How to Build a Harmonic Minor Scale

INTRODUCTION

The harmonic minor scale is arguably the most popular of the three minor scales (the others being the natural minor and melodic minor). It’s pleasing to the ear but at the same time has a certain melancholic quality, as is the case with all minor scales. In this post, you will learn two different methods to build this scale, along with plenty of examples. So let’s get started!

TWO METHODS

Method #1: USING A FORMULA

Using the formula is an easy way to build scales because it’s visual and easy to understand. As always, our formula consists of a pattern of whole steps (W) and half steps (H). The one “W” with a little arrow pointing up represents a raised whole step, which means we have to go up a whole step plus another half step (i.e. 1.5 whole steps or 3 half steps). This creates an interval of an augmented 2nd between the 6th and 7th degrees of the harmonic minor scale (we will talk more about this later). Here is the formula we will be using: 

Method #2: USING A NATURAL MINOR SCALE

The other method (and the one I recommend, if you have enough background in music theory) to build a harmonic minor scale is by using the natural minor scale and raising its 7th degree by a half step. Here is a little graphic that explains the idea:

Yes, it’s as simple as that! If you know your natural minor scale, the only thing you have to do to get the harmonic minor is raise the 7th degree by a half step! This is another reason why it’s important to get very comfortable with your natural minor scales. If you have them down solid, you will have the necessary groundwork to build the other minor scales easily. (To learn more about the natural minor scale, read our post on the topic here).

Example #1: "A HARMONIC MINOR" (Method #1)

For our first example, let’s build the “A Harmonic Minor” scale using the formula method. Starting on A, let’s begin applying our pattern of whole steps and half steps.

A to B is a whole step, B to C is a half step, C to D is a whole step, D to E is a whole step, E to F is a half step, F to G# is a whole step, and G# to A is a half step. The result: “A Harmonic Minor” scale. We can see that this scale consists of the notes A, B, C, D, E, F, G#.

Example #1: "A HARMONIC MINOR" (Method #2)

This time, let’s build the same scale using the Natural Minor Scale method. We begin with our “A Natural Minor” scale, which looks like this:

Yep, this scale only uses the white keys on the piano!
Next, let’s find the 7th degree of this scale. Counting from A, we find the our 7th note is G. Therefore, we need to raise G one half step to get our harmonic minor. Let’s do that.

Raising the G by half step gives us a G#. And voila – we have our “A Harmonic Minor” scale!

Example #2: "D HARMONIC MINOR" (Method #1)

For our second example, we will build the “D Harmonic Minor” scale. Let’s apply our formula pattern starting from D:

D to E is a whole step, E to F is a half step, F to G is a whole step, G to A is a whole step, A to B♭ is a half step, B♭ to C# is a raised whole step, and C# to D is a half step. Therefore, “D Harmonic Minor” is made up of D, E, F, G, A, B♭, and C#.

Example #2: "D HARMONIC MINOR" (Method #2)

Applying our knowledge of building natural minor scales, we get the “D Natural Minor” scale:

From here, we figure out that C is our 7th degree, which we must raise by a half step. The result:

And we are done!

Example #3: "C SHARP HARMONIC MINOR" (Method #1)

Lastly, let’s do something a bit tougher, shall we? How about a “C Sharp Harmonic Minor” scale? Let’s apply our formula:

Therefore, “C# Harmonic Minor” is made up of: C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A, and B#.

Example #3: "C SHARP HARMONIC MINOR" (Method #2)

Here is our “C Sharp Natural” scale:

Next, let’s raise our 7th degree, which is B, one half step.

CONCLUSION

Hopefully this little tutorial has made you more confident with your Harmonic Minor scales. As mentioned earlier – this scale is very common and you are sure to be using it regularly if you are a musician.

Tip: practice playing a harmonic minor scale from random note and see how long it takes you to figure it out. The more you do it, the easier it will get!

Want to see this lesson in video format? You can find it here.

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