Some minor scales (harm., mel., gyp.)

This is a lesson on some minor scales.(harm., mel., jazz, blues, gypsy, maybe also min modes, and some exotic min scales)

Recall, we've previously defined scales as a collection of notes (and their octaves) within a given octave to be played one at a time (though you could play them in other ways).

A minor scale is a scale that contains a minor chord built on its root note. In other words, the scale contains 1,b3,5.

THE Minor scale we are discussing (and everyone else talks about) contains the notes 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,b7. It's step pattern is W-1/2-W-W-1/2-W-W. In the key of Am, it would be the notes A-B-C-D-E-F-G.

This lesson will look briefly at the following scales: The minor scale (the aeolian mode), the dorian mode, the phrygian mode, pentatonic minor, blues scale, harmonic minor, melodic minor (jazz minor), and gypsy minor.

Something happens when learning scales. Many start with method books and unconsciously learn major scales and melodies constructed from them (bits of classical compositions, folk tunes, children's songs, etc.), generally happy, possibly uplifting or boring. Then they encounter minor scales and get hooked. They're moody, dark, brooding, mysterious, depressing, and downright fun (that doesn't mean that major scales are without charm).

Others come from starting off the bat with pentatonic minor scales, and never seek any further. Convinced they've arrived... legends in their own minds.

Whatever your background, each scale offers a unique voice to evoke a different mood, and it's good to give them ALL a chance.

MINOR PENTATONIC

A 5 tone (penta-tonic) scale. Heard often in blues/rock/gospel/folk/country/metal, and other musics.

Minor pentatonic = 1,b3,4,5,b7
Minor pentatonic = m3-W-W-m3-W
A-Minor pentatonic = A,C,D,E,G

Pentatonic minor "E-shape" (root note on 6th string)

|-1-|---|---|b3-|
|-5-|---|---|b7-|
|b3-|---|-4-|---|
|b7-|---|-1-|---|
|-4-|---|-5-|---|
|-1-|---|---|b3-|


Pentatonic minor "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)
|-5-|---|---|b7-|
|---|b3-|---|-4-|
|b7-|---|-1-|---|
|-4-|---|-5-|---|
|-1-|---|---|b3-|
|-5-|---|---|b7-|

Many cliches of country, blues, and rock come out of this scale. Here's one such cliche.

|----------------------|
|--------8-------------|
|--7/(9)----(9)\7-5----|
|-------------------7--|
|----------------------|
|----------------------|

Generally the minor pentatonic scale is not harmonized the same way that the minor (or major) scale is; however, it's possible to harmonize it thus creating chords and progressions from it.
Some of these chords are (from a functional point of view)
i, i7, i7/11, isus4, i7sus4, bIII, bIII6, bIII6/9, bIIIsus2, bIIIadd9, IVsus4, IVsus2, IV7sus4, IV7sus2, IV9, IV11, iv9, iv11, iv7, V+sus4, V7+5sus4, v7+5, bVIIsus2, bVIIsus4, bVII6/9
(note: use of roman numerals allows for description of functionality w/o reference to any particular key or tonal center. It's necessary to transpose to a key [or tonal center] to practically use them), you can find a transposition table at http://simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/guitar/8theory3.html

Playing a i-min.pent. over any of these chords should produce a fairly "inside" sound.

For example, you could choose some chords to make a progression (making sure to include some form of i chord and make it the predominant chord in the progression), and then use pent.min. over it.
ex.
use i-pent.min. over i-bVII-i
(in the key of Am: use A-pent.min. over Am-G-Am.)

Pent.Min. is often used in "outside" playing. One of the most common examples is to play i-pent.min. over a I chord (A-pent.min. over an A major chord). This is often heard in Blues and Classic Rock.

Pent.Min. is also a decent place to begin learning to improvise. I recommend scatting to anyone interested in improvising. (This exercise works with all the other scales you'll come across as well, and a prudent person would use this with any/all scales/modes in any/all positions you're trying to learn/master.)

