Harmonic Minor Scale

In this lesson we will look at the first variation on the minor scale, the Harmonic Minor Scale . All scales possess a unique sound that sets them apart from others. The point of difference is the precise arrangement of half-steps and whole-steps.

The Harmonic Minor Scale is similar in construction to that of the Natural Minor Scale. The only difference being the raised seventh degree.

For example:

C Major (Relative Major) C D E F G A B C
A Natural Minor A B C D E F G A
A Harmonic Minor A B C D E F G# A

As can be seen in the above diagram, the seventh degree of the Harmonic Minor Scale is raised or sharpened by one half-step.

The rules that govern the relationship between the natural minor scale and its relative major carry over to the harmonic minor scale. Therefore the key signature for A minor (no sharps or flats) is in fact the same for the harmonic minor scale. The raising of the seventh degree occurs dynamically and is not established in the key signature.

The Natural Minor Scale

As the relative minor scale is an unchanged mode of the major scale, it is referred to as the natural minor scale. The relative minor and natural minor refer to the same scale and may be used interchangeably throughout this course.

Why Do We Raise the Seventh Degree?

To answer this question, let's review the C major scale construction using the the 2-2-1-2-2-2-1 pattern of half-steps and whole-steps. Consider the relationship between degrees seven and eight. The interval B - C, is a half-step.

C Major Scale Showing Steps and Degrees

The Leading Note

The seventh degree is known as the leading note. It is called this as it leads into the root note of the scale, otherwise known as the Tonic . The function of the leading note is to provide a sense of resolution to the scale. The half-step interval between the leading note and the tonic gives a feeling that the tonic is pulling the scale towards its final conclusion.

The natural minor scale has an interval of one whole-step between degrees seven and eight. This is not a true leading note representation. Scales where degrees seven and eight are not an interval of a half-step are considered subtonic .

leading
note
C Major Scale C D E F G A B C
subtonic
A Natural Minor A B C D E F G A
leading
note
A Harmonic Minor A B C D E F G# A

Harmonic Function

The Harmonic Minor Scale derives its name from the harmonic function created by raising the 7th degree.

In our study of Diatonic Chords, we created our chords using only the notes found within a given key. As with major scales, we build chords using the notes from within a scale. This ensures a cohesive sound.

The quality of chord derived from the 5th degree of a scale is important to harmonic function. It provides the foundation for strong harmonic relationship. Chords build from the fifth of the major scale are major in quality. Lets review the chord derived from the 5th degree of the natural minor scale:

The chord built from the 5th degree of A natural minor scale is E minor, E - G - B.

Alternatively, if we build a chord from the 5th degree of A Harmonic Minor Scale we derive E major, E - G# - B.

The harmonic foundation provided by the natural minor scale is weak. Its tonality is somehow poorly received on the ear. However, the harmonic foundation provided by the harmonic minor scale are without doubt positively stronger.

The raised 7th gives this distinctly minor sounding scale a sense of authority. It delivers strong harmonic support for chord building and melody writing.

The raised 7th of the harmonic minor scale provides strong harmonic foundation for chords built from all degrees.

The chord built from the 7th degree of a major or harmonic minor scale is a diminished triad. For example:

  • Chord VII of A harmonic minor is G# diminished, G# - B - D
  • Chord VII of C major is B diminished, B - D - F

The chord built from the 3rd degree of a harmonic minor scale is an augmented triad. For example:

  • Chord II of A harmonic minor is C - E - G#

The interval of an augmented 5th, C - G#, is considered chromatic is A minor. This quality is not found in any harmony formed from, or related to,
the major scale. The raised 7th of the harmonic minor scale is attributed to the establishment of chromatics in classical harmony.

Below is a list of the Harmonic Minor Scales

Scale Name Notes
C harmonic minor C D Eb F G Ab B C
G harmonic minor G A Bb C D Eb F# G
D harmonic minor D E F G A Bb C# D
A harmonic minor A B C D E F G# A
E harmonic minor E F# G A B C D# E
B harmonic minor B C# D E F# G A# B
F# harmonic minor F# G# A B C# D E# F#
C# harmonic minor C# D# E F# G# A B# C#
G# harmonic minor G# A# B C# D# E Fx G#
D# harmonic minor D# E# F# G# A# B# Cx D#
A# harmonic minor A# B# C# D# E# F# Gx A#
Ab harmonic minor Ab Bb Cb Db Eb Fb G Ab
Eb harmonic minor Eb F Gb Ab Bb Cb D Eb
Bb harmonic minor Bb C Db Eb F Gb A Bb
F harmonic minor F G Ab Bb C Db E F