on strings E,A,D it is the same pattern starting on fret 7 on A,D,G strings.

This visualization makes it easier to play the same phrases in a new location, then start to play new ideas with the different fret arrangements you have in this new position.

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