1.) Take a scale. And take a particular position of that scale.
2.) Take one string in that position, and play a note from that string in that position from that scale. Play another, and another, etc.

* Sing every note you play. Slow down to a comfortable enough speed that you can sing every note you play at the same time that you're playing it. Work on this until you can do this on one string without any mistakes (speed doesn't matter).

3.) When you can do this, add 1 adjacent string, and repeat the proceedure. Do not allow yourself to fall into cliches or known patterns. At the moment you sense that you're going into a known melody, etc. immediately shift to a different note than the expected one.
4.) Add another adjacent string and repeat #2+#3 with 3 adjacent strings (remember to sing every note, and to practice at the number of strings until no mistakes, and to avoid predictable patterns).
5.) Continue in the same way adding an adjacent string.
6.) After all strings in one position are added and mastered (being able to scat through all notes without mistakes), pick another position or scale and repeat.

More information on the Pentatonic Minor scale at http://simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/scales/pentmin.html

THE MINOR SCALE

Minor = 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,b7
Minor = W-1/2-W-W-1/2-W-W
A-Minor = A,B,C,D,E,F,G

Minor "E-shape" (root note on 6th string)

|---|-1-|---|-2-|b3-|
|---|-5-|b6-|---|b7-|
|-2-|b3-|---|-4-|---|
|---|b7-|---|-1-|---|
|---|-4-|---|-5-|b6-|
|---|-1-|---|-2-|b3-|

Minor "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)

|-5-|b6-|---|b7-|
|-2-|b3-|---|-4-|
|b7-|---|-1-|---|
|-4-|---|-5-|b6-|
|-1-|---|-2-|b3-|
|-5-|b6-|---|b7-|

The minor scale can be harmonized in 3rds to give the following chords triads: i-iio-bIII-iv-v-bVI-bVII
(in the key of Am) Am-Bo-C-Dm-Em-F-G
7th chords: i7-ii7b5-bIIImaj7-iv7-v7-bVImaj7-bVII7
(in the key of Am) Am7-Bm7b5-Cmaj7-Dm7-Em7-Fmaj7-G7
(more info on harmonizing scales at http://simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/archive/aug9.html )

To create progressions, string any of the above chords together (be sure to include some form of the i chord, and make it the predominant chord in the progression).
ex.
i-iv-v-i (key of Am: Am-Dm-Em-Am)

You could use the minor scale (A minor) over this to create melodies to go with the progression.

We can view the minor scale as a mode ( the aeolian mode) of the major scale, and sometimes it is refered to as relative minor indicating the relative (modal) connection between the major and minor scales.
Looking briefly at modes to show that connection by step pattern:
minor scale = W1/2WW1/2WW
Locrian = 1/2WW1/2WWW
major scale = WW1/2WWW1/2
Dorian = W1/2WWW1/2W
Phrygian = 1/2WWW1/2WW
Lydian = WWW1/2WW1/2
Mixolydian = WW1/2WW1/2W

Note: the minor scale (aeolian mode), the dorian mode, and the phrygian mode are all minor scales (they contain the intervals 1,b3,5), the others are different types of scales (more on modes at http://simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/archive/sep27.html )

More info on THE minor scale at http://simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/archive/aug2.html

DORIAN MODE

(2nd mode of the major scale) Dorian is most commonly heard in jazz and classical musics.
Dorian = 1,2,b3,4,5,6,b7
Dorian = W-1/2-W-W-W-1/2-W
D-Dorian = D,E,F,G,A,B,C
A-Dorian = A,B,C,D,E,F#,G

dorian mode "E-shape" (root note on the 6th string)

|---|-1-|---|-2-|b3-|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|b7-|
|-2-|b3-|---|-4-|---|
|-6-|b7-|---|-1-|---|
|---|-4-|---|-5-|---|
|---|-1-|---|-2-|b3-|

dorian mode "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)

|---|-5-|---|-6-|b7-|
|---|-2-|b3-|---|-4-|
|-6-|b7-|---|-1-|---|
|---|-4-|---|-5-|---|
|---|-1-|---|-2-|b3-|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|b7-|

The dorian scale can be harmonized in 3rds to give the following chords triads: i-ii-bIII-IV-v-vio-bVII
(in the tonal center A) Am-Bm-C-D-Em-F#o-G
7th chords: i7-ii7-bIIImaj7-IV7-v7-vi7b5-bVII7
(in the tonal center A) Am7-Bm7-Cmaj7-D7-Em7-F#m7b5-G7

Common progressions for Dorian include: i-IV, i-IV-v, and i-ii.

