Harmonic Minor (Guitar Lesson)

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Matt Brown

Harmonic Minor

Matt begins to discuss and demonstrate the harmonic minor scale.

Taught by Matt Brown in Rock Guitar with Matt Brown seriesLength: 29:46Difficulty: 2.0 of 5
Chapter 1: (04:30) Introduction to Harmonic Minor Lesson Overview / Objectives

In this lesson, you will learn the difference in sound and the theoretical differences between the harmonic minor scale and the harmonic minor scale. You will also learn five vertical patterns for the harmonic minor scale that can be played in any key.

Aural Comparison

Listen as Matt plays the harmonic minor and the natural minor scales in the key of A minor. How would you describe the difference in sound between these two scales?

Matt demonstrates the A natural minor scale at 01:37. He demonstrates harmonic minor soon afterward. Make sure that you can distinguish the difference in sound between these two scales. Think of a few descriptive words that capture the difference.

Theoretical Comparison

In comparison to the natural minor scale, the harmonic minor scale features a raised seventh scale degree. Compare the spelling of these scales.

A Natural Minor: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A

A Harmonic Minor: A, B, C, D, E, F, G#, A.

Key Features of Harmonic Minor

With the harmonic minor scale, the seventh scale degree becomes a "leading tone." The leading tone is the note that is one half step below tonic. The leading tone creates a stronger resolution back up to tonic compared to the lowered seventh scale degree of the natural minor scale.

Within the harmonic minor scale, an augmented second interval occurs between the sixth and seventh scale degrees. This interval sounds the same as a minor third, but is written differently in text and in notation. It consists of three half steps. Many composers avoid this interval because of its very distinct and dissonant sound.

Note: Music theory information regarding the harmonic minor scale will soon be added to the JamPlay Scale Library. This site feature can be accessed through the "Teaching Tools" button on the left hand side of the homepage.
Chapter 2: (03:38) Harmonic Minor Chord Tones Diatonic Chords in Natural Minor

i - minor
iio - diminished
III - major
iv - minor
v - minor
VI - major
VII - major

In relation to the key of A minor:

i - Am
iio - B diminished
III - C major
iv - D minor
v - E minor
VI - F major
VII - G major

Diatonic Chords in Harmonic Minor

i - minor
iio - diminished
III+ - augmented
iv - minor
V- major
VI - major
viio - diminished

In relation to the key of A minor:

i - Am
iio - B diminished
III+ - C augmented
iv - D minor
V - E major
VI - F major
viio - G#o

Make a careful note of which chords in these tonalities are different. The chords containing the leading tone are all different (III+, V major, and viio diminished).

In harmonic minor, the V chord creates a major stronger return to tonic because of the inclusion of the leading tone. It resolves up one half step. The sound of the harmonic minor tonality is largely characterized by this V to i dominant to tonic relationship.
Chapter 3: (05:53) Harmonic Minor Scale Patterns Note: Tablature to all scale patterns with proper left hand fingerings can be found under the "Supplemental Content" tab.

Every diatonic scale can be played across the entire length of the fretboard in any key by learning five simple vertical patterns.

Note: The vertical patterns that Matt teaches are not the only vertical patterns for the harmonic minor scale. The five patterns that he teaches are the most popular and most commonly used.

Guidelines for Practicing Scales

1. Listen to Matt play the scale several times before practicing it. Imitate the sound of his performance. You must play scales musically. Practice them as though you are practicing a melody from a piece of music. You must be able to play the scale in time with a metronome.

2. Do not deviate from the fingering that Matt demonstrates when practicing the scale. When improvising, use the fingering that best acommodates your improvised lines.

3. Remember to start on the lowest root note in the position when playing through any scale. This A note is located at the 5th fret of the sixth string. Then, ascend to the highest note in the position. This note is A at the 5th fret of the first string. Finally, descend the scale back down to the lowest root note in the pattern.

4. Observe all guidelines of proper technique.

Left Hand Guidelines

A. Preparing the Left Arm

-In order for the left hand to be positioned correctly, the entire body (especially the shoulders) must be positioned correctly. Remember to keep the spine straight and the shoulders relaxed!

-Keep the left hand in a natural, relaxed position at all times. Do not squeeze the neck!

B. Thumb Placement

-Keep the thumb perpendicular to the neck. Do not curl the thumb or bring it up over the top of the neck. Also, Do not turn the thumb so that it runs parallel to the back of the neck. This greatly limits the range of motion of each finger.

