Woodshed 5
Harmonic minor scale Practice

  1. The Natural minor scale
  2. The Harmonic minor scale
  3. The II ø - V7 - Im Progression
  4. Practice
  5. The Harmonic minor Scale Ruler
  6. Quiz - Quiz Answers
  7. Downloading Bay

    Jazclass Links - Circle of Fifths

    Harmonic minor scale in all keys

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WS 5.1 - The Natural minor scale

The Ancient Greeks formed different scales ('modes') from the same group of seven notes, simply by selecting a different note as the tonic note (1st note) of the scale.

  • Starting on the note C, the C Ionian mode is formed : C - D - E - F - G - A - B - C.
    This is what we now call the major scale.

  • the D Dorian mode, D - E - F - G - A - B - C - D, is formed by starting on the 2nd note (D) of the major scale.

  • the G Mixolydian mode, G - A - B - C - D - E - F - G, is formed by starting on the 5th note (G) of the major scale.

  • by starting on the 6th note of the C major scale (A) yet another minor mode is formed : the A Aeolian mode, A - B - C - D - E - F - G - A.

These modes still play a prominent role in Western music. Especially of course the major scale and the Aeolian mode which we now call the natural minor scale.

This natural minor scale retains the key signature of the major scale it is related to, and represents the key signature for that minor key. The key of A minor has the same key signature as C major. C major and A minor are therefore said to be related keys.

The C natural minor scale is derived from the Eb major scale.

The key of C minor has therefore the same key signature as Eb major (three flats).
C minor is the related minor key to Eb major.

Audio 1

The related major and minor keys are always a minor 3rd (3 semitones) apart, with the major key a minor 3rd above the minor key.

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WS 5.2 - The Harmonic Minor scale

To allow for more interesting harmony (chord progressions) in the minor keys, a small alteration was made to the natural minor scale.

Audio 2
(I play the Natural minor scale first, then the Harmonic minor scale.)

By raising the 7th note from a minor 7th (m7) to a major 7th (M7) a dominant 7th chord is created on the 5th note of the scale.

Audio 3

This produces two important minor chord progressions (cadences) in Western Classical (and Popular) music :

V7 - Im , and IVm - V7 - Im

G7 - Cm , and Fm - G7 - Cm

Below the C harmonic minor scale displayed without key signature.
This illustrates the difference between the harmonic minor scale and the major scale with the same tonic note.


It shows that you can think of the the harmonic minor scale (for the purpose of memorising the scale) as a major scale with a b3 and a b6.

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WS 5.3 - The II ø - V7 - Im Progression

In Jazz and Latin music full advantage is taken of the harmonic qualities of the harmonic minor scale.

The IVm chord is usually replaced by the II ø (II half diminished) chord, and a b9 is added as a colour tone in the V7 chord.

Audio 4

This produces the chord progression :

II ø - V7(b9) - Im

D ø - G7(b9) - Cm

The minor Major 7th chord is not an appropriate I chord in the cadence and is not used.
Used instead are :

  • Im - the minor triad, or

  • Im7 - the minor 7th chord, or

  • the I chord is omitted, leaving II ø - V7(b9)

Audio 5

(the Dorian mode is used over the Im7 chord)

The Table Below shows the IIø - V7 - Im chord progression and its related Harmonic minor scale in all keys.

IIø - V7 - Im Harmonic minor scale
Dø, - G7 - Cm C - D - Eb - F - G - Ab - B - C
Gø - C7 - Fm F - G - Ab - Bb - C - Db - E - F
Cø, - F7 - Bbm Bb -C - Db - Eb - F - Gb - A - Bb
Fø - Bb7 - Ebm Eb - F - Gb - Ab - Bb - B - D - Eb
Bbø, - Eb7 - Abm Ab - Bb - B - Db - Eb - E - G - Ab
Ebø - Ab7 - Dbm Db - Eb - E - Gb - Ab - A - C - Db
Abø, - Db7 - Gbm Gb - Ab - A - B - Db - D - F - Gb
C#ø - F#7 - Bm B - C# - D - E - F# - G - A# - B
F#ø - B7 - Em E - F# - G - A - B - C - D# - E
Bø - E7 - Am A - B - C - D - E - F - G# - A
Eø - A7 - Dm D - E - F - G - A - Bb - C# - D
Aø - D7 - Gm G - A - Bb - C - D - Eb - F# - G

Most Jazz standards in minor keys, Jazz standards that contain minor key modulations, and many Latin songs (A.C Jobin !) use II ø - V7(b9) segments in their chord progressions. In all these cases the harmonic minor scale is the appropriate scale to use for improvisation.

