Harmonic Minor Scales.
What They Are and How to Use Them.

In this harmonic minor scales guitar lesson, you'll get printable guitar scale charts to help you memorize the fretboard shapes first. Then there's a guitar video lesson along with a written explanation showing you how to use it.

Players such as Joe Pass, Robben Ford, Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai have all made use of this extremely useful 7 note scale in their guitar playing. Composers such as JS Bach and Mozart also made wonderful use of this scale in their music.

The music theory behind it…the reason it's called the harmonic minor scale is that it's the pattern that classical composers followed most when developing their chord sequences and progressions in a minor key.

The order is as follows: Root, ma2, b3, P4, P5, b6, ma7, P8 (Root). Note that the relationship between the b6 and the ma7 is an Augmented 2nd.

The main reason this augmented 2nd occurs is that minor chord progressions sound strong when the IV chord is also a minor chord, and the V chord still has the leading tone in it that needs to resolve back to the Tonic chord -- which is minor, of course.

Sidenote: If this musical "jargon" is throwing you off, don't despair! It's not really that difficult -- you'll catch on if you patiently persist. Read this page and watch the videos. One of the videos is on keyboard so it's easy to "see" while you hear. Also see Guitar Music Theory for other guitar lessons that may help you out.

Most listeners upon hearing harmonic minor scales notice how exotic they sound! This is exactly the effect that modern rock guitarists such as Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai want to achieve. Jazzers and blues players such as Robben Ford usually use it to play over the Vb9 chord in a minor blues or other similar situations.

It's funny because the people who had a role in developing the sound -- the classical composers -- didn't like the augmented 2nd sound in their melodies. Hence the melodic minor scale was used. These earlier musical pioneers didn't call these patterns by the names we use today, though. They were simply creating a musical language from a certain aesthetic value. The grammar came later. Alright, let's play!

A harmonic minor guitar scale

Try playing this form of the A minor harmonic scale on your guitar. It's highly recommended that you download and print out these charts with all 7 forms of the scale.

tech tip...If you don't already have it, you'll need Adobe Reader (the latest version is recommended) installed on your computer in order to open and read these PDF files. You can get Adobe Reader here (a new window will open so you can download it without leaving this page). It's free!

If you want to open the file in your browser window, just click on the link. However, if you want to download the file to view later, then right-click on the link and choose "Save Target As" or "Save File As." Then select where you want to save the file on your hard drive.

Once you have saved the file, locate where you saved it, and double click to open.

In order to print, open the downloaded file, and select the "Print" option from the ebook menu.

Note: These 7 forms of the scale are only one way to perform them. BUT if you are serious about learning and mastering guitar, it's suggested that you take the time to memorize these 7 forms. Develop your own pathways and ideas from there, of course!

Each form starts from a different note in the scale - so pay close attention to where the roots are -- they are in Red. You'll see/hear how to do this in the guitar video at the bottom of the page.

Practice Guidelines

Use the following guidelines to practice the scale so that you'll be able to apply it in creative ways to your own playing style :-)

  • Download and print out the 7 guitar scale forms if you haven't yet done so.
  • Memorize them one guitar scale form at a time. Play them. Draw them on these blank guitar fretboard sheets. Sing them.
  • Get a guitar playing friend to jam with -- and also find a way to record yourself. If you have a way to get the sound of your guitar into your computer, great! If not, hunt around for a cheap cassette recorder. Anything to practice and internalize the sound and shape of these guitar scales.
  • The diagrams of the harmonic minor scales that you downloaded are in the key of A minor. This is arbitrary. These scales can be played in any of the 12 keys.
  • Start by jamming to an A minor chord vamp with the scale form you have chosen to memorize. Here's a free mp3 jam track on an A minor chord to use -- it opens in a new window so you won't lose track of this lesson page.

  • Rinse and repeat with the other harmonic minor scale forms. Go at your own pace.
  • Pay attention to the licks in the guitar lesson video below. That will be a source of some ideas to get you started.

Bonus Material

  • Record yourself a chord vamp that goes between A minor and E7(b9) -- like in the guitar lesson video. Here's a free A minor to E7 mp3 jam track to use -- it opens in a new window so you won't lose track of this lesson page.
  • As in the guitar video, notice which tones are common. Do your best to "seamlessly" switch to the harmonic minor on the E7. The easiest way to do this for now is to simply stay on the same string and either stay or move to the closest note.
  • Aim for the root note -- A -- when the chords shift back to A minor.

note: For more on this important concept of "target notes" see this caged system guitar lesson for an excellent overview. Oh, and btw…when you use A harmonic minor scale over an E7(b9) chord you are using mode 5 of the scale. Technically it could be named "mixolydian flat 9, flat 13 scale." Having fun?

Congratulations on making it to the bottom of this free guitar lessons online page :-) Good luck with it and let me know how you do!

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