-The thumb should rest on the neck directly behind fingers one and two.

-The thumb may move up and down slightly in order to accommodate various left hand positions.

C. Palm Placement

-Keep the left hand palm parallel to the bottom of the neck. Do not allow the palm to make contact with the bottom of the neck. This technique will allow each of the fingers to access all six strings without moving the entire hand. Economy of movement is one of the most important components of proper technique. Wasted movement limits speed, endurance, and accuracy.

D. Finger Placement

When fretting any note, always follow the guidelines listed below.

-Fret the strings with the very tips of the fingers. Arching the wrist outwards will help accomplish this goal. Utilizing this technique will prevent you from bumping any of the adjacent strings. Making contact with adjacent strings will prevent them from ringing clearly.

-Position the finger as close to the fretwire as possible without being directly over top of it. The least amount of pressure is required to push the string down in this position.

-Keep all left hand joints slightly bent. Do not flatten any of the knuckles.

-Keep the left hand fingernails as short as possible.

-Keep the wrist slightly bent.

-Keep the fingers as close to the fretboard as possible at all times. This will ensure that each finger is prepared to play when called upon.

-When performing finger stretches, make the stretch with the appropriate finger only. Do not alter the position of the thumb. Refer to Dennis Hodges' fifth Phase 2 Metal lesson for some good finger flexibility exercises.

Right Hand Guidelines

-Almost all guitarists generate the picking motion completely from the wrist muscles. The forearm only gives involved when two or more strings are strummed simultaneously.

-Almost all guitarists that are trained in the classical and jazz fields argue that it is never appropriate to anchor any of the fingers not holding the pick on the body of the guitar regardless of what genre you play. Rather, these fingers should be lightly tucked into the palm. They should remain relaxed as possible. Do not clench them into a fist.

5. Memorize the pattern. Make sure you can play it with your eyes closed.

Pattern 1

A. Position

The first pattern that Matt demonstrates is played in second position when played in the key of A minor. Contrary to popular notion, position is defined by where the second finger plays, not by where the first finger plays. To determine the fretboard position of a musical excerpt, subtract one fret from the location where the second finger plays. The second finger is used to determine position since it never must perform a finger stretch to reach out of position notes. The first finger frequently must stretch backwards to fret notes. For example, in the second position A harmonic minor scale, the first finger must stretch back to play the F notes located at the first fret.

B. Position Shifts

Matt prefers to add a position shift into the pattern. This shift is not absolutely necessary. A second fingering option is also demonstrated in the lesson video. Use the fingering that works best for you.
Chapter 4: (03:30) Scale Patterns The pattern taught in this scene is played in fifth position within the key of Am.

This pattern can be quite difficult due to the finger stretches that occur on the fourth and first strings. Many guitarists prefer to eliminate these stretches by adding position shifts. For example, the B note played at the 9th fret of the fourth string can also be played at the 4th fret of the third string. Matt demonstrates this position shift at 00:57 in the lesson video.The G# note at the 9th fret of the second string can also be played at the 4th fret of the first string.

How do I know when to move on to a new pattern?

At first, work on one pattern at a time. After you have memorized the pattern and can play it in time with a metronome, work on the following exercises:

1. Apply the interval exercises from lesson 15 to the harmonic minor scales,

2. Apply the rhythm exercises presented in the Phase 2 Reading Music and Rhythm series to the harmonic minor scale.

3. Begin improvising and developing some basic licks within the pattern.

Work through these exercises for about a week to a week and a half before you move on to the next pattern. Do not neglect the first pattern once you have moved on to the second pattern!
Chapter 5: (01:49) 7th Position Scale Pattern Within this pattern, a finger stretch must be played on the fifth string. The pinky stretches up to the 11th fret to fret the G# note. Also, notice how there are only two notes played on the second string within this pattern.
Chapter 6: (02:40) Scale Patterns This pattern is played in ninth position in the key of A minor. In this position, the first finger must stretch back to fret several notes at the 8th fret. It must stretch back to reach C on the sixth string and F on the fifth string. The position shift can be eliminated by playing the note C on the first string instead of the second string. However, the position shift is most conducive to playing fast lines.

Also, the notes on the second string can be fingered two different ways when using the position shift. Matt demonstrates these options at 01:30. When ascending, Matt prefers to shift up with his pinky. When descending, he prefers to shift down with the first finger.
Chapter 7: (12:13) Final Scale Pattern The final pattern is played in 12th position within the key of Am. Finger stretches are performed on the 1st and 6th strings to reach the G# notes at the 16th fret. Notice how only two notes are played on the third string.