Some good examples :
Alone Together - Stella by Starlight - Autumn Leaves - April in Paris - A Foggy Day - I Love You - My Funny Valentine - There will never be another You - Black Orpheus - Desafinado - Once I Loved - How Insensitive - Summer Samba - Meditation - and many more.

A popular variation of the progression is II ø - V7 #9. In this case a different scale is to be use for improvisation over the V7 chord (the 8-note dominant or the Super Locrian scale).

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WS 5.4 - Practice

It is clear from the above discussion that a good knowledge of the harmonic minor scale is essential for improvisation.

Here three Practice Routines to get you started.

Routine 1
Play the scale up to the 9th and back. Play this three times, then sustain the tonic note for two bars.
This produces an 8 bar segment which you can use with the Play-a-Long track in the Downloading Bay. The track starts in the key of C minor (8 bars), and then continues following the Circle of Fifths : F - Bb - Eb - etc.

Audio 6

Routine 2
The four note scale-pattern : 1 2 3 4 - 2 3 4 5 - 3 4 5 6 - etc. Up over two octaves. Again an 8 bar routine you can use with (or without) the Play-a-Long. Reverse the routine going down two octaves for another 8 bar exercise.

Audio 7

Routine 3
Up and down in thirds over two octaves : 1 3 - 2 4 - 3 5 - 4 6 - etc.

Audio 8

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WS 5.5 - The Harmonic minor Scale Ruler

You can find the notes of the Harmonic minor scale in all 12 keys with this device I call the Harmonic minor Scale Ruler.


Simply print, then cut out the two paper strips.

Align '1' on the Harmonic minor Scale Ruler strip with the tonic note for the desired scale on the Note Name strip.

The example below shows how this works for finding the D harmonic minor scale.


The tonic note of the related major scale aligns with b3 on the Scale Ruler.

To find the correct harmonic minor scale for isolated chord segments :

  • align the letter name of the half diminished chord with '2'.
    For example E ø : align E with 2

  • or align the letter name of the dominant 7th chord with '5'
    For example A7b9 : align A with 5

Michael Wish to learn more ?
Then get your copy of the new Jazz Theory Course on CD-ROM
I promise you : it is a great course !

Don't forget, if you have any questions please ask me.
Happy woodshedding !


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WS 5.6 - Quiz

Convert these major scales into natural minor scales by using the same notes but selecting a different tonic (1st note).
1. G A B C D E F# G

2. F G A Bb C D E F

3. A B C# D E F# G# A

4. Bb C D Eb F G A Bb

5. D E F# G A B C# D

Convert these natural minor scales into harmonic minor scales by altering one note.
1. F G Ab Bb C Db Eb F

2. A B C D E F G A

3. G A Bb C D Eb F G

4. D E F G A Bb C D

5. E F# G A B C D E

Convert these major scales into harmonic minor scales by altering two notes in each scale.
1. C D E F G A B C

2. F G A Bb C D E F

3. A B C# D E F# G# A

4. Bb C D Eb F G A Bb

5. B C# D# E F# G# A# B

What are the relative minor keys of these major keys ?
1. D major

2. F major

3. Bb major

4. A major

5. G major

What are the relative major keys of these minor keys ?
1. D minor

2. F minor

3. Bb minor

4. A minor

5. G minor

Quiz Answers

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WS 5.7 - Downloading Bay

File Name Contents Size
ws5fac1.gif Woodshed 5 - Facts sheet 15K
ws5fac2.gif Harmonic minor scale Ruler 5K
ws59.mid Play-a-Long Midi file
8 bars in each key
Circle of 5th order : C - F -->

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Copyright © 2002 Michael Furstner. All rights reserved.