So, back in January I laid out a practice schedule for the year that would include me investigating and studying a variety of new ideas to kick myself out of a rut, and included in that variety was the harmonic minor scale, something I've long been more or less familiar with but never really looked into. So in the spirit of self improvement, I'm presenting my findings...
First off, what is the harmonic minor scale? It's a seven note scale built from these intervals:
R – 2 – b3 – 4 – 5 – b6 -7
We can view this as a natural minor scale with a natural 7th, and you can see the minor 3rd gap between the b6 and 7th gives it an eerie, “haunted house” vibe. Classical music makes heavy use of this scale – in fact, in many classical guitar syllabi, the harmonic minor is taught before the minor pentatonic (you crazy classical fools!). However, popular music tends to favour the natural minor, which is in itself a mode of the major scale.
(The difference between a scale and a mode? The modes of the major scale are all re-arrangements of the notes of the major scale, and as the strongest, most straightforward tonality, the major scale is defined as the parent scale. With the harmonic minor, there is no way to rearrange the major scale notes to form the intervals of the harmonic minor, and it is the strongest and most straightforward of it's tonalities.. the modes of the harmonic minor are wondrous and obscure!)
Let's look at the A Harmonic Minor scale (it's the simplest to wrap your head around):
R – 2 – b3 – 4 – 5 – b6 -7
A - B - C - D – E – F – G#
Now, if we look at this modally, this is what we get:
A - B - C - D – E – F – G# - A Harmonic Minor
R – b2 – b3 – 4 – b5 – 6 - b7
B - C - D - E – F – G# – A - B Locrian #6
R – 2 – 3 – 4 – #5 – 6 -7
C - D - E - F – G# – A – B - C Ionian Augmented
R – 2 – b3 – #4 – 5 – 6 - b7
D - E - F - G# – A – B – C - D Dorian #4 (aka Romanian)
R – b2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – b6 -b7
E - F - G# - A – B – C – D - E Phrygian Dominant
R – #2 – 3 – #4 – 5 – 6 - b7
F - G# - A - B – C – D – E - F Lydian #2
R – b2 – b3 – b4 – b5 – b6 -bb7
G# - A - B - C – D – E – F - G# Ultralocrian
It's also worth taking a look at the results when you harmonise this scale:
i chord – A- C – E : Am
ii chord – B – D – F : B diminished
III chord – C – E – G# : C augmented
iv chord – D – F – A : D minor
V chord – E – G# - B : E
VI chord – F – A – C : F
vii chord – G# - B – D : G# diminished
This means that when you look at a simple 12 bar, you end up with :
// Am / % / % / % / % / Dm / % /
Am / % / E / Dm / Am / E //
I-V-vi-IV gets even more interesting: Am – E – Dm – F
Jazzers may be in for a shock – take a look at the ii-V-I.. Bdim – E – Am.
And then we can extend past triads to 7ths:
i chord – A- C – E - G# : Ammaj7
ii chord – B – D – F - A : Bm7b5
III chord – C – E – G# - B : Cmaj7#5
iv chord – D – F – A - C: D m7
V chord – E – G# - B - D: E7
VI chord – F – A – C - E: Fmaj7
vii chord – G# - B – D - F : G# diminished7
Interestingly though, these chord sequences still have a (somewhat twisted) coherency and charm about them, and this is an excellent resource for players looking to write something new and different but not sure how to break out of a rut – tackling standard chord sequences in alternate tonalities is a great place to start.
Mapping out the modes using the three octave box/ transition technique covered in Progressive Guitar Training is a terrific exercise for both fingers and brain, and then there's improvisation... and once you've figured out how to be melodic with the Ultralocrian then... the sky is the limit!
Next month – a tribute to a lost legend, the incredible Allan Holdsworth. For those of you who aren't familiar, do yourselves a favour and YouTube him- and then see how long it takes you to pick your jaw off the floor!