Upper Octaves

As you continue to move up the fretboard, all of the patterns taught in previous scenes simply repeat one octave higher.

Final Thoughts

A. Essential Listening

Listen to recordings of harmonic minor solos for some ideas and inspiration. The following rock hits are an excellent place to start: "Wherever I May Roam," "Sails of Charon," "Evil Eye," and "Sweet Child O' Mine." If you like any of the licks from these solos, try to learn them and incorporate them into your lead guitar vocabulary.

B. Connecting Patterns

Once you have the patterns memorized, begin to connect the patterns with position shifts within your improvised licks. In the next lesson, you will practice improvising over some basic progressions that are diatonic to the harmonic minor tonality.

C. Different Keys

Practice all of the ideas from this lesson in a variety of minor keys. Start with the most common keys on the circle of fifths wheel (the fewest number of sharps and flats in the key signature.)

Note: The circle of fifths wheel can be found under the "Supplemental Content" tab.

Video Subtitles / Captions

Supplemental Learning Material


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

gregygregy replied on January 9th, 2014

hey matt, love your lessons. i was wondering if it would clash much to play the natural and the harmonic together even if that is incorrect harmony wise? it seems you can use all the chords in both scales in a progression. perhaps avoid certain notes over certain chords.

mattbrownmattbrown replied on January 10th, 2014

There's an awful lot of music out there that may use chords from both the harmonic minor scale and the natural minor scale in the same progression. Or, two other minor tonalities like harmonic minor and melodic minor might occur in a progression. This happens in melodies/solos too. I think I even talk about one that I came up with later in the series. For example, Am - C - F - E is the first thing that popped into my head. In this case, C is technically from natural minor and E is from harmonic. A teacher of mine once said "there's only one minor scale, just a few different ways to start it or end it." That's kind of an interesting way to think of minor scales.

tchnorl00tchnorl00 replied on January 3rd, 2012

hey Matt if you see this and don't mind answering real quick i have a question, what would be the pros or cons of learning these harmonic minor scales in 3 note per string patterns instead? I know both ways to play the major scale over the neck and tend to use the 3 note per string patterns more often now so was wondering if i should also learn these harmonic minors in 3 note per string patterns, would it be a bad or good thing? or is it up to whatever i feel is more beneficial to me? thank you

mattbrownmattbrown replied on January 3rd, 2012

Yeah...Go ahead and learn those too. Basically, there are two ways to group diatonic scales...in terms of the CAGED system, there are five patterns that span the neck...the advantage here is that you can cover the whole neck with only 5 patterns...Then, you have your 3 note per string scales. There are seven of these patterns. I tend to think more in terms of these patterns when improvising...It just seems to work better for me. Also, when you start learning the modes of the harmonic minor scale, you have an individual pattern for each one of the modes.

lexzbuddylexzbuddy replied on November 5th, 2010

You know, there are times when you realise there are things you are doing wrong & this is one of them. Time to real my neck in again & get back to basics. Got the metronome out & have to be frank on this... rhythm seems to be the issue. In terms of left hand work, I have never broken it down into a discrete set of groups either (i.e. making a finite set of patterns you can plan or choose from). I've been blagging it for years but this seems to have economy once you get into the swing of it so to speak. I was never 1 for A's 'n B's but if you start doing that it's like a road map. Instead of a simple visual acoustic pattern you see new links. Matt, your lessons are straight up & to the point. Where I live we have a vacuum of good teachers. This is definitely a definitive lesson on how to set up some quality rules for playing. This is a great way of breaking it down so you can visualise the tonality yet not restrict you in method to the Nth degree. Quality tutorial matt. Thanks

mattbrownmattbrown replied on November 8th, 2010

Hey! I'm really glad that you got a lot out of this lesson. On the topic of playing with the metronome, I literally have it going throughout an entire practice session. Nowadays, it feels more awkward to play without a metronome than to play with it. The more you play with it, the better. You'll definitely start to see results in just a few days...which I'm guessing you've already noticed.

mattbrownmattbrown replied on July 21st, 2009

It was actually. There were some pretty major audio problems with this batch of filmed lessons that will be corrected the next time around. Basically, the close mic signal on the amp, which is what I use to capture my tone, ended up not being usable. Consequently, we had to use the guitar signal that was bleeding into the overhead condenser mic that was picking up my voice. My amp was in another room about thirty feet away facing the opposite direction from this mic. That's why the guitar is so quiet and the tone is well...not so desirable.

joemc74joemc74 replied on July 21st, 2009

This is a great lesson but it sounds like your amp is in a closet in the next room.

