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Minor Modes
by Bernie Corrigan

In our previous lessons we studied the modes and chords of the Major keys. This time we'll cover the Minor keys.

Each Minor Key is directly related to a Major Key in that it shares the same key signature and, in the case of the natural minor, notes. This is referred to as Relative Minor. To get a major keys relative minor, look at the 6th step or the major scale and that will be the relative minor. For example, the relative minor of C is Am. Another term used is a Parallel Minor. This is simply the minor variation of a particular Tonic (root note). For example the Parallel Minor to C is Cm. Parallel minors do not share the same key signature as their majpr counterparts. (Cm shares the same key as Eb)

Archtop Jazz

Archtop Jazz

While there is only one major scale, there are 3 minor scales. The reason there are three different scales is mostly due to a problem that is inherent with the Natural Minor scale, which is exactly the same as the Aeolian Mode of the major scale. The "problem" with this scale is that there is no leading tone. A leading tone is the 7th step of a scale and is a half step (one fret) away. Our ears are trained to listen for that note to create a sense of resolution to the tonic. You will notice that in the natural minor scale, the 7th step is a whole step away from the tonic, leaving no leading tone.

Let's look at the Natural Minor scale (also called Pure Minor). Keep in mind you have already learned this scale earlier as the Aeolian Mode.

Example 1


To solve this "problem" the Harmonic Minor was created. This is the same as the Natural Minor scale but with the 7th degree raised a half step, creating a leading tone.

Example 2


Just as with the major scale, there are chords and modes for each step of the Harmonic Minor.

Let's first harmonize the scale with chords.

Now Let's look at the modes.

There is no standard for naming these modes so we will adapt other known mode names here.

Locrian #6: The 1st mode of the Harmonic Minor is closely related to the Locrian mode but with a raised 6th

Example 3


Harmonic Major: Following our pattern or similarities to the major scale, the 2nd mode is the Harmonic Major. It is like the major scale with a raised 5th.

Example 4


Dorian #4: The difference between this and the Dorian mode is the raised 4th.

Example 5


Phrygian Dominant: Also called Spanish Phrygian This is the most widely used of the Harmonic Minor modes. It is similar to the Phrygian mode but with a raised 3rd. If you play around with this scale enough, you'll see why it's called Spanish or Gypsy sounding.

Example 6


Lydian #2: This is similar to the Lydian mode but with a raised 2nd.

Example 7


Altered Diminished 7th: The only difference between this shape and the Mixolydian mode is that here, the 1st note is raised.

Example 8


For Example 9 Let's put these modes into arpeggios and play them over the corresponding chords.

Example 9


Now run the Harmonic Minor modes over the chords on your own!

Harmonic Minor Mode Practice


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