The harmonic minor scale is very popular among guitar players and is used in a variety of genres including Jazz, Heavy Metal (especially Neo-Classical) and Surf guitar.
In this lesson I will show you 5 positions of the harmonic minor scale to cover the entire guitar fretboard using 3 notes per string patterns, as well as an example guitar lick in each position.
In the end, you will also find a short guitar solo that uses notes from different patterns of this scale.
A bit of theory first
The harmonic minor scale is a 7-note scale that shares the same notes as the natural minor scale, except for one alteration – the 7th note is raised a semitone (one fret on the guitar).
Thus, while the A minor natural scale is made of the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, and G, the A harmonic minor scale is made of the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, and G#.
This raised 7th is what gives this scale its dark and exotic sound.
Listen to both the natural and the harmonic minor scales to notice the difference in their sound:
Harmonic minor guitar scale patterns and licks
In order to learn how to solo using the harmonic minor scale on guitar, it’s good to first learn the patterns given below, and then learn the given example guitar lick to get a good idea of how to use that pattern.
Following that, you should start creating your own licks.
Eventually, you will also need to learn when to use the harmonic minor scale, since if you’re soloing over chords in the minor key, you need to make sure the use of the raised 7th in the melody doesn’t clash with the backing chords.
The harmonic minor scale may be a bit harder to play on the guitar than the natural minor scale because of the stretch between the 6th and 7th degrees of the scale.
In this first scale pattern, you’ll feel this when playing the notes on the B string in the second and third bar.
Some guitar players use the CAGED system of learning scales to avoid this stretch.
I find the CAGED system very inefficient as a learning tool since you don’t have the same number of notes on every string.
And anyway, being able to stretch your fingers on the guitar is a skill definitely worth acquiring.
The first lick makes ample use of the raised 7th degree of the harmonic minor scale to capture its flavor.
The next pattern starts with the note A on the 7th fret of the D string.
As with the other patterns, it starts and ends on the same note, but you will also be playing the scale notes on the lower strings to completely cover this part of the fretboard.
The stretch in this pattern is found on the notes of the A string.
The next lick has a very exotic sound to it and is made solely from notes that are found in the scale pattern given above.
To play this pattern, put your pinkie on the first note.
This simple, but melodic, guitar lick makes use of notes derived from this scale pattern.
This scale pattern starts covering the second half of the guitar fretboard if you’re playing in the key of A.
Note: If you’re playing in any other key, all you have to do is play the exact same patterns starting from the root note of that key.
Example lick making use of this scale pattern’s notes:
Put your pinkie over the 17th fret to learn the last pattern of the harmonic minor scale and cover the entire guitar fretboard.
Note: To cover the first part of the guitar fretboard, just move this pattern down an octave and start on the 5th fret of the low E string.
Example lick that makes use of notes derived from this scale pattern:
While playing harmonic minor licks in each position is great to learn how to use the scale, you don’t want to get stuck playing in one position of the fretboard all the time.
After you memorize and are able to use a guitar scale in all positions, it’s good to start connecting these scale patterns so that you gain the ability of soloing over the entire fretboard.
The following is a short guitar solo that uses notes from the harmonic minor scale without being restricted to any particular position.
Conclusion: Where to go from here
The harmonic minor is a very cool scale to use in your guitar licks and solos but should be handled with care if you’re playing with a backing harmony.
In order to master the use of this scale it’s important to understand on what chords it should be used, or else the notes in the melody may clash with the chords.
This lesson shows you which chords are used to harmonize the harmonic minor scale and helps you make good decisions as to when to use it.
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