Rock Guitar with Matt Brown

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Chuck Berry among others pioneered the style of rock and roll in the 1950's. Today, rock and roll remains the most popular genre of music. Over the years the genre has progressed & spawned many sub-genres: soft rock, classic rock, punk rock, and more. Dive into this Phase 2 set of lessons to become a master of rock.

Lesson 1

Proper Practicing

Learn how to get the most out of your time when practicing.

Length: 29:00 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 2

Introduction to Lead

Matt Brown discusses some of the fundamentals to playing lead.

Length: 15:41 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 3

Figuring Out Notes

Matt shows you the basics of figuring out any note on the guitar.

Length: 7:00 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 4


Learn the basic minor, natural, and major scales. Quite a few techniques & ideas start with scales - they're an essential building block.

Length: 34:15 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 5

Major Scales

In this lesson, Matt takes you through the major scales & helps you to understand how they can be used.

Length: 20:25 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 6

Natural Minor Scales

Matt teaches the most common natural minor scale patterns.

Length: 13:24 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 7


Learn & master the most popular types of bends.

Length: 27:48 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 8

Sweep Picking & Rakes

Learn sweep picking and string rakes.

Length: 18:36 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 9

Solo Techniques

Learn various techniques to use when improvising / soloing.

Length: 12:51 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 10

Tuning Down

Matt explains the most effective way to tune your guitar down.

Length: 7:18 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 11

Barre Chords

Learn how to establish finger independence and a few tips and tricks with barre chords.

Length: 37:18 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 12

Rock Licks

In this lesson, Matt Brown introduces a rock lick and shows how several famous players have modified it.

Length: 19:30 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 13

Rock Sequences

In this lesson Matt teaches some crucial rock sequences. He also explains how these sequences can be integrated in to your playing.

Length: 34:52 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 14

String Skipping

Matt Brown focuses on string skipping technique. He provides several exercises designed to improve this aspect of your playing.

Length: 33:09 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 15


Lesson 15 in Matt's rock series is all about intervals.

Length: 34:47 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 16

Rock Lead Guitar

Matt Brown demonstrates lead guitar techniques using Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" as an example.

Length: 29:24 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 17

Solo Using Diatonic Scales

Matt Brown explains which scales can be used when playing a solo over a diatonic progression in a major key. As an example, he teaches the solo section to Candlebox's song "Far Behind."

Length: 33:02 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 18

Diatonic Natural Minor

This lesson covers the natural minor scale and diatonic natural minor progressions. Matt uses the solo section to "Stairway to Heaven" as an example.

Length: 24:55 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 19

Right Hand Technique

In lesson 19 Matt provides instruction on developing right hand skills including string skipping.

Length: 26:38 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 20

Non-Diatonic Progressions

In lesson 20, Matt discusses chord progressions that don't follow a diatonic tonality.

Length: 29:07 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 21

Harmonic Minor

Matt begins to discuss and demonstrate the harmonic minor scale.

Length: 29:46 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 22

Improvising Over Harmonic Minor

In lesson 22, Matt continues his discussion of the harmonic minor tonality.

Length: 14:36 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 23

Sweet Child O' Mine

In lesson 23, Matt takes a look at the solo section for the song "Sweet Child O' Mine."

Length: 19:43 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 24


Matt will be taking a look at the solo section from the live version of the Smashing Pumpkins song "Today".

Length: 7:29 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 25

Back In Black Solo

Matt Brown reviews and discusses the solo section to AC/DC's hit "Back In Black".

Length: 9:34 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 26


In lesson 26, Matt covers the solo section from the Alice in Chains song "Brother".

Length: 9:42 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 27

Matt's Rock Manifesto

Matt Brown discusses lead guitarists, what makes a good solo, and tips for your own lead playing.

Length: 41:06 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 28

Legato Playing Exercises

Matt Brown teaches a number of exercises aimed at improving your legato playing technique.

Length: 37:16 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 29

Right Hand Exercises

Matt Brown demonstrates a few exercises to build skill and speed in your right hand.

Length: 15:06 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 30

String Skipping Etude

Matt Brown teaches Heitor Villa-Lobos' 1st Etude as a lesson in string skipping.

