In this issue, I want to cover the chord harmony of the harmonic minor scale – specifically, building triads from this altered scale.
A few issues back, we went over exercises and fingering patterns for the harmonic minor scale – hopefully, that will help you apply this into your playing. If you now have those patterns under your fingers, it would be good to start using them over some harmonic minor chord progressions in the guitar-friendly key of E harmonic minor.
The harmonic minor scale is almost identical to the natural minor scale, with the exception of the seventh note of the scale. The seventh note in the harmonic minor scale is raised by one semitone, which creates a distance of one semitone between the leading tone (seventh degree) and the tonic, instead of the whole tone distance of the natural minor scale.
This is very useful in melody writing, because the leading tone has lots of tension and wants to resolve to the tonic. This raised seventh also creates some interesting chords when we harmonise the scale in triads.
We end up with two diminished and an augmented chord, and a lovely pair of major chords on the fifth and sixth degrees of the scale. These chords are very useful for creating interesting chord progressions.
There are countless songs that use harmonic minor chord progressions, from classical music through to jazz and metal. A quick Google search will list many songs, and it’s a good idea to listen through some examples where it’s being used.
The E harmonic scale utilises a raised or major seventh in what is otherwise a natural minor scale. In the key of E minor, we would have the notes E, F#, G, A, B, C and the raised seventh of D#. Exercise #1 outlines two useful E harmonic minor patterns.
These patterns are transposable, and it is a great exercise to play them up and down the fretboard chromatically to help get them under your fingers. Once you have had a look at Exercise #2, it would be useful to record some chord progressions in E harmonic minor and improvise over the top with these two scale patterns. Try playing the natural minor scale over your chord progressions too, so that you can really hear the effect of the raised seventh – in this instance, the D# versus the D natural.
Exercise #2 outlines the E harmonic minor scale harmonised in triads. The first chord spells out a regular E minor triad using the notes E, G, and B. The second chord is no different with the F#, A and C creating an F# diminished triad for the ii chord. The III chord contains the notes G, B, D# with the D# creating an augmented triad which differs from natural minor scale harmony. The iv chord is nothing out of the ordinary with a regular A minor chord, but it is the V chord that helps create the sound of harmonic minor with the D# note making it a major, not a minor chord.
The VI chord is a regular C major triad, while the vii chord has become a diminished triad instead of a major triad because of the D#.
Exercise #3 outlines a chord progression in E harmonic minor. I’ve tried to create an example with lots of space that can be improvised over entirely in E harmonic minor so you can practise Exercise #1. Exercise #2 can also be played over it as arpeggios. It is a very useful exercise to hear the tension of different notes in the key over any of the chords of E harmonic minor.
Starting on E minor, it makes use of the ii diminished chord and vi diminished triads to create fills between the E minor and G power chord. Try and come up with your own progressions using E harmonic minor. I recommend using E minor, A minor, B major and C major to get started, in any order and for any note length per chord.
I hope this helps to spice up any minor chord progressions you may have, and add some extra tension and interest to your music.