GBol Arts

Music Notes Archive

The Harmonic Minor Scale - Part 3

George with Guitar

Now that we have explored the basics of the Harmonic Minor scale, let s look at how to use it in our improvising. As a starting point, review Part - 1 and Part - 2, if you have not already read them.

The first and most basic example would be to use them in the minor key, which you can spot by the II, V progression. Remember in the minor key, this will be a m7-5 going to a dominant seventh chord a fourth away. Also remember that the dominant chord can contain a #5, a b9, or both. In Am this would translate into Bm7-5 progressing to E7(#5-9). This then may or may not go to Am, depending on the progression. Try playing over this progression in all twelve keys. Listen to how this sounds, and learn to recognize it when you hear it.

Next, look at the harmonized scale in Part - 2. Take each chord of the harmonized scale and improvise over it, listening to how the scale sounds over each chord. Try and find tunes that have these chords in them, and see how different your ideas now sound using this scale. Even if the scale contains an alteration in the chord that is not contained in the tune you are looking out, try it anyway. Often this can give you a nice break from your usual ideas, but keep in mind the only real "rule" of music. If it sounds good, it is right, if it does not sound good, then it is wrong. Always let your ear be your guide. Theory is only a guideline, and a good musical line should always be primary.

Continuing with the above ideas, let s look at the sixth chord in the scale. In the key of Am, this would be an Fmaj7 chord. This chord can occur in two other keys, C and F. Compare the A Harmonic Minor scale to the Fmaj7 chord. A is the third, B is the flatted fifth, C is the fifth, D is the sixth, E is the seventh, F is the root, and G# is the sharped ninth. If you were to then use this scale, you not only have the notes of an Fmaj7, but you imply a flat five and sharped ninth. Granted you have to be careful how and where you use this type of thinking, but it can help to break you out of old habits, and give your lines a fresh sound. The altered notes for instance could be used as approach notes to give the line more momentum.

As always, these are just starting points. Ultimately, it is up to you how to use these ideas and work them into your playing. The main thing is experiment and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Some of the best ideas you will ever play will be the result of a mistake you made, because it will force you out of your old patterns in order to make the idea fit into your line, forcing you to try and play what you hear.