How to Play the Harmonic Minor Scale on Guitar

Start sounding a little “exotic” today, with one of my favorite scales – the harmonic minor scale. This scale has a unique, old-school, bebop-esque, ‘eastern’ sound to it.

I recommend you have a basic understanding of the Aeolian mode/ Natural Minor Scale before checking out the harmonic minor scale. There is just one note different between the two so you may as well get a head start!

Use this lesson to:

  • Understand the theory behind this scale.
  • Learn the easiest approach to improvising with it.
  • Accustom your ears to its sound.
  • Have fun while learning.

The Harmonic Minor Scale

A-harmonic-minor

Can you see how A harmonic minor is A aeolian or natural minor, just with a major 7th instead of b7?

Guitar Fingering

Here is how to play the harmonic minor scale on the guitar in two positions. A white circle means that note is the root note of the scale. A number indicates what finger to use (1: first finger, 2: second finger, etc).

harmonic-minor-6th harmonic-minor-5th

Play through this scale on your guitar now. Can you see which note differentiates this scale from your normal natural minor scale?

Instead of a b7 the harmonic scale has normal 7. Changing this single note gives this scale a totally different feel. There is a cool minor third interval between this new natural 7 and the b6 I reccommend you explore.

Check out this table I made to summarize the harmonic minor scale:

Harmonic Minor Summary

ScaleHarmonic Minor Scale
ChordMIn-maj7
NotesR, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, 7
C ExampleC, D, Eb, F, G, Ab , B
Chord/ Guide Tonesb3rd and 7th
Color Tones9th, 11th, (b13th)
Avoid Notes7
Sam's TipAn exotic sounding scale most used on V7 chords in a minor key. Not as hip as melodic minor but still a great sound.

When To Use the Harmonic Minor Scale

To sum up: Get to know the unique sound of this scale. Use it whenever you want on minor chords. The most common use of this scale is over V7 chords in a minor key. This will give you an old school, bebop or gypsy jazz sound. Check out my lesson now on the 5th mode of the Harmonic Minor.

Thanks for checking out this lesson, please feel free to leave a comment below with any suggestions or questions you may have.

~ Sam Blakelock | pickupjazz.com

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