Basics of Harmonic Minor Scale Patterns on the Guitar

When you’re ready to cover the entire fretboard on the guitar with the harmonic minor scale, you have a couple of choices to make. First, you have to decide how you want to organize the notes of the harmonic minor scale into patterns.

To keep things simple, here are you five patterns. Over time, these patterns will start to run together, and you’ll stop thinking of them in only the five forms shown here.

After you choose which patterns you want to practice with, you need to decide which fingerings to use. You don’t have to use all the patterns shown here or even all the parts of each pattern. Most guitarists find a few that they feel most comfortable using. So the process of learning harmonic minor scale patterns is really about exploring your options and deciding what works best for you.

How to pick out patterns

The first diagram shows you all the notes of A harmonic minor across the whole fretboard. The second through sixth diagrams break the scale into five different positions or patterns. The last diagram is a variation on the first pattern (the one in the open position in the second diagram). You can continue to connect patterns until you either run out of fretboard or can’t reach any higher.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

Notice that the patterns in don’t have numbers assigned to them. If you ever see these patterns paired with numbers, they’re arbitrary and simply for reference.

You can see an example in Full Harmonic Minor Scale Patterns.

How to focus on fingering

With the harmonic minor scale, some strings have four notes on them. You can try fretting groups of four by using fingers 1-1-3-4, but as with all fingerings, the exact fingering you use is really a matter of preference. So take some time to figure out what works best for you.

Here is one fingering example. This is the pattern that fits over an Em form barre chord. Numbers here represent the four fingers on your fretting hand.

[Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit:     Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

Practice, practice, practice!

Even after you understand how to play the harmonic minor scale, you may be unsure about how to actually use it to make your solos sound good. This is where practicing different songs that use the harmonic minor can help you.

All harmonic minor songs have melodies, riffs, guitar solos, and bass lines that can help you work on different licks and phrases. Get their recordings and guitar tabs to start working out their various parts.

After you learn a particular part, practice playing it along with the song. Mix the licks and phrases up, playing them in different orders. Try similar licks and phrases on different songs in the same key or transpose them to other keys. Just make sure you apply the harmonic minor only to the V7 chord.

Mastering the complete harmonic minor scale is a slow, gradual process that requires a lot of work, so don’t give up when the going gets tough!

How to transpose the harmonic minor scale to new keys

When you’re comfortable playing in the key of A harmonic minor, you can start the patterns in a different position and play in other keys. Just keep track of where the scale tonic is in each pattern, specifically the tonics that land on the 6th and 5th strings, the strings most ­guitarists use to track scales and chords on the fretboard.

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