How to use the Modes of The Harmonic Minor Scale


The harmonic minor is one of the three main source scales in music. This is a seven note minor scale with a b3, a b6 and a natural 7th. The related modes group from this scale offer quite a few interesting textures, sometimes overlooked by many jazz beginners. Here’s a taste of what this group sounds like…

The complete lesson on the modes of the Harmonic Minor

Modes of the Harmonic Minor

The harmonic minor group consists of the following modes:

  • The harmonic minor (source scale)
  • The Locrian natural 13
  • The Ionian #5
  • The Dorian #4
  • The Mixolydian b9 b13
  • The Lydian #9
  • The Altered Dominant Diminished Seventh

Chords in the Harmonic Minor

When we look at the seventh chords in this scale, we find that there are a couple of alternative options. Let’s take a look at the scale in the key of C minor.

  • So the I is a Cmmaj7.
  • The ii is a Dm7b5 but, it could also be a Do7 chord – because the B is also a part of the scale.
  • The iii is an Ebmaj7#5
  • The iv is an Fm7 but, it could also be an Fm7b5 chord.
  • The V is a G7 chord but, it could also be a G7aug – because the Eb is in the scale.
  • Remember, the Eb is the enharmonic of the D#.
  • The bVI is an Abmaj7 chord but, it could also be an Abmmaj7.
  • And the vii is a Bo7 chord.

The cool thing about the harmonic minor is that it offers that V7 chord – as opposed to the Natural Minor (Aeolian), for which the V is a m7 chord, and it also has a iim7b5, which is offered by the natural minor but not by the melodic minor. These two functions – the iim7b5 to the V7 (b9 b13) – are the best options when it comes to defining a 2 – 5 in a minor key.

On the other hand, the Harmonic Minor does not offer a im6 chord, which is very important for jazz minor tunes – only the Melodic Minor offers this option. We can use the modes of the Harmonic Minor in many contexts. These modes are not limited to minor keys.

Reharmonization in major by borrowing modes of the Harmonic Minor

Remember we can always borrow chords from minor, while in major. For example, it’s very effective to replace a V7 in a major key with a V7 paired with the 5th mode of Harmonic Minor – the Mixolydian b9 b13.

And we can even replace both the ii with a iim7b5 – paired with the Locrian natural 13 – and the V7 – paired with the Mixo b9 b13 – resolving to a Imaj7.

The other modes of the Harmonic Minor are also very effective, and produce a very cool texture when used correctly.Look at this progression, that ends in a bIIImaj7 in the key of C minor.

Cm – Gm7b5 C7 (b9 b13) – Fm7 Bb7 – Ebmaj7

Try replacing the Ebmaj7 using what the Ionian #5 which by the way, turns it into a Ebmaj7#5.

Cm – Gm7b5 C7 (b9 b13) – Fm7 Bb7 – Ebmaj7#5

And the same could be said for the other modes of the Harmonic Minor.

So from now on, you can start considering using some of these simple borrowing techniques – using
the modes of the Harmonic Minor – to add some more spice to your progressions and reharmonizations.

Supplementary Material in PDF

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