• The Harmonic Minor Scale

    in Piano,Scales,Theory

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    Today, we’ll be looking at the harmonic minor scale.

    Review Of The Minor Scale

    The term minor scale can be broken down into two words – minor and scale.

    Scale: A scale is a succession of notes in ascending or descending order [using a fixed intervallic formula.]

    Tonality: There are two types of tonality (or key) in music – the major and minor keys.

    The minor scale is the scale of the minor key, and a typical natural minor scale has seven notes. One of the simplest minor scales that beginners usually get started with, is the A natural minor scale, formed by playing white notes on the piano:

    …from A to A:

    …in alphabetic sequence.

    Transposing the natural minor scale to other keys, you’ll have…

    The G minor scale:

    The B minor scale:

    The Eb minor scale:

    …etc.
    The minor scale, just like every other traditional scale has eight degrees and each degree of the scale has its technical name. Using the A minor scale:

    …as a reference:

    A is the tonic

    B is the supertonic

    C is the mediant

    D is the subdominant

    E is the dominant

    F is the submediant

    G is the subtonic

    A is the octave

    Further reading: What Are Scale Degree Or Technical Names?

    The Leading Note Feel

    The seventh degree of the scale is called the subtonic. The distance between the subtonic and tonic of the minor scale is a whole-step, versus in the major scale where the distance between the subtonic and tonic is a half-step.

    The subtonic (G) and tonic (A):

    …of the A minor scale:

    …are a whole step apart, while the subtonic (B) and tonic (C):

    …of the C major scale:

    …are a half step apart.

    Whole step vs Half step

    For a variety of harmonic and melodic reasons that we can’t discuss in this post, it is better for the distance between the subtonic and the tonic to be a half step.

    Scales that have a half step distance between the subtonic and tonic, have what music scholars call the leading note feel. The leading note feel describes the strong tendency of the subtonic towards the tonic. When the distance between the subtonic and the tonic is a half step, it’s okay to call the subtonic a leading note or leading tone.

    The major scale has the leading note feel while the natural minor scale hasn’t. This is one of the shortcomings of the natural minor scale that led to the invention of its variant – the harmonic minor scale.

    The Harmonic [Variant Of The] Minor Scale

    The absence of the leading note feel in the natural minor scale made the it unsuitable for certain harmonic environments, and led to the introduction of the harmonic minor scale.

    Formation Of The Harmonic Minor Scale

    Raising the seventh degree of the natural minor scale produces the harmonic minor scale. For example, the seventh degree of the A natural minor scale:

    …which is G:

    …can be raised by a half step (to G#):

    …to form the A harmonic minor scale:

    If you’re familiar with the natural minor scale in any given key, you can for the harmonic minor scale by raising the seventh degree by a half step.

    “Let’s Form The Harmonic Minor Scale In All Twelve Keys”

    The C harmonic Minor Scale

    By raising the seventh degree (Bb):

    …of the C natural minor scale:

    …by a half step, you can form the C harmonic minor scale:

    The C# harmonic Minor Scale

    By raising the seventh degree (B):

    …of the C# natural minor scale:

    …by a half step, you can form the C harmonic minor scale:

    The D harmonic Minor Scale

    By raising the seventh degree (C):

    …of the D natural minor scale:

    …by a half step, you can form the D harmonic minor scale:

    The Eb harmonic Minor Scale

    By raising the seventh degree (Db):

    …of the Eb natural minor scale:

    …by a half step, you can form the Eb harmonic minor scale:

    The E harmonic Minor Scale

    By raising the seventh degree (D):

    …of the E natural minor scale:

    …by a half step, you can form the E harmonic minor scale:

    The F harmonic Minor Scale

    By raising the seventh degree (Eb):

    …of the F natural minor scale:

    …by a half step, you can form the F harmonic minor scale:

    The F# harmonic Minor Scale

    By raising the seventh degree (E):

    …of the F# natural minor scale:

    …by a half step, you can form the F# harmonic minor scale:

    The G harmonic Minor Scale

    By raising the seventh degree (F):

    …of the G natural minor scale:

    …by a half step, you can form the G harmonic minor scale:

    The Ab harmonic Minor Scale

    By raising the seventh degree (Gb):

    …of the Ab natural minor scale:

    …by a half step, you can form the Ab harmonic minor scale:

    The A harmonic Minor Scale

    By raising the seventh degree (G):

    …of the A natural minor scale:

    …by a half step, you can form the A harmonic minor scale:

    The Bb harmonic Minor Scale

    By raising the seventh degree (Ab):

    …of the Bb natural minor scale:

    …by a half step, you can form the Bb harmonic minor scale:

    The B harmonic Minor Scale

    By raising the seventh degree (A):

    …of the B natural minor scale:

    …by a half step, you can form the B harmonic minor scale:

    “Take A Look At The Chord Of The Fifth Degree Of The Harmonic Minor Scale”

    The term dominant is the technical name that music scholars associate with the fifth degree of traditional scales.

    In the A major scale:

    …where E:

    …is the dominant, if we form a seventh chord on E, using the A major scale in thirds, we’ll have E:

    …and G#:

    …and B:

    …and D:

    The E dominant seventh chord:

    …is the chord of the fifth degree of the A major scale.

    The chord of the fifth degree of the natural major scale is the dominant seventh chord while the chord of the fifth degree of the natural minor scale, is not.

    In the A natural minor scale:

    …where E:

    …is the dominant, if we form a seventh chord on E, using the A natural minor scale in thirds, we’ll have E:

    …and G:

    …and B:

    …and D:

    The Chord of the fifth degree of the A natural minor scale is the E minor seventh chord:

    …and for a variety of reasons, minor chords are not harmonically suitable for the fifth degree because the fifth degree (aka – “dominant”) should for all intents and purposes have the strongest attraction to the first degree (aka – “tonic”.)

    A chord progression from the E minor seventh chord:

    …to the A minor triad:

    …doesn’t have that strong sense of attraction that dominant-tonic chords are known for.

    “Now, Take A Look At The Chord Of The Fifth Degree Of The Harmonic Minor Scale”

    In the A harmonic minor scale:

    …where E:

    …is the dominant, if we form a seventh chord on E, using the A harmonic minor scale in thirds, we’ll have E:

    …and G#:

    …and B:

    …and D:

    Contrary to the minor seventh chord quality on the fifth degree of the natural minor scale, the dominant seventh chord is the chord of the fifth degree of the harmonic minor scale.

    In this case, the E dominant seventh chord:

    …is the chord of the fifth degree of the A harmonic minor scale.

    Final Thoughts

    The dominant seventh quality of the chord of the fifth degree of the harmonic minor scale makes it more suitable for harmonic purposes.

    In the harmonic minor scale, we have a minor scale that has the leading note feel and most importantly, a dominant seventh chord on its fifth degree that fosters a dominant-tonic relationship and gives a stronger sense of tonality.

    Thank you so much for the time you’ve invested in learning the harmonic minor scale.

    All the best!

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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