Harmonic Minor Scale: Theory & Ear Training

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The Harmonic Minor Scale is one of many existence proofs that scales are not made up of half steps and whole steps…

Theory

Here, for example, are the notes in the C Harmonic Minor Scale identified by letter name, scale degree (numbers), and Solfege syllable…

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  1. The scale structure of the Harmonic Minor Scale is always 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-7-1, no matter what key you are in.
  2. The Solfege syllables of the Harmonic Minor Scale are always Do-Re-Me-Fa-So-Le-Ti-Do, no matter what key you are in.
  3. The only thing that changes when you change keys are the letter names.

Comparative Scale Study

Notice that all minor scales use the same [five-note] penta-scale: DoReMeFaSo.

The only notes one needs to fuss over are b6(Le), 6(La), b7(Te), and b7(Ti).

Play and sing the Natural Minor Scale and Harmonic Minor Scale side-by-side, slowly enough to hear the melodic-harmonic difference between Ti and Te. Pay special attention to the unique pull each note has toward Do.

Ti has an extremely strong melodic-harmonic pull towards the key center 1(Do). This attraction is so strong that it is called the leading tone because it leads the ear back to the key center Do.

This particular minor scale is called “harmonicbecause Ti is the tension-filled tone that defines the dominant (V) chord. The V chord is essential to making the overwhelming majority of European classical music tick. We will learn more about this when we study chord progressions. That said, this does not mean that the “natural” and “melodic” minors are “un-harmonic” or that the harmonic minor is un-melodic or un-natural!

Solfege Ear Training

Let’s take a moment to talk about how to get the most benefit from the Solfege ear training studies below…

  1. Singing the Solfege syllables out loud is the most effective way to internalize the unique sound-feeling of each note in any musical scale. Why? Because singing out loud requires you to actively process the sounds at a much deeper level than merely passively listening.
  2. It is absolutely essential that you go slowly enough to allow the unique sound-feeling of each Solfege syllable to make a meaningful impression on your mind’s ear.
  3. This is not interval training. It’s okay if you hear the intervals between successive notes, but your goal is to hear and feel the unique character of each Solfege syllable with respect to the key center DO and to each other.
  4. Solfege ear training generalizes to any key. In other words, if you can hear and feel the unique harmonic pull of Ti towards Do in the key of C, you will be able to hear and feel the unique harmonic pull of Ti towards Do in any key!
  5. At first, it’s quite alright to play each note on your instrument before you sing, but I promise you this: If you do these studies as described above, you will quickly internalize the unique sound-feeling of each Solfege syllable in you mind’s ear without help from your instrument.
  6. In summary… Sing out loud, take your time, and fight for every note. If you do, you will enjoy musical dividends for a lifetime, guaranteed!

C Harmonic Minor Scale: Linear, Ascending…

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C Harmonic Minor Scale: Linear, Descending…

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C Harmonic Minor Scale: Do-X-Do, Ascending…

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C Harmonic Minor Scale: Do-X-Do, Descending…

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learn more… Mixolydian Scale: Theory & Ear Training