Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Modes of Harmonic Minor

Q: Could you please shed some light on the modes of the harmonic minor scale. I notice that you do not elaborate on this material in your book - The Infinite Guitar, yet several of these, most notably the phrygian dominant and double harmonic, are popular among the more adventurous in order to expand their colour horizons.

A: I'm not an expert on using the modes of the harmonic minor scale. I dabbled in it a bit when I was a kid and when I found the melodic minor scale and its modes, I lost interest in its cousin the harmonic minor scale. Its modes are not very common, so there seems to be no standard name given to all the modes. Regardless, that shouldn't stop us from taking a closer look at each of them.

Let's write out each mode using the A harmonic minor scale as our base:

A-B-C-D-E-F-G# - This is the harmonic minor scale from its root. If we harmonize a chord, we will get a Amin(maj7) chord. The scale played over an Amin triad or min(maj7) chord sounds sort of Spanish or Middle Eastern like a snake charmer or something. I've done session work where the producer specifically asks for a Spanish or Middle Eastern cliche sound and have used this scale in those situations.

B-C-D-E-F-G#-A - The harmonized chord is a min7b5 chord. The scale looks like a locrian scale with a major 6th. Possible name: locrian #6. This mode is often played over the minor iio-V (Bmin7b5-E7b9).

C-D-E-F-G#-A-B - The harmonized chord is a maj7#5 chord. The scale looks like a major scale with a augmented 5th. Maybe a lydian augmented scale would be a better choice as the lydian augmented scale contains a #11 rather than the natural 11th found in this scale. Possible name: augmented major.

D-E-F-G#-A-B-C - The harmonized chord is a Dmin7 chord. The scale looks like a dorian scale with a augmented 4th. Possible name: dorian #4

E-F-G#-A-B-C-D - The harmonized chord is a E7 chord, harmonized to a 9th chord it becomes a E7b9 chord. This mode is probably the most common of the harmonic minor modes. Sometimes called: phrygian dominant. This mode is pretty common for rock over the major or dominant V chord.

F-G#-A-B-C-D-E - The harmonized chord is a Fmaj7 chord. It looks like a lydian scale with a #9th! Wow! I've heard this scale referred to as a split major third scale.

G#-A-B-C-D-E-F - The harmonized chord is a G#dim7 chord. Possible name: diminished b2.

Just because I'm not well versed in these modes doesn't mean that they are not of use. You may find that they work great for you. Tell me how they work out.

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