Compare the progressions i-iv-v-iv, and i-IV-v-IV
(Tonal center A) Am-Dm-Em-Dm, and Am-D-Em-D.

i-iv-v-iv comes out of the minor scale so you could solo over it in i-minor (use A minor over Am-Dm-Em-Dm), you could use iv-Dorian (D-dorian over above progression), and you could use i-pent.min., iv-pent.min., and v-pent.min. over the progression (A-pent.min, D-pent.min, E-pent.min) also v-phrygian (E-phrygian)[see below].

i-IV-v-IV comes out of the dorian scale so you could solo over it in i-dorian (use A dorian over Am-D-Em-D), you could use v-minor (E-Minor over above progression), and you could use i-pent.min., IV-pent.maj., and v-pent.min. over the progression (A-pent.min, D-pent.maj, E-pent.min) also IV-Mixolydian (D-mixolydian)[see http://simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/archive/sep20.html for more info on the mixolydian mode].

Dorian can be thought of as Aeolian natural6, or mel.min.b7. Although such connections may help the beginner to remember the intervals of simialr scales, in the long run one should strive to understand each scale as seperate moods.

More on the Dorian mode at http://simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/archive/dec6.html

PHRYGIAN MODE

(3rd mode of the major scale)

Phrygian = 1,b2,b3,4,5,b6,b7
Phrygian = 1/2-W-W-W-1/2-W-W
E-Phrygian = E,F,G,A,B,C,D
A-Phrygian = A,Bb,C,D,E,F,G

phrygian mode "E-shape" (root note on the 6th string)

|-1-|b2-|---|b3-|
|-5-|b6-|---|b7-|
|b3-|---|-4-|---|
|b7-|---|-1-|b2-|
|-4-|---|-5-|b6-|
|-1-|b2-|---|b3-|

phrygian mode "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)

|-5-|b6-|---|b7-|
|---|b3-|---|-4-|
|b7-|---|-1-|b2-|
|-4-|---|-5-|b6-|
|-1-|b2-|---|b3-|
|-5-|b6-|---|b7-|

The phrygian scale can be harmonized in 3rds to give the following chords triads: i-bII-bIII-iv-vo-bVI-bvii
(in the tonal center A) Am-Bb-C-Dm-Eo-F-Gm
7th chords: i7-bIImaj7-bIII7-iv7-v7b5-bVImaj7-bvii7
(in the tonal center A) Am7-Bbmaj7-C7-Dm7-Em7b5-Fmaj7-Gm7

Common progressions for Phrygian include: i-bII, i-bII-bIII, i-vo.

Try soloing over i-vo-bII-i in i-phrygian (play A-phrygian over Am-Do-Bb-Am).

To begin hearing the distinctions between similar scales, it is good to record a progression that goes with both scales, and practice soloing over it in both scales.

For example take the progression i-iv (Am-Dm) and practice soloing over it in both the minor scale (A minor scale), and phrygian (A-phrygian).

Or try i-bIII (Am-C), and try using over it i-minor (A-minor), or i-phrygian (A-phrygian), or i-dorian (A-dorian).

