In my recent post on the harmonic major scale, I talked about ways to construct II-V-I lines using one single scale. I have also mentioned the harmonic minor scale in passing when talking about minor II-V-I’s.

In this post, I want to cover more in depth the main way the harmonic minor scale is often used over II-V-I’s. I kept this as a separate post because the harmonic minor is so specialized that it deserves its own dedicated post.

The harmonic minor scale is used a lot in jazz, especially in vocabulary from the bebop and hard bop eras (the melody to “Donna Lee” is just one example).

You can read my recent post for a recap of what the harmonic minor scale is and how it’s derived.

As a refresher, here it is notated:

When you use this scale over a minor II-V-I in C minor, you end up with a D Locrian (natural 6) scale over the II (half dim.) chord, a G Phrygian (natural 3) scale over the V7 chord, and C Aeolian (natural 7) – the tonic harmonic minor – over the I- chord.

Here’s what I mean notated visually:

The harmonic minor is perfect for generating hip II-V-I lines because it has the b9 and b13 of the V7 chord embedded in it and it allows you to simplify the entire II-V-I into one single reductive scale. It works over all three chords and has a strong sense of tonality and unity.

In addition to simplifying the way you think about a II-V-I, the harmonic major automatically liberates you from that often droll “church mode” sound and gets you playing a hip, “exotic” sounding scale.

The harmonic minor scale works great over minor II-V’s. To use it, simply play the harmonic minor scale built off of the root of the tonic or root of the I chord – so for a minor II-V-I in C minor, play a C harmonic minor scale.

Here are some examples of minor II-V-I lines using the harmonic minor scale:

I hope you find this helpful and inspiring, and I hope you feel empowered to go out and practice and explore the harmonic minor scale!

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Josiah Boornazian is a saxophonist, composer, educator, and scholar primarily active in New York City, Miami, and California. He has performed with a wide variety of jazz artists including Jimmy Heath, John Faddis, Dave Holland, Dave Liebman, Diane Schuur, Dave Grusin, Arturo Sandoval, the New York Voices, Tom Scott, Chris Potter, David Binney, Wayne Krantz, Ari Hoenig, Donny McCaslin, and the Gil Evans Orchestra. As a composer, Josiah has been commissioned to write for groups far and wide, including ensembles in California, New York, Texas, and Istanbul, Turkey. Josiah holds a Master of Arts degree in music from the City University of New York's City College campus and a Bachelor of Music degree from California State University, Northridge. In 2016, he began pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the University of Miami's Frost School of Music as a Henry Mancini Fellow. As an educator, Josiah has taught on faculty at the City College of New York and given masterclasses at various colleges and high schools across the country. He currently teaches at the University of Miami part-time as a graduate assistant. As a scholar, Josiah was awarded a Björn Bärnheim Research Fellowship at the Hogan Jazz Archive during the 2017-2018 academic year. For more information, please visit josiahboornazian.com.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hi
    In how to use Harmonic minor….
    I found à double , see below:
    in this post, I want to cover more in depth the main way the harmonic minor scale is often used over II-V-I’s. I kept this as a separate post because the harmonic minor is so specialized that it deserves its own dedicated post.

    In this post, I want to cover more in depth the main way the harmonic minor scale is often used over II-V-I’s. I kept this as a separate post because the harmonic minor is so
    regards
    jean-claude

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