Harmonic Minor Scale (the scale of metal!)

Written by Rob in 'Guitar Scales'

The harmonic minor scale could probably be described as the ‘scale of metal’, just as the minor pentatonic is the ‘scale of rock’. While the pentatonic is used heavily by bands such as ACDC or Free, the harmonic minor is used by guitarists such as Yngwie Malmsteen, or Randy Rhoads.

As I demonstrate in the video, the harmonic minor scale will instantly give your that modern, heavy metal sound.

Harmonising the Minor Scale

The harmonic minor scale was originally invented in the times of classical music. Now, a big part of classical music is what we call the ‘perfect cadence‘. This is a short sequence of chords- specifically, when you go from chord V (the chord built from the fifth note of the scale) to chord I (the chord built from the root).

If you want to know more about creating chords from scales like this, read this lesson on chords.

In a major key, this works great. The V chord is a dominant 7 chord, and resolves well to the I chord. However, the problem comes when you try to do the same thing in minor. In a minor key, the V chord is now a minor 7…which doesn’t resolve so well.

The solution? Change the chord to a V7 chord; now it resolves the way we want it.

Sounds good, right? Well, to do this we need to change one note…and that note has a knock-on effect on our scale.

Harmonic Minor Scale

Long story short: we end up with a minor scale, but it now has a major 7th. This is the harmonic minor scale, and here is how to play it in A:

the A harmonic minor scale in guitar tab

The above tab covers two octaves and then continues over the thin E string to come back down to the root note (A).

Using the Harmonic Minor scale

As I explain in the video, the harmonic minor scale can be used:

  • Over minor chords
  • Over Power-chords
  • In minor keys
  • Over minor/major 7 chords

The first option is probably the most common- essentially choosing A harmonic minor over A minor chords (or G harmonic minor over G minor chords etc…).

The second option is a bit more interesting. As I explain in this lesson, you can pretty much use any scale over a power-chord. You just have to make sure that the harmonic minor scale is appropriate to the genre or context you’re sol0ing in!

The third one might be the first thing a lot of musicians think of when it comes to the harmonic minor scale. Because of the chord relationships I explained earlier, you can use this scale in minor keys when the V chord is major.

Yeah, that’s probably also the most theory-heavy way to use the scale. You’ll have to understand what a V chord is, and how to recognise one.

The fourth option is rare! You see, if you make a chord with the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th notes of this scale (i.e. a ‘7 chord’), you end up with a minor/major 7. It’s like a mix between a minor and a major 7 chord- having the minor third, but a major 7.

I say ‘rare’, but I’m pretty sure there are plenty of uses for this chord, if you want to use it! Especially if you’re not afraid of sounding a bit ‘jazz’. It just doesn’t happen a lot in rock or metal.

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