The harmonic minor scale is a unique and dynamic scale used for improvisation. In this post, we’ll cover how the harmonic minor scale is different from other minor scales, learn the formula to play it on any root note, scale shapes on guitar, and musical application examples including tabs and audio.
Let’s get started.
What is the harmonic minor scale?
The harmonic minor scale has the scale degrees 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, and 7. For example, the C harmonic minor scale would have the notes C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, and B.
See the chart of the harmonic scale formula using whole and half steps.
Here is the notation with tabs and audio for the C harmonic minor scale played in two octaves.
Comparing minor scales
Let’s compare the scale degrees for other closely related minor scales.
- The natural minor scale, (also known as the Aeolian mode) has the scale degrees 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, and b7. If you know this scale, you only have to raise the 7th degree to play a harmonic minor scale.
- The melodic minor scale has the notes 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. This scale has a natural 6th degree compared to the b6 in the harmonic minor scale.
Harmonic minor scale examples
Here are examples of harmonic minor scales starting on different root notes.
|Harmonic minor scale||1||2||b3||4||5||b6||7|
|C# harmonic minor scale||C#||D#||E||F#||G#||A||C|
|D harmonic minor scale||D||E||F||G||A||Bb||C#|
|E harmonic minor scale||E||F#||G||A||B||C||D#|
|F harmonic minor scale||F||G||Ab||Bb||C||Db||E|
|F# harmonic minor scale||F#||G#||A||B||C#||D||F|
|G harmonic minor scale||G||A||Bb||C||D||Eb||F#|
|B harmonic minor scale||B||C#||D||E||F#||G||A#|
5 Harmonic minor scale shapes on guitar
We can break down the harmonic minor scale into five different sections of the guitar fretboard. You can play these shapes starting on any root note.
How to read the scale charts
For the charts below, the lowest horizontal line represents the thickest string (Low E). The top horizontal line represents the thinnest string (high E).
The green circles represent the root note of the melodic minor scale, and the blue notes are every scale note in between. Also, the numbers inside the circles represent the suggested fingering to use on your fretting hand.
If needed, check out how to read guitar notation symbols.
One thing to note about using these shapes is that whenever you have scales that use notes with open strings, you have to rearrange your fingers to play the shape. For example, if the shape uses the fingering 1, 3, and 4 on one string, you can play (open string), 1, and 3 instead.
Although you will need to change some fingerings if you include open strings, once you move over to the next shape where you’re fretting all the notes, you will get back to the original shapes we covered.
Harmonic minor scale application examples
This harmonic scale is commonly used in a chord progressions moving from the 5 to 1 chord. For example, in the key of C minor, you can play the C harmonic minor scale over the 5 chord, which would be G7. Using the harmonic scale over the 5 chords highlights a Dominant 7 b9 sound, in this case, the Ab note.
Here are some application examples over a G7 b9 chord to a C minor 7 chord including guitar tabs and audio.
Descending line 1
This descending line example starts on the 7th chord tone of the G7 b9 and resolves to the b3 chord tone of C minor 7.
Descending line 2
This descending line starts on the b9 chord tone of the G7 b9 and resolves to the 5th chord tone of C minor 7.
Descending line 3
This descending line starts on the 5th chord tone of the G7 b9 and resolves to the root note of C minor 7.
Harmonic minor scale lick 1
A “lick” refers to a musical phrase you can learn to apply to a similar musical context. The following harmonic minor scale licks outline the chord tones for the 5 to 1 progression in C minor. We’ll gradually add more notes upon each example.
Harmonic minor scale lick 2
Harmonic minor scale lick 3
The harmonic minor scale is an essential scale that you can use for improvisation, especially over minor chord progressions.
We learned the formula to apply this scale to different root notes, learned the scales shapes and application examples in a musical context.
To master this scale, try applying the scale shapes in different keys. Memorizing the scale shapes will help you play the right notes more effectively and allow for more creative freedom. For best results, try to create your own phrases and musical ideas using the harmonic scale as soon as you are able to.
To explore more scale ideas and develop melodic playing, you may also want to check out how practice scales on guitar.
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