The Harmonic Minor Distinctive
Updated: Apr 20
The basic concept of this "Modal Distinctives" series is that you can get to the distinctive sound of a mode without learning the whole mode, or getting all confused by modal theory, but by adding, or altering, a single note of the most commonly-known scale among guitarists; the Minor Pentatonic.
We have covered these minor Modes thus far:
We’ve covered these major Modes:
These constitute the 7 modes of the Major Scale.
I said “…without learning the whole mode, or getting all confused by modal theory” so I’m not going to explain “…the 7 modes of the Major Scale.” Just understand that these 7 modes constitute a category of modes that we are now going to leave.
When we talk about the Harmonic Minor Scale we are in a different category. The Harmonic Minor is not part of the Major Scale modal system.
The Harmonic Minor has its own 7 modes. We’re not going to get into them. We’ll stick to the scale itself.
Again, the concept is that we’re starting from the most commonly-known scale among guitarists, the Minor Pentatonic, and altering or adding a single note to get the distinctive sound of whatever scale/mode we’re after.
So here are the two Minor Pentatonic Scale patterns from which we've been working; one with a 6th-string root, and one with a 5th-string root:
You should drill the above two patterns in every key around the Circle.
If you don't know what I mean by, "around the Circle," stop right here and download the 5-Lesson Foundational Series. This series of lessons teaches the Circle of Keys as an organizational mechanism by which you ensure that whatever you learn is drilled in every key in all possible positions. It also gives you a method to find any note, anywhere, without memorizing note names on every string. That is a beautiful thing!
You can download the 5-Lesson Foundational Series right here for free with no further obligation or commitment:
Commensurate with the Quick & Dirty concept we're going to simplify things even more by only dealing with the upper octave, which is where most of the soloing activity occurs:
To get the distinctive sound of the Harmonic Minor from the Minor Pentatonic, all that’s needed is to sharp the 7th. The sharp-7 is called a "Major 7" - “Ma7" in the fretboard diagrams below:
Mess around with the Minor 7th of the Minor Pentatonic as contrasted to the Major 7th of the Harmonic Minor. Hear/feel/see the difference? Internalize it by drilling/repetition.
So how does the Harmonic Minor function?
The most common context for the Harmonic Minor is when you are in a minor key but the V chord is Dominant instead of Minor. The Major 7th of the Harmonic Minor is the 3rd of the V chord – i.e. it's definitive!
So let's jam on a simple 2-chord pattern. We'll use the D Harmonic Minor Scale and pay special attention to the 7th of the scale when the A7 chord is in play (see the video below).
Sometimes I'll combine the Minor Pentatonic and the Harmonic Minor; I'll play the Minor Pentatonic 7 (technically, the Minor 7) on the D-7 chord and switch to the Harmonic Minor 7 (technically the Major 7) on the A7 chord.
Let's do the same thing in A minor in order to illustrate the 6th-string root pattern (see video).
If you would like a lesson on the complete Harmonic Minor Scale go to:
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