Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Insanity 101: The Modes of Harmonic Minor"

-- David "Skinny Devil" McLean

Originally published at Insane Guitar, 2003

This column will assume the reader already has a grasp on modes. If not, a modal primer will be available via my site very soon.

The Harmonic Minor is a fairly common scale, familiar to most intermediate musicians. However, one seldom sees a complete modal breakdown of this scale, though the 5th mode (sometimes called the Harmonic Phrygian) is used often in Flamenco and Metal musics. The other modes of this scale offer just as rich a potential as the two common modes; while not technically “exotic scales” (exoticism in music is essentially a western term meaning music – or scales – designed to "evoke the sounds & images of far-away lands"), many of these modes blur the lines between exoticism and standard scales. Immerse yourself in these for a while – one at a time – and see what you come up with.

Note the notation is in the key of A so the listener can hear the differences between the modes properly. Now, we’ll jump right in!

The Harmonic Minor (A-A) is “A-B-C-D-E-F-G#-A”

The second mode (B-B) spells “A-Bb-C-D-Eb-F#-G-A”

The third mode (C-C) spells “A-B-C#-D-E#-F#-G#-A”

The fourth mode (D-D) spells “A-B-C-D#-E-F#-G-A”

The fifth mode (E-E) spells “A-Bb-C#-D-E-F-G-A”


The sixth mode (F-F) spells “A-B#-C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A”

The seventh mode (G#-G#) spells “A-Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-Gb-A”



In the past, I have run workshops that focus exclusively on such modal breakdowns, so my advise is to focus on ONE mode per week for the next 7 weeks. Write a little etude (practice piece) each week that uses one of these modes. You’ll be surprised at the doors that open for you!

Next time, Exotic Scales!

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