More on the phrygian mode at http://simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/archive/feb14.html

HARMONIC MINOR SCALE

Harmonic Minor = 1,2,b3,4,5,b6,7
Harmonic Minor = W-1/2-W-W-1/2-m3-1/2
A-Harmonic Minor = A,B,C,D,E,F,G#

Harmonic Minor "E-shape" (root note on 6th string)

|-7-|-1-|---|-2-|b3-|
|---|-5-|b6-|---|---|
|-2-|b3-|---|-4-|---|
|---|---|-7-|-1-|---|
|---|-4-|---|-5-|b6-|
|-7-|-1-|---|-2-|b3-|

Harmonic Minor "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)

|---|-5-|b6-|---|---|
|---|-2-|b3-|---|-4-|
|---|---|-7-|-1-|---|
|---|-4-|---|-5-|b6-|
|-7-|-1-|---|-2-|b3-|
|---|-5-|b6-|---|---|

The harmonic minor scale can be harmonized in 3rds to give the following chords triads: i-iio-bIII+-iv-V-bVI-viio
(in the key of Am) Am-Bo-C+-Dm-E-F-G#o
7th chords: imaj7-ii7b5-bIIImaj7+5-iv7-V7-bVImaj7-viio7
(in the key of Am) Am/maj7-Bm7b5-Cmaj7+5-Dm7-E7-Fmaj7-G#o7

Common progressions for h.min. include : i-V, i-imaj7, bVImaj7-V7-i.

Often Harmonic minor is heard in combination with other minor scales (such as the minor scale, or the melodic minor scale)

Consider a modified circle of 5ths:
Dm7-G7-Cmaj7-Fmaj7-Bm7b5-E7-Am

You could play A-aeolian (A-minor) over Dm7 through Bm7b5, and you could play A-harm.min. over Fmaj7 through Am.

More info on Harmonic minor in a future lesson.

MELODIC MINOR
(aka jazz minor)

Melodic Minor = 1,2,b3,4,5,6,7
Melodic Minor = W-1/2-W-W-W-W-1/2
A-Melodic Minor = A,B,C,D,E,F#,G#

Melodic Minor "E-shape" (root note on 6th string)

|-7-|-1-|---|-2-|b3-|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|
|-2-|b3-|---|-4-|---|
|-6-|---|-7-|-1-|---|
|---|-4-|---|-5-|---|
|-7-|-1-|---|-2-|b3-|

Melodic Minor "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)

|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|
|---|-2-|b3-|---|-4-|
|-6-|---|-7-|-1-|---|
|---|-4-|---|-5-|---|
|-7-|-1-|---|-2-|b3-|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|

The melodic minor scale can be harmonized in 3rds to give the following chords triads: i-ii-bIII+-IV-V-vio-viio
(in the key of Am) Am-Bm-C+-D-E-F#o-G#o
7th chords: imaj7-ii7-bIIImaj7+5-IV7-V7-vi7b5-vii7b5
(in the key of Am) Am/maj7-Bm7-Cmaj7+5-D7-E7-F#m7b5-G#m7b5

Common progressions from melodic minor include: i-IV, i7-IV7, i-viio

In classical music it is traditional to play melodic minor only when ascending (and to play harmonic minor when descending). In jazz it's common to hear melodic minor played both ascending and descending (and it's sometimes known as jazz minor).

Try playing (recording) the progression i7-ii7-i7-IV7 (Am7-Bm7-Am7-D7) and soloing over it with either/both i-Dorian (A-dorian) or i-mel.min. (A-mel.min.)

More info on the melodic minor scale in a future lesson.

GYPSY MINOR
(aka oriental minor)

Gypsy Minor = 1,2,b3,#4,5,b6,b7
Gypsy Minor = W-1/2-m3-1/2-1/2-m3-1/2
A-Gypsy Minor = A,B,C,D#,E,F,G#

Gypsy Minor "E-shape" (root note on 6th string)

|-7-|-1-|---|-2-|b3-|
|#4-|-5-|b6-|---|---|
|-2-|b3-|---|---|---|
|---|---|-7-|-1-|---|
|---|---|#4-|-5-|b6-|
|-7-|-1-|---|-2-|b3-|

Gypsy Minor "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)

|#4-|-5-|b6-|---|---|
|---|-2-|b3-|---|---|
|---|---|-7-|-1-|---|
|---|---|#4-|-5-|b6-|
|-7-|-1-|---|-2-|b3-|
|#4-|-5-|b6-|---|---|

The gypsy minor scale can be harmonized in 3rds to give the following chords triads: i-IIb5-bIII+-#ivosus2-V-bVI-vii
(in the key of Am) Am-B(b5)-C+-D#osus2-E-F-G#m
7th chords: imaj7-II7b5-bIIImaj7+5-#ivo7sus2-Vmaj7-bVImaj7-vii6
(in the key of Am) Am/maj7-B7b5-Cmaj7+5-D#o7sus2-Emaj7-Fmaj7-G#m6

No really common progressions; however, it lends itself to a good deal of tension with all the half-steps.

