Natural & Harmonic Minor Scale Interchange - A Guided
Most minor key songs and progressions are formed around the
harmonization (e.g. chords)
of two staple scales - natural minor and harmonic minor.
The difference between the two scales is just one note, so the
interplay between them can be subtle and therefore overlooked. This
lesson, with the aid of a "guided jam track" will train your ear to
hear this change and get you playing between natural and harmonic minor
confidently and melodically.
The guided jam track can be found in the video below - watch the scale
diagrams change with the track. See further down
for static diagrams and to download the track in different keys...
It's when a major V
(5) chord is used that we change from natural to harmonic minor, as
this accomodates the major 3rd of that chord. This is a common
occurence in minor keys because that major 3rd carries a strong
harmonic tension (hence harmonic
minor!) that has a leading effect when resolved to the tonic i
The table to the right shows you this major V
harmonic minor chord in relation to several minor keys.
You can also play harmonic minor over the tonic chord, and other minor
key chords (as natural and harmonic minor share some of these), but
this will give you a very specific sound that might not be compatible
with the effect you want. As always, experimentation is the key.
Minor Key Backing Tracks with Major V Chord
Below you can download the track featured in the video in three common
minor keys - Am, Em and Cm. Remember, the first chord in the sequence
is our tonic
chord, the root on which we build our minor scales. The
final chord in the sequence is our major
V chord, where we
make the change to harmonic minor.
These are the same diagrams shown in the guided jam video. Again, I've
marked on the chord tones for each chord in the sequence, so you can
build your phrases more melodically around the chord changes. Some
people refer to these as "target notes", because they give your scale
movements a sense of direction and purpose.
For A minor, position the 1
of both patterns at the 5th fret (A).
For E minor, 12th fret (and open, as the 6th string is the note E!)
For C minor, 8th fret
Remember to start with just playing the chord tones and gradually build
your two, three, four etc. note phrases from the scale, bridging these
chord tones with varied scale movements. The most effective
learn how to improvise is to simply explore your own movements freely
attentively to the results.
Repeat what you like the sound of and even tab it out
as a lick. Then try to add more "feel" and embellish your phrases using
bends, slides, legato and other lead techniques (see the lead section
on this site for those). We'll look more in depth at developing our
phrasing in a separate lesson.
the change to the harmonic minor pattern. I've added in the minor 7th
(b7) tone as this also has a strong harmonic connection to the V
chord (which is commonly played as a dominant 7th chord, e.g. E7).
Tips for Smooth Melodic Changes
As mentioned, the major 3rd of the V
chord (e.g. Emaj in the key of Am) is a strong harmonic tone. That
doesn't mean you always
have to emphasise that note in your melody, but
just including it will give it some nice colour. To many musicians and
listeners, touching on that major 3rd is like scratching an itch!
chord major 3rd can be visualised as the 7th tone of harmonic minor,
which means it has a leading effect towards the 1 (root) of the scale.
Resolving to the root of the scale from the 7th (one semitone below the
root) has a natural voice leading effect that you might want to make
You can also insert other scale tones between this 7 > 1
resolution. For example, 7 > 2 > 1 /
7 > b3 > 1 / 7 > 5
That's how to build melodic phrases through chord changes - find a
movement between two notes that work (i.e. two chord tones) and then
bridge them using other tones from the scale, trying different
approaches and combinations.
demonstrated in the video, certain colour tones also sound good as
chord target notes. The 2nd tone of the natural minor scale, for
example, works beautifully over the first three chords in our sequence
and gives you a more "outside" sound. So over the A minor track that
would be the note B.
hope you enjoy using the tracks and I have no doubt you will develop
more confidence with improvising in minor keys as a result.