Hello and welcome to my new series about the harmonic minor scale. Better to say the 5th mode of the harmonic minor scale which is called “phrygian major”. Never heard a term like this? Just read on.
The harmonic minor scale goes back to classical music. Classical composers loved to think in chord progressions known as “cadences”. The major cadence would be (in the key of C major) C F G C. This would create a progression of tension and release, the G creating tension to the C with the help of the note B “leading” to the C.
When trying to do the same thing in minor (Am Dm Em Am), the release from the dominant chord would not be the same. The reason for this is that there is not note “leading” into the A. So just for the 5th chord (Em) the third of that chord was raised one half step, making it a major chord (E). Now add a 7th to it and you have E7.
The natural A minor scale is this: A B C D E F G A. To get a major 3rd on the root E, you habe to change the G into a G#. The resulting scale with the root A would be A B C D E F G# E – which is the harmonic minor scale.
Note: This scale was ONLY used on the E or E7 chord, A natural minor was used on all the other chords.
If you write that down from the root E you get E F G# A B C D E – which is the E Phrygian Major scale. This is scale is used quite frequently in all kinds of metal music and neo-classical rock. One of the first guitar players to use it is Richie Blackmore, and the guitarists that use it the most are probably Yngwie J. Malmsteen, John Petrucci and Uli John Roth.
I have to admit that it is my favorite scale besides mixolydian #11 (which we will come to eventually), so in the coming article I will give you an extensive workout for that scale, using all 7 three notes per scale fingerings and some nice arpeggios.
Leave a comment if you have any questions or if anything is unclear – I try to make it as clear as possible!