Modern The­ory

Australian Guitar - - Contents -

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.

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