The majority of popular music is based on pentatonic and major scale patterns; however, the harmonic minor scale is one more type of scale that you need to be familiar with. Understanding it can help you better understand chord progressions, melody and harmony.
Harmonic Minor Scale
An important concept in music is something called dominant function. Dominant function is the tendency of the V7 chord in a key, to pull to the tonic, chord I. The natural minor scale doesn’t have a V7 chord. Instead it has a minor 7th chord on its 5th degree. For example, Am and Em7 are I and V7 in the key of A minor. But if you raise the minor 3rd, G, in Em7 to a major 3rd, G#, you get an E7 chord. The dominant sound of the E7 creates a stronger push to Am. When you raise the same note in the A minor scale, you get the A harmonic minor scale: A B C D E F G#.
Harmonic Minor Scale Patterns
If you’re a soloist, keep in mind that you only need to use the harmonic minor scale temporarily. Typically, you use the natural minor scale until the dominant chord sounds, at which point you need the raised 7th of the harmonic minor. For all other chords, use the natural minor. Like any scale, the notes of the harmonic minor are located all over the guitar fretboard. You break up the notes into individual patterns and learn how to cover the whole neck one position at a time.
Harmonic Minor Scale Songs
You hear A harmonic minor chord progressions and/or scale patterns used in the songs:
“Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” by Santo and Johnny
“Abracadabra” by Steve Miller Band
“Walk Don’t Run” by The Ventures
“I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor
“Still Got the Blues” by Gary Moore
“Smooth” and “El Farol” by Santana
Free Guitar Lesson
Listen to this podcast episode to hear examples of using major scales on guitar. Click on the link below to start the audio or go to the Guitar Theory podcast at iTunes.