Modes Of Harmonic Minor Scale
In this we’re getting into some exotic stuff that many people consider advanced. But it really isn’t since you now understand diatonic modes. Like the major scale, there are 7 notes in the harmonic minor scale. Also like the diatonic scale, there are 7 modes of the harmonic minor scale.
Harmonic minor modes do have their own names, which are not very intuitive and may seem confusing. In essence, they are just variations of the diatonic modes’ names because they show their relation to the minor scale and other diatonic modes they’re derived from.
Harmonic Minor Mode 1 - Aeolian #7
In diatonic Aeolian we had minor 7th, but here we have Major 7th. The 7th note is sharpened, hence why mode 1 of the Harmonic minor is called Aeolian #7.
In A it has the following notes: A, B, C, D, E, F, G#, and those are the notes we will use to play over the A drone note in the improvisation excerpt.
Harmonic Minor Mode 2 – Locrian #6
Locrian mode you will see that it is the same interval structure but with one significant difference: diatonic Locrian has minor 6th, and this one has Major 6th, so that’s why it’s simply called: Lociran #6.
In the improvisation excerpt this mode will be played over A note, so in order to hear its characteristic sound we need to use A Locrian #6.
In A Locrian #6 the notes are: A, Bb, C, D, Eb, F#, G, and those are the notes we’ll be using to improvise over A drone note. Note that this is a rare instance where we have to use both sharps and flats because of the rule in music theory we talked about — the rule which says that alphabet letters should not be skipped when writing out the notes of a key.
Harmonic Minor Mode 3 – Ionian #5
This mode is called Ionian #5 and it’s easy to tell why – again, just compare its structure to the regular Ionian structure, the difference is shown in the name itself.
The notes for this mode in A are: A, B, C#, D, E# (enharmonically equivalent to F), F#, G#.
Harmonic Minor Mode 4 – Dorian #4
In A Dorian #4 the notes are: A, B, C, D#, E, F#, G, and these are the notes we’ll be using to play over A note.
Harmonic Minor Mode 5 – Phrygian #3
In A Phrygian #3, the notes are: A, Bb, C#, D, E, F, G, and these are the notes we’ll be using to play over A note.
Harmonic Minor Mode 6 – Lydian #2
In A Lydian #2, the notes are: A, B# (enharmonically equivalent to C), C#, D#, E, F#, G#, and these are the notes we’ll be using to play over A note to showcase this mode.
Harmonic Minor Mode 7 – Mixolydian #1 or Super Locrian
This scale is the oddest so far and has different names.
1. It is sometimes called an Altered scale, since it is the Major scale with each of the scale degrees flatted (altered). Though this is not the real Altered scale since we have bb7. The Altered scale is actually the 7th mode of the Melodic minor scale and we’ll get to that soon.
Regular Major scale: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7.
Harmonic minor mode 7: 1 – b2 – b3 – b4 – b5 – b6 – bb7.
2. It is also sometimes called Super Locrian which is a fancy name but that’s because it is the same as diatonic Locrian, but it goes one step further. Locrian has the Perfect 4th, while in Super Locrian that note is flatted (diminished 4th) and the b7 note is flatted once again.
Diatonic Locrian: 1 – b2 – b3 – 4 – b5 – b6 – b7.
Super Locrian: 1 – b2 – b3 – b4 – b5 – b6 – bb7.
3. It is also sometimes called Mixolydian#1, but why?
Let’s take our G Major scale and G Mixolydian scale (whose Parent Major scale is C), and list out their notes.
G Major has: G(1) – A(2) – B(3) – C(4) – D(5) – E(6) – F#(7)
G Mixolydian has: G(1) – A(2) – B(3) – C(4) – D(5) – E(6) – F(b7)
Now the 7th mode of the harmonic minor scale in this context (when compared against G Mixolydian) looks like this:
G Mixolydian #1: G#(1) – A(2) – B(3) – C(4) – D(5) – E(6) – F(bb7)
The problem here is that there is one extra flat on the 7th, making it function as the
Major 6th in this context.
So we have three different names for the same thing. It’s important to understand each name and its context (what is it telling you?), because as we said, the names describe a mode’s relationship to other scales. Knowing these relationships is what will help you with understanding and using modes in your playing. You can use any name that you like just as long as you know how it’s related to other scales and modes. In my opinion the best name to use here would be Super Locrian.
In A, the notes of this mode are: A, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, Gb, and these are the notes we’ll be using to play over A drone note in the backing track.