Building Triads on the Harmonic Minor Scale

Just as triads can be built on the tones of a major scale, they can be constructed on the scale degrees of minor scales as well. There are 3 different minor scale forms – natural minor, harmonic minor and melodic minor. All three forms are used in jazz playing and in jazz writing.

Minor Scale Refresher

Natural minor scale = follows the key signature straight up. The natural minor scale in the key of A minor would subsequently follow the key signature (no sharps or flats) straight up from A to A.

Harmonic minor scale = raising the 7th scale degree of the natural minor. In the case of A harmonic minor, a G now becomes a G# in the scale. This alteration gives the scale a completely different sound. We need this raised 7th to form a major V chord and to help give the key its tonality.

Melodic minor scale = raised 6th and 7th going upwards (in A minor it would include F# and G# going up) and then natural minor scale coming downwards.

This video shows the qualities of triads that can be built on the steps of the harmonic minor scale. Notice how different the qualities of chords are as triads are built on each step of this scale.


9 Replies to “Building Triads on the Harmonic Minor Scale”

  1. Jim Martin

    Tony: I will cover some stuff about tritones. I”ll probably do a lesson just on intervals very soon as a refresher and then I will certainly do one on tritone substitution as well. thanks for the suggestion.

  2. Jim Martin

    Gary: thanks for the compliment. That’s exactly the way I wanted to create this jazz arranging website, thus the name. I always try to build these sites the way I would want them if I was using them. This iste is just getting started though, I’ve got some great ideas for the future, but feedback from you guys is always appreciated. thanks again

  3. curt

    We never got past natural minor in harmony class so I never understood why we have the harmonic minor. Of course that was around the time they discovered fire….. Likewise the melodic minor, maybe you could do something on that as well.

    Am I right in thinking that the key signature would be A minor and there would just be a lot of G#s scattered about? Does this alternate back and forth with natural minor? Also I though jazz used the dorian a lot- how does that relate to the harmonic minor?

    This is lots of fun.


  4. Jim Martin

    Curt: in the early 1700s the first Treatise on harmony was written, and much of the information in that I believe was gleaned by studying J.S. Bach’s music. The harmonic minor scale needs that raised 7th so that the V chord is a major chord not a minor chord. This makes for a strong V7-I to give each piece a tonal center. When you add the 7th to the V chord, it creates the tritone interval that sounds unstable and wants to resolve to the I chord, either a major or minor I.

    A Dorian scale is almost a natural minor scale. For example, a D natural minor scale has one flat, Bb, and the dorian scale has no flats or sharps. Miles Davis popularized the Dorian scale in tunes like So What and Milestones. The tune Scarborough Fair made famous by Simon and Garfunkel is also written in a Dorian mode.

    The harmonic minor scale implies a key center more than a dorian scale does. Yes, you are somewhat correct that a piece in A minor will have G#s scattered throughout, mainly at cadence points (i.e. V-I)

    Did that answer your questions?

  5. Brooks Turansky

    Very good post. I’ve found your site via Google and I’m really glad about the information you provide in your articles. Btw your sites layout is really broken on the Chrome browser. Would be cool if you could fix that. Anyhow keep up the good work!

  6. Jim Martin

    Brooks: thanks for letting me know about the Chrome browser. The site is in WordPress so I”m surprised it is messed up in chrome. I would think Google would allow for any WordPress site to be fine. Have you tried Firefox?

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