This lesson is continuing off of the How to Harmonize a Major Scale with 7th Chords post. If you don’t know how to harmonize a major scale or haven’t checked out that lesson yet, I would encourage you to do so. I go into much more detail on how I come up with the results, which will help you understand harmonizing minor scales better.
It’s important for jazz musicians to know how to do this because it helps us understand chord progressions, helps us understand how chords can be related by a consonant scale and can help us become better improvisers.
In this lesson, I’m going to use the three basic kinds of minor scales: natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor.
It’s important to note that the harmonic and melodic minor are variations of the natural minor scale, and so understanding how to harmonize the natural minor scale with 7th chords is the place to start.
But before we do that, let’s take a look at what I call the Minor Diatonic Series of 7th Chords.
The Minor Diatonic Series of 7th Chords is based on borrowing notes from the 3 different minor scales.
You may observe that these are the same notes as the Dorian mode. However, I don’t think it’s best to think of it this way. It’s better to understand that we have three kinds of minor scales and we are drawing notes from each.
In the video at the top of this post, I explain minor harmony in more depth.
The V chord is borrowed from the harmonic and melodic minor harmonization. Instead of it being a minor 7 (like it would be if it were a natural minor scale) it is turned into a dominant 7 chord. Why? The V chord in traditional harmony is almost always a dominant 7 chord, never a minor 7 chord. The V often resolves to the I chord and therefore the V in the harmonic and melodic minor is appropriate in this case.
Note as well that for the vi(b5) chord we are borrowing the A natural from the melodic minor scale. This is what I find to be the most commonly used chord in the series as opposed to the Abmaj7.
Where this becomes complicated, is that the other chords in the series do not contain an A natural. When harmonized with 7th chords, the Ab is present. So consider the vi(b5) and the V chord exceptions.
The Minor Diatonic Series doesn’t work as smoothly as the Major Diatonic Series, and the reason for that is there are three minor scales to deal with.
If you want an even more in-depth explanation of this, I had special guest Dan Carillo on my podcast where he really dug into this concept.
To understand this better, let’s go through and harmonize the natural, harmonic, and melodic minor with 7th chords.
Formula for a natural minor scale: Root-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7
Now let’s take a look at the natural minor scale notated.
All we do next is consider each note of the scale the root of an individual chord. All that’s left to do is stack a 3rd, 5th, and 7th on top of each root note.
If you go through each one of these chords and identify the intervals in relation to the root, you would find that they spell out each chord quality listed. If you are unsure how to spell some of these chords, I suggest checking out this jazz chords guide.
Try playing through these yourself. Play the chords if you are a pianist, guitarist, or another chordal instrument. If you are a horn player, play the arpeggios of each. Let’s move on to the next minor scale: the harmonic minor.
Formula for a harmonic minor scale: Root-2-b3-4-5-b6-7
The only difference between the natural minor and the harmonic minor is the major 7. Take a look at this scale notated:
Keep in mind, when harmonizing this scale with 7th chords, you will need to make sure the B is natural and not flatted when present in a given chord. Here it is harmonized with 7th chords:
Changing that b7 to a major 7 clearly has changed the 7th chord harmonization up from the natural minor. The changed chords from the natural minor are the root (Cmin(maj7), the 3rd (Ebmaj7(#5), the 5th (G7), and the 7th (Bdim7). Go ahead and play through that so you can hear what it sounds like. After you’ve done that, let’s move on to the melodic minor.
Formula for a melodic minor scale: Root-2-b3-4-5-6-7
Now we are taking the b6 and b7 in the natural minor scale and making them major. Essentially the only difference between a melodic minor scale and a major scale is that quality defining b3. Take a look:
Now let’s stack the 3rds, 5ths, and 7ths on each individual scale tone, keeping in mind that the A and the B are natural and not flatted.
Knowing how to harmonize these minor scales can be really handy for your compositional skills, as well as using this harmonic knowledge to apply in your improvisation. Try playing around with these harmonized minor chords in your practicing this week and see what kinds of ideas you can create.
Again, for further information on minor tonality and minor chord progressions, listen to this episode.