Australian Guitar - - Technique -

In this is­sue, we’re tak­ing a look at the har­monic mi­nor scale. The har­monic mi­nor con­tains all of the notes in the nat­u­ral mi­nor, other­wise known as Ae­o­lian mode. The dif­fer­ence be­tween the nat­u­ral mi­nor and the har­monic mi­nor is that the sev­enth note or de­gree of the scale is raised by a semi­tone: if we take the notes of the A nat­u­ral mi­nor – A B C D E F G – and we raise the sev­enth note, we end up with the A har­monic mi­nor scale – A B C D E F G#. This changes the sound of the scale, with the sev­enth de­gree (or G#) hav­ing a very strong pull to­wards the tonic, sim­i­lar to the lead­ing tone res­o­lu­tion of the ma­jor scale.

It was for this rea­son that many com­posers used the har­monic mi­nor scale to write melodies, as the stronger res­o­lu­tion of the raised sev­enth made for a stronger res­o­lu­tion of the melody. The sound of the har­monic mi­nor is of­ten de­scribed as Mid­dle Eastern; the jump of an aug­mented sec­ond be­tween the sixth and sev­enth scale de­grees sounds very sim­i­lar to some Turk­ish, Ara­bic and In­dian scales. Play through bar #1 of ex­er­cise #1, and you will hear that some­thing as small as chang­ing the sev­enth de­gree of the scale will have a dra­matic ef­fect on the sound or tonal­ity.


Ex­er­cise #1 out­lines a one-oc­tave pat­tern as­cend­ing and de­scend­ing through the har­monic mi­nor scale. Start­ing on A har­monic mi­nor, it then rises chro­mat­i­cally with each bar. I have writ­ten out four bars us­ing key sig­na­tures. This is a great ex­er­cise that can be con­tin­ued all the way up to the A on the 15th fret of the E string. Prac­tis­ing this one-oc­tave pat­tern chro­mat­i­cally is also a quick and easy way to get this pat­tern un­der your fin­gers. I have added the ninth on top of the scale so it can as­cend and de­scend neatly as 16th notes and fit within a bar. Use a metronome and see how fast you can get it. I set up an iTunes playlist with one minute worth of metronome clicks that in­crease by 10bpm with each new track. Start slow at 60bpm, and see if you can get up to 180bpm. Do this for a few days, and you’ll be able to do it in your sleep.


Ex­er­cise #2 out­lines A har­monic mi­nor over two oc­taves. I have tried to keep it as close to the Ae­o­lian or nat­u­ral mi­nor scale pat­tern we al­ready use, us­ing three notes per string. There are many dif­fer­ent ways to play this two-oc­tave pat­tern, but keep­ing it close to what we al­ready know should be a quicker process to get it un­der your fin­gers. It will also help us to see and hear the raised sev­enth, re­mem­ber­ing that the har­monic mi­nor is built by rais­ing one note of the nat­u­ral mi­nor. The method we went through in ex­er­cise #1 will work just as well here to help the tech­nique be­come mus­cle mem­ory. Play it chro­mat­i­cally up and down the neck, and in­crease the speed slowly.

Don’t for­get about the sweep pick­ing tech­nique when play­ing an un­even num­ber of notes per string. When as­cend­ing through the scale, start with a stroke down, then up, then down. When cross­ing to the next string, play in the same pat­tern – down, up, down. When you de­scend through the scale, start with an up­stroke. The de­scend­ing pat­tern on each string will be up, down, then up. It might seem un­nat­u­ral at first, but if you start slowly, you’ll even­tu­ally be able to play much faster.


Ex­er­cise #3 out­lines a chord pro­gres­sion and rhyth­mic pat­tern in A har­monic mi­nor. When we build chords from the har­monic mi­nor scale, we end up al­ter­ing the har­mony. The V chord in har­monic mi­nor changes from a mi­nor chord to a ma­jor chord. If we use A mi­nor as an ex­am­ple, the V chord in A mi­nor is E mi­nor; E mi­nor con­tains the notes E G B D. The A har­monic mi­nor scale raises the G note to a G#. This changes the E chord from mi­nor to a ma­jor chord – the notes in the chord be­come E G# B D.

If pos­si­ble, record this chord pro­gres­sion and play ex­er­cise #2 over the top of it. Try to make up melodies and riffs that build and re­lease ten­sion. The aug­mented sec­ond be­tween the F and G# is great for writ­ing riffs. Once you get sick of A har­monic mi­nor, try trans­pos­ing this to other keys and see if you can’t make use of dif­fer­ent open string drones.

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