• The secret to playing harmonic minor scales

    in Scales

    advancedmusiciansmall.jpgSo by now, you’re probably familiar with how to create minor scales. If not, type “minor scale” in our search box and you’ll get tons of lessons.

    When I say “minor scale,” I’m usually talking about the natural minor scale (the most common). Sometimes, the “natural” part makes all the difference when you’re differentiating between other types of minor scales like the “harmonic” and “melodic.” When you leave off the “natural” part, most people will know you’re talking about the regular minor scale though.

    But back to the “other” minor scales because that’s exactly what I want to talk about today… the harmonic minor scale.

    The good news is that it is drop dead simple to play harmonic minor scales if you already know your natural minor scales.

    But before I go there, let me talk about this first…

    If you’ve read this post, then you’ll be familiar with the chords that correspond to the natural minor scale:

    1st tone – minor 7
    2nd tone – half-diminished 7
    3rd tone – major 7
    4th tone – minor 7
    5th tone – minor 7
    6th tone – major 7
    7th tone – dominant 7

    What I want you to pay attention to is the 5th tone and its chord. Notice it’s minor.

    This created a problem for western composers because the fifth tone was almost always major. It provided that strong pull needed to get back to the tonic, or first tone. But now that it was minor, it made music sound ancient and folkloric, at least to westerners.

    For example, a common 1-4-5 progression would have all minor chords if you only played chords from the list above. You try playing C minor to F minor to G minor and tell me how it sounds to you… kinda ancient and gloomy.

    Let’s go to the key of C minor to make this even clearer.

    The natural minor scale is:

    C D Eb F G Ab Bb C

    Notice the 7th tone, which is Bb. This is the tone that forces the fifth degree to be minor.


    Well, because the fifth tone is G and if you create a chord off G by taking every other note, you’d get G+Bb+D, which is a G minor chord.

    Contrast it with the regular C major scale (C D E F G A B C) and the 5th chord is G+B+D, which is a G major chord… the chord we’re used to hearing.

    So that’s one reason the harmonic minor scale was created.

    And for the good news…

    All it does is take the natural minor scale and raise the 7th tone a half step. In the key of C minor, it basically gets that “B” natural back so that the fifth chord can be major instead of minor.

    C natural minor scale:

    C D Eb F G Ab Bb C
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7

    Now, to transform this into a C harmonic minor scale, just take the 7th tone (Bb) and raise it a half step to B.

    C harmonic minor scale:

    C D Eb F G Ab B C
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7

    Note: The skip from “Ab” to “B” in this scale creates an interesting sound. I’ll tell you how they fixed that later… (cough cough – “melodic” minor scale).




    So now you know how to transform any natural minor scale into a harmonic minor scale and the history behind why it was created.

    Until next time!

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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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


    { 16 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 MS

    OK, I had it wrong! The minor chord on the 5th degree is in the natural minor, but in the harmonic minor (or in the melodic minor) the chord on the 5th degree is a Major or Major 7 chord. Thanks for jogging my memory.



    great lesson…can we go deeper into this this week..



    3 Jermaine

    @haha trumusic! Yessir!

    @MS: On the 5th degree of the melodic or harmonic minor, it’s major if a triad and dominant 7 when you’re playing seventh chords. You said major but that would only be if there was an F#, for example, in the C harmonic/melodic scale. Since it’s an F natural in that scale, the chord you get on the 5th tone is G B D F = G dominant 7


    4 Jermaine

    @MS: I actually have it on my list for future blog topics… i’ll break down the chords of the harmonic and melodic minor scale. For now, here is a preview without explanations:

    harmonic minor chords

    Key of C


    C minor
    d dim
    Eb augmented
    F minor
    G major
    Ab major
    B dim


    C minor major 7
    D half dim 7
    Eb aumented major 7
    F minor 7
    G dominant 7
    Ab major 7
    B dim 7

    Melodic minor chords

    Key of C


    C minor
    D minor
    Eb augmented
    F major
    G major
    A diminished
    B diminished


    C minor major 7
    D minor 7
    Eb major augmented 7
    F dominant 7
    G dominant 7
    A half diminished 7
    B half diminished 7


    5 bigbeardale

    Thanks for the info on the minor scales Jermaine. I am the one that was in chat yesterday asking you about raising the 6th and 7th tones. I think raising the 6th is where you are going next with this. Thanks again for the software that shows the keyboard on midi files. Here is a nice link that will let you listen to songs on piano of all types.




    6 Jermaine

    @bigbeardale: thanks for your comments and that link! I will certainly blog about that link, telling people about the service.


    7 bigbeardale

    Ok and maybe you should add this link to your blog too. It will play most any song that you type in, so it is great to get the sound of a song in your ear to practice.




    8 shawn

    thank you very much for the lessons there are so helpful



    Hi Jermaine Can you please do lesson on how to incoporate these melodic, harmonic minors in songs for us. I really need an example to help me get started. Thanks very much.


    10 mey

    Funny to see that there is a minor third interval between the 6th and 7th note. So we could even make another diminished chord from the 6th, 7th and 9th (or 2nd) note.
    Diminished chords ROCK!


    11 Mark

    Thank you for such useful material!


    12 Mackenzie

    I am happy to read your article.
    Thanks for share the article.
    Thank you so much.


    13 Keith

    Thanks for this really helpful. I play guitar but am self-taught and never really got to grips with scales or music theory


    14 grand piano

    wow thanks for this lovely giveaway.


    15 Piano keyboard

    thank you very much for the lessons there are so helpful


    16 William

    Thanks Jermaine.
    This is the most helpful lesson that I have ever found regarding minor scales and I learnt a lot. I’ve been trying to understand this for a while.


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