gypsy minor scale

Recall that we defined scale as:
a group of notes within an octave (and any octaves of those notes) usually played one at a time.

We can describe (define) a scale in any of these ways:
- by letters (representing specific pitches)
- by numbers (representing specific intervals)
- by step pattern (describing intervals from note to note)

So for example the major scale (ionian mode) can be described/ defined as/by: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C (in the key of C), 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, and W-W-1/2-W-W-W-1/2.

We define a minor scale as a scale containing the notes (intervals) 1,b3,5.
(In other words, using the notes in the scale we can construct a minor chord off the root note)

From either gypsy minor scale = W-1/2-m3-1/2-1/2-m3-1/2, or A-Gyp.Minor = A-B-C-D#-E-F-G#-A we can find the intervals (from the root note) to be 1,2,b3,#4,5,b6,7.

Looking at the numbers, we can deduce that the gypsy minor scale is a minor scale (not THE minor scale everyone talks about - that would be the aeolian mode, but a minor scale none-the-less). that is, it contains the notes 1,b3,5.

We also note that it is similar to THE minor scale. The aeolian mode (THE minor scale) has the intervals 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,b7; and the Gypsy minor scale has the intervals 1,2,b3,#4,5,b6,7. So we could view the gypsy minor scale as an aeolian scale with a major seventh ( a major seventh in place of a minor seventh) and a raised fourth (augmented fourth in place of a perfect fourth). We also note that it is very similar to the harmonic minor scale. The harmonic minor scale has the intervals 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,7; and the Gypsy minor scale has the intervals 1,2,b3,#4,5,b6,7. So we could view the Gypsy minor scale as an Harmonic minor scale with an augmented fourth. We can use this idea as a stepping stone to learning the scale. If you already know the Harmonic minor scale, then you could play those patterns , replacing the 4 with the #4. This idea of thinking of one scale as being another scale with altered notes (e.g. ionianb7, lydianb7, etc.) or with missing notes (e.g. pentatonic major, etc.) occurs from time to time, and may give some perspective/context/comfort in learning new scales. So we could think of Gyp. min. as Harm.Min.#4, etc. if we wanted to.

* Note: Due to the major seventh, we will not be able to substitute pent. min. for harm. min. with root on the same note (parallel scales) without running into dissonance between the sevenths.

So lets look at some patterns (moveable shapes) with which we can play the gypsy minor scale.


gypsy minor scale "E-shape" (root note on the 6th string)


gypsy minor scale "D-shape" (root note on the 4th string)


gypsy minor scale "C-shape" (root note on the 5th string)


gypsy minor scale "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)


gypsy minor scale "G-shape" (root note on the 6th string)


We recall, that we can derive chords by harmonizing scales. We've previously harmonized the major scale in thirds to get triads, and seventh chords (see August 19th's, and august 16th's lessons)

two adjacent strings:
Seperated by a P4


seperated by a M3


We found for the minor scale (aeolian mode) The following triads:
and for the harmonic minor scale

We can create "gypsy minor scale" progressions. Doing so will give us a framework to analyze songs, and find good opportunities to employ the harmonic minor scale. it's also good practice for songwriting, etc.

We see above the following chords for gypsy minor:
in triads: i-IIb5-bIII+-#ivosus2-V-bVI-vii
in 7th chords: imaj7-II7b5-bIIImaj7#5-#ivo7sus2-Vmaj7-bVImaj7-viibb7 (vii6)
in 9th chords: imaj9-II7b9b5-bIIImaj7#9#5-#ivo7b9sus2-Vmaj7b9-bVImaj7#9-viibb7b9
in 11th chords: imaj9#11-II11b9b5-bIIImaj11#9#5-#iv11b9b5sus2-Vmaj11b9-bVImaj7#9#11-viibb7b11b9
in 13th chords: imaj9#11b13-II13b9b5-bIIImaj13#9#5-#iv11b9b13b5sus2-Vmaj11b13b9-bVImaj13#11#9-viibb7b13b11b9

So we could take any of the chords in the above paragraph and create a gypsy minor progression out of it. We really should include some type of I chord (i, imaj7, imaj7sus#4, imaj9, etc.) and it should be the predominant chord in our progression, with a feeling of resolution when we come back to it.

Take a minute to compare and contrast the chords from the harmonic minor, and gypsy minor scales.
Harmonic minor = i-iio-bIII+-iv-V-bVI-viio
Gypsy minor = i-IIb5-bIII+-#ivosus2-V-bVI-vii

They share the following chords (triads) in common: i,bIII+,V,bVI.
Creating a progression using only these chords would be slightly ambiguous, and could be interpreted as either gypsy minor or harmonic minor. In fact, such a progression would be a good one to record (or have a friend play) and solo over to uderstand the subtle differences between gypsy and harmonic minors (try switching from i-gyp.min. to i-harm.min. and back, etc. over such a progression and see what different moods are created).

If on the other hand, you want to create a progression that has a more harmonic minor character, you should include at least one of the other 3 chords (IIb5,#ivosus2,vii) not found in harmonic minor.

Where/when does one usually decide to use gypsy minor?
- some would use it over the imaj7 chord in the minor scale/key context (play i-harmonic minor over imaj7), or over imaj7b5 chord
- over several chords that fit within a gypsy minor context (see above chords for harmonic minor). ex. over Am-B(b5)-Em (i-IIb5-V) you could play A-gypsy minor.
- over a related modal progression, use the relative gypsy minor scale.

Due to the slightly chromatic nature of the scale, we could employ other harmonization schemes to some advantage. For example, looking at chords built off the 1-chord (i, imaj7, etc.) we have the possibilities of 5,b5,and #5. So we can create chords like i,io,i+, imaj7b5, imaj7#5, etc. With the b3-chord the possibilities are choices among b3,3,4 leading to possibilities such as bIII+5sus4, biii+5, etc. The chromaticism also lends itself nicely to angular concepts.

We can increase our familiarity by singing every note as we practice our scales/soloing. In previous lessons on scales i've given some basic pointers on starting to solo. Those things transfer here too. Just replace the scale in question with the gypsy minor scale (see lessons from May 24th, june 7th, july 5th, and august 2nd). Here are two more using gypsy minor:


2.) (1-2-b3-2)-(1-b3-#4-b3)-(1-#4-5-#4)-(1-5-b6-5)-(1-b6-7-b6)-(1-7-8-7)-8

Next weeks lesson is on the Modes of the Gypsy minor scale.

Christopher Roberts

How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart

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Next lesson - Modes of the Gypsy minor scale
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Last updated April 10, 2003
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