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Harmonic Minor Scale Guitar Patterns- Fretboard Chart, Key of A
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Harmonic Minor Scale Guitar Patterns- Fretboard Chart, Key of A

Guitar Lesson Summary & Chart Explanation

The Harmonic Minor Scale

Guitar Lesson with 5 Position Scale Chart

From slick moves on minor turnarounds to shamelessly self-indulgent Metal shredfests, the Harmonic Minor provides us with countless new artistic possibilites. Even better, its just loaded with cheap tricks and flash maneuvers for playing in minor keys. Its dark and distinctive sound can really give Rock and Metal players a whole new (dark, possibly evil) dimension to their playing... if they can handle it. It also has a bad tendency to produce solos so square that they practically qualify as birth control. I will explain how to avoid this below.

Not for Absolute Beginners...

Overall, the Harmonic Minor scale is an extremely important scale to learn, both on guitar and to understand music in general, however it is not a good choice for beginners as there are other scales that are used far more than this one, and correct usage (and good usage) of Harmonic Minor requires you know how they work.


If you are my guitar student here in San Francisco, if we haven't gone over it, don't worry about it just yet. If you are studying independently this article assumes you are familiar with the following Scales:

  • Blues
  • Natural Minor
  • Major
  • Spanish Minor (aka Phrygian Mode)
  • Pentatonic Minor
And these chords:

I suggest Rock, Blues, and Metal guitar players learn the Harmonic Minor Scale immediately after mastering the Blues Scale , the Diatonic Modes, and the Pentatonic Major Scale.

Harmonic Minor vs. Other Minor Scales

Harmonic vs. Natural Minor

The Natural Minor Scale is our "default" minor scale. If we say simply The Minor Scale, people assume we mean the Natural Minor scale. It is one of the 7 Modes of the Diatonic Scale, and is the second most commonly used mode; the Major Scale obviously being the most common of the seven (hence the name Major).

Harmonic vs. Spanish Minor, Dorian, and the Blues

The Natural Minor is one of the three Minor modes of the Diatonic scale: the other two being the Dorian Minor and the Spanish Minor Scale.Those three scales/modes share five common notes. We call those 5 common notes the Pentatonic Minor scale (1 3 4 5 7). The Blues scale is not a mode of the Diatonic scale, however it shares the "Pentatonic Skeleton", having those same 5 notes as a subset of the notes in it.

What Harmonic Minor is Not...

The Harmonic Minor is different. You should remember these points:
  • The Harmonic Minor Scale is NOT a Diatonic mode and therefore
  • it is not (by definition) a mode of the Major or Minor scale.
and although the Blues, Natural, Dorian and Spanish Minor scales have the five notes of the Pentatonic minor as a subset...
  • The Pentatonic Minor is NOT a subset of the Harmonic Minor Scale
Major Scale (baseline) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Natural Minor 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Harmonic Minor 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
The reason is this: Harmonic Minor is not a naturally occurring diatonic mode or folk music scale. It was formed by composers deliberately modifying the Natural Minor scale by one note. Harmonic Minor is identical to the Natural Minor scale for the first six scale degrees. The change comes in the seventh degree. As you can see in the table on the right, instead of having a 7 like Natural Minor, it now has a 7 like the Major Scale.

Even though the 7th scale degree is the same as in the Major Scale, and the Major Scale is (by convention) always the numbering baseline (getting the number 1 through 7 with no sharps or flats); we will still often have to use the natural sign when discussing the Harmonic Minor. In Minor scales the 7th is usually flatted so we expect it and use the natural sign to express the difference.

If you are curious to see just how many more minor scales have a 7 than a 7, I have laid out all the widely used Minor Scales in one table:

Expanded Chart of Minor Scales

Harmonic Minor on Guitar: DANGER!

Having bad rhythm is not only uncool, it is basically the definition of uncool. When someone dances or plays music with bad rhythm, well, its sort of like a puppy getting hit by a semi-tractor trailer truck. We cringe and look away in horror, yet some sick part of us makes us want to peek out of the corner of our eye, because we just can't beleive that something so abhorrent has actually occured.

Even the Good Ones!?

The thing with Harmonic minor is even players with good rhythm often fall apart on this. I've watched this happen many times. A guitarist will be playing the Blues scale with a hard swing, getting behind the beat, using vocal like phrasing, bends, vibrato, the whole nine yards; then they switch to harmonic minor....

...And we enter some disturbing parallel yet rhythmless reality constructed purely from straight eigth notes, where Barney the Dinosaur is the King of Swing, where thetablature software midi playback versions of songs are the only versions you hear, where it is not only always the 1980's, it is a nightmare version of the '80s where Metal, Punk, and Hip-Hop have been eradicated and only the corporate synthesizer pop of that decade remains....

Harmonic Minor is a VERY strong sound. It ALWAYS wants to go back to the root of the scale. Its a 7 note (heptatonic) scale and thus wants to run in 4s. The fact that somewhere in the back of our heads is the part of Fantasia where this scale becomes the backdrop to dancing fairies and Hippos in pink tutus isn't helping many of us out either.

  • YOU PLAY the scale!
  • DO NOT let the Harmonic Minor scale PLAY YOU!
  • Play the Harmonic Minor with all the swing, rhythmic variations, bends, vibrato, slides, etc. that you would apply to the Blues Scale or any other scale!

Something Giving Guitar Lessons has Taught Me

I've taught for over 10 years. It used to be the case that 100% percent of students would play something super-soulless and square the first time they improvised with this scale. Since I started giving this warning beforehand, that number has dropped to 0%. Its just a matter of staying true to your style.

Creating Tension on Minor Turnarounds

The Reason for the Harmonic Minors 7

The point of this modification to the Natural Minor scale is to make the fifth chord of the key a Dominant 7th chord, which we would write out using the Roman Numeral System as V7. Natural Minors fifth chord is usually a minor or minor 7th (V-7). If you don't know what chords go where in Natural Minor (when a scale is played with chords on each note, its called a harmonized scale), see

The tense sound of the dominant 7th chord formed by the Harmonic Minor scale creates a stronger sense of resolution to the root or one chord (I- or I-7).

Using the Harmonic Minor in Guitar Leads

  • Whenever the V chord in minor appears as a Major triad or Dominant Seventh chord and its resolving to to the I- chord.
  • This gives us only one or two bars to use it in most cases. One solution is to have the band stay on the V chord for an extended period. Randy Rhoads was famous for doing this.
  • Instead of just playing it on V7 to I-, it can be used over the whole extended turnaround (the chords that lead up to the V7 I-)
  • .
  • Use it along with blues ANYWHERE you can use natural minor.
  • This should be done sparingly. The Harmonic Minor wants to resolve, its great at building that tension, its often best to save it for the turnaround. If you use it on a low point of the solos dramatic structure, it can often get lame. But if you can hear it in your head and its just ON, go for it. No Fear.

Harmonic Minor Mode V7

Changing the chord built on a note in a scale also changes the mode built on it. Consequently the fifth mode of the Natural Minor scale(i.e. the Spanish Minor scale) becomes dominant in the Harmonic Minor scale, becoming the Spanish Dominant Scale or Mode. (The name is often shortened to just “Spanish” and it’s also commonly known as the Jewish Scale. It’s also sometimes called Phrygian Dominant. See:


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