You might try soloing over bVImaj7-Vmaj7-i (fmaj7-Emaj7-Am) and solo over it with i-gyp.min. (A-gyp.min.) or try imaj7-bIIImaj7+5 (Am/maj7-Cmaj7+5) and try soloin over it in either i-harmonic minor (A-h.min.), i-mel.min. (A-mel.min.), or i-gyp.min.(A-gyp.min.).

More info on gypsy minor in a future lesson.

BLUES

Blues scale = 1,b3,4,#4/b5,5,b7
Blues scale = m3-W-1/2-1/2-m3-W
A-Blues scale = A,C,D,D#/Eb,E,G

The Blues scale is the same as the pent.min. scale above, but with an added tritone (#4/b5). While most people use it merely as a passing tone, it gives rise to some interesting harmonic possibilities.

Blues scale "E-shape" (root note on 6th string)

|--1-|-----|----|--b3-|
|--5-|-----|----|--b7-|
|-b3-|-----|--4-|#4/b5|
|-b7-|-----|--1-|-----|
|--4-|#4/b5|--5-|-----|
|--1-|-----|----|--b3-|

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

|#4/b5|--5-|-----|----|-b7-|-----|
|-----|----|--b3-|----|--4-|#4/b5|
|-----|-b7-|-----|--1-|----|-----|
|-----|--4-|#4/b5|--5-|----|-----|
|-----|--1-|-----|----|-b3-|-----|
|#4/b5|--5-|-----|----|-b7-|-----|

Some potential chords are:
io, i7b5, i7#11, isus#4, i7sus#4, biii, biii6, biii6/9, IV7b9sus4, T7b9b5, Tb5, vmaj7+5, bVII+sus4, bVII+sus2 , plus all above chords for pent.min. (T stands for the tritone and could be written as both/either #4 and/or b5).

More info on Blues scale in a future lesson.

For the student who's already familiar with these and understands their fretboard, you might try playing with the following other minor scales, harmonize them, come up with progressions, etc.:

Augmented = 1,b3,3,5,b6,7
Dorian#4 = 1,2,b3,#4,5,6,b7 (a mode of h.min.)
Javanese = 1,b2,b3,4,5,6,b7 (a mode of mel.min., Dorianb2)
??? = 1,b3,3,#4,5,b7,7 (a mode of gyp.min.)
Neapolitan major = 1,b2,b3,4,5,6,7
Neapolitan minor = 1,b2,b3,4,5,b6,7
Hungarian Gypsy = 1,2,b3,#4,5,b6,b7 (a mode of Nea.min.)
??? = 1,b3,3,4,5,6,7 (a mode of Nea.min.)
??? = 1,b3,4,5,6,b7,7 (a mode of enigmatic)
Hungarian Major = 1,b3,3,#4,5,6,b7
??? = 1,b2,b3,#4,5,6,b7 (a mode of hung.maj.)
??? = 1,b2,b3,#4,5,b6,7 (a mode of Persian)
Hirajoshi = 1,2,b3,5,b6
Pelog = 1,b2,b3,5,b7
Balinese = 1,b2,b3,5,b6
Hawaiian = 1,2,b3,5,6,7

Note: it takes more than learning the notes of a scale to master it. One reliable source estimated that it takes a minimum of 3 years to become fluent with a scale.

Peace,
Christopher Roberts
snglstringtheory@aol.com


How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/guitar/8theory3.html

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Last updated January 1, 2003
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