Learn Guitar: How To Master The Harmonic Minor Scale And Play Like a Pro

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Once a guitarist has the natural minor scale under their fingers the next logical step in unlocking the guitar fretboard is to master the harmonic minor scale. As you probably already have discovered learning the minor scales can be quite mysterious and confusing so to make sure we do not miss anything here is a quick review.

The natural minor (aka the Aeolian mode) contains the exact same notes as it's parent major scale, in fact an easy way to remember the notes of the natural minor scale is to keep in mind that the natural minor scale begins on the sixth note of the major scale.

C major scale (two octaves):

C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C

The "A" natural minor scale identified with notes in brackets []

C – D – E – F – G – [A] – [B] – [C] – [D] – [E] – [F] – [G] – [A] – B – C

The Aeolian mode created a different mood than it's parent major but did not produce any new harmonic structures (chords). Since our music system is based around the 5 – 1 cadence (perfect cadence) our musical ancestors set about creating a new scale that would give the same strong 5 – 1 progress that they had in the major key.

Here's how it works …

Chords produced from the parent C major scale:

C – Dm – Em – F – G – Am – B dim – C

The "A" natural minor harmonies:

Am- B dim – C – Dm – Em – F – G – Am

Notice how the Aeolian mode has the same harmonic structures are the major scale only in a different sequence.

The perfect cadence challenge …

In 'C' major the strong sense of closure is produced by the "G" moving to the "C" (5 – 1 progress); whereas in Aeolian mode version the Em to Am (5- 1 in the Aeolian mmode) produced a weak sounding cadence.

The solution:

Musicians solved the problem by sharpening the leading note (7th note) of the natural minor scale; by sharpening this one note they could change the 5th chord from a minor to a major thereby creating the intended perfect cadence.

Here's what happened …

Harmonic structures produced from the Aeolian mode

Am- B dim – C – Dm – Em – F – G – Am

The new harmonic minor (so named because of the 'new' harmonies it created)

A-B- C – D – E – F – G # – A (notice the sharpened 7th note)

Produced these chords …

Am – B dim – C aug – Dm – E – F – G # dim – Am

As you can see the 5th chord in the harmonic minor progress is now a major chord and a whole new world of harmonic and melodic possibilities has been created for the creative musician to explore.

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