Length: 38:47 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 31

Three Octave Scales

Matt Brown demonstrates how to play three octave versions of the minor pentatonic and the major scales in all 12 keys.

Length: 16:56 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 32

Diatonic Intervals

Matt Brown demonstrates how to play all seven of the diatonic intervals within the framework of a horizontal major scale.

Length: 23:01 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 33

Diatonic 7th Arpeggios

Matt Brown discuss diatonic arpeggios as a theory lesson as well as demonstrating the technique.

Length: 9:55 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 34

Diatonic 7ths Across the Neck

Matt Brown explains how to play the diatonic seventh chords of the major scale. Similar to lesson 32, this lesson takes a horizontal approach to the fretboard.

Length: 10:46 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 35

Solo Ideas #1

Matt Brown teaches a progression and accompanying solo to demonstrate ideas for creating your own.

Length: 21:34 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 36

Solo Ideas #2

Matt Brown takes a look at another chord progression and solo.

Length: 17:29 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 37

Legato Playing Ideas

In lesson 37 of the Rock Series, Matt Brown demonstrates and talks about legato playing ideas.

Length: 21:24 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 38

Rhythm Concepts

Matt Brown switches gears in lesson 38 to start talking about rhythm concepts for rock playing.

Length: 27:44 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 39

Compositional Techniques

Matt Brown discusses some often used techniques to build effective rock compositions.

Length: 17:27 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 40

Creative Chord Voicings

Matt Brown shows off some ways to add some creativity and originality to your rock chord voicings.

Length: 11:59 Difficulty: 1.5 FREE
Lesson 41

Lead Approach

Matt Brown takes another look at his approach to soloing. He demonstrates ideas you can use in your own playing.

Length: 12:10 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 42

Lead Approach #2

Matt Brown adds practice to his lead approach by giving you another chord progression to solo over.

Length: 7:14 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 43

Lead Approach #3

Matt Brown has another chord progression and solo exercise to go over in this lesson on lead approach.

Length: 10:25 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 44

String Skipping Revisited

Matt Brown takes another look at string skipping. He breaks down some key areas of Matteo Carcassi's Allegro as an exercise.

Length: 16:29 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only

About Matt Brown View Full Biography Matt Brown began playing the guitar at the age of 11. "It was a rule in my family to learn and play an instrument for at least two years. I had been introduced to a lot of great music at the time by friends and their older siblings. I was really into bands like Nirvana, Alice In Chains, and Smashing Pumpkins, so the decision to pick up the guitar came pretty easily."

Matt's musical training has always followed a very structured path. He began studying the guitar with Dayton, Ohio guitar great Danny Voris. I began learning scales, chords, and basic songs like any other guitarist. After breaking his left wrist after playing for only a year, Matt began to study music theory in great detail. I wanted to keep going with my lessons, but I obviously couldn't play at all. Danny basically gave me the equivalent of a freshman year music theory course in the span of two months. These months proved to have a huge impact on Brown's approach to the instrument.

Brown continued his music education at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. He completed a degree in Classical Guitar Performance in 2002. While at Capital, he also studied jazz guitar and recording techniques in great detail. "I've never had any desire to perform jazz music. Its lack of relevance to modern culture has always turned me off. However, nothing will improve your chops more than studying this music."

Matt Brown currently resides in Dayton, Ohio. He teaches lessons locally as well as at Capital University's Community Music School. Matt's recent projects include writing and recording with his new, as of yet nameless band as well as the formation of a cover band called The Dirty Cunnies.

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Greg J.

"With Jamplay I can fit in a random session when I have time and I can go at my own pace"

I'm a fifty eight year old newbie who owns a guitar which has been sitting untouched in a corner for about seven years now. Last weekend I got inspired to pick it up and finally learn how to play after watching an amazing Spanish guitarist on TV. So, here I am. I'm starting at the beginning with Steve Eulberg and I couldn't be happier (except for the sore fingers :) Some day I'm going to play like Steve! I'm self employed with a hectic schedule. With Jamplay I can fit in a random session when I have time and I can go at my own pace, rewinding and replaying the videos until I get it. This is a very enjoyable diversion from my work yet I still feel like I'm accomplishing something worthwhile. Thanks a lot, Greg


"I believe this is the absolute best site for guitar students."

I am commenting here to tell you and everyone at JamPlay that I believe this is the absolute best site for guitar students. I truly enjoy learning to play the guitar on JamPlay.com. Yes, I said the words, ""enjoy learning."" It is by far the best deal for the money.

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