To view a PDF of all 5 scale shapes mentioned in this post, click here. There’s also an awesome free website called Fretastic which shows you all the Harmonic Minor scale shapes in any key clearly too.
Wooo… It’s spooky time. Why? Because the Harmonic Minor scale is used at least once in every horror film ever.
Its pure essence just screams AHHHH!!! And it’s been used by many greats over the years such as J.S. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and Gordon Ramsey due to its super minor and “pass-the-lamb-sauce” kinda feel.
So today I’ll be going over how to play the Harmonic Minor scale on guitar in the key of D minor, along with tips on how to use it, the chords it features and some licks at the end too.
DISCLAIMER: Yes, we’ll be in D minor for this post, but you should also practice this in other keys once the initial shapes feel cosy. There’s no use only being good in 1 key.
That being said, let’s get started.
Harmonic Minor – Shape 1
So as I already mentioned, the harmonic minor is a pretty dark scale. This is because the 7th note in the scale is raised to create a major 7th note, which clashes with the other minor notes in the scale.
In other words, it’s like mixing gravy with custard. (I sincerely hope none of you actually do that…)
A “normal” natural minor scale would consist of the notes 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
Whereas the harmonic minor scale consists of the notes 1 2 b3 4 5 b6
That means if you already know all the standard major scale positions, then these shapes will be very similar. So without further ado, here’s the first shape:
Nope, those two adjacent 4th finger notes on the high E string are not accidental.
And excuse me, how rude of you to even question that. I never make
But basically, if there’s two adjacent notes played with the same finger in a shape, it’s because I want you to slide that finger between them. This is normally when it just isn’t practical to use a different finger for the job.
Also, pay attention to those coloured notes as you practice the scale… The red notes are the root (D) notes, and the blue notes are the other notes in a D minor chord (F & A).
You’ll want to think of these notes as the Bingo notes to hit and linger on in your solos. This’ll help your solos sound way more melodic down the line.
That’s why it’s always good practice to go up and down the scale pausing on each of these notes. Kinda like this…
Harmonic Minor – Shape 2
Hopefully you’re starting to get the hang of the first shape by now.
But you came here to learn more than that. You came here to triumph above all! To crush everyone else! To learn more harmonic minor shapes!
So I’ll restrain you no longer, here’s shape number 2:
Just remember to note the Bingo notes in this shape too.
Fun(ish) Fact: the bottom of this shape is the exact same as the top of shape 1. So if you combined the two shapes into a mega-shape, you’d get something that looks like this:
But to enable us to really think of the shapes as one this way, we’ll have to stick ’em together properly first…
*How to Connect Shapes 1 & 2 for Fast Progress
Great, you now know two scale shapes. But they are practically useless… left as two single positions!
You’ll find yourself with “Stuck in a 3 fret box syndrome”, which’ll just make me Tut at you in a really mocking, condescending and unloving way.
So to avoid that, you’ll want to use The Glue Method:
- Play both shapes individually up and down a few times, just to get the hang of where the notes are.
- Ascend through shape 1 and when you reach the final note, slide up to the final note of shape 2 and descend through shape 2.
You can even invert this by ascending through shape 2, sliding down to shape 1 when you reach the top, and descending from there.
- Now ascend up through shape 1 as normal, but with a twist… Slide up on each string to the extra notes in shape 2. This’ll leave you with 4 notes on each string.
And you can invert this by starting at the top of shape 2 and sliding down to the notes in shape 1 on each string too.
- Finally, have a play around improvising between the two shapes. Make an effort to slide up and down between them, keeping things fluid and playing what ever you feel like.
It doesn’t have to sound melodic at this point, just play random stuff!
And BAM! Just like that, you’ll forget they were ever two separate shapes in the first place.
Harmonic Minor – Shape 5
Yup, I just skipped to shape 5. Deal with it. 😎
Why is this? Because it makes sense to glue on the two shapes either side of the 1st shape – which we know the best – first, right? That way we can go both upwards and downwards from where we feel most comfortable.
So here it is, shape number 5:
Yeah, you’re probably beginning to notice that these D harmonic minor guitar scale shapes are a tad more annoying than normal minor shapes…
But alas! Such is the life of a guitar player. Remember to use the glue method in the same way as before to connect this one with shape 1.
And after that, you’ll be ready to start tackling the other fun and exciting shapes.
Harmonic Minor – Shape 3
Alright, alright, we’ll get back into the order now…
You know the drill. I show you the shape, you learn it and glue-method-ify it. Hmmm, I like that word…
Everybody, shape number 3:
And now we’ve gone so high up that we can even play this shape back at the start again. So make sure you have a go at this shape an octave lower too:
And once you’ve got that one down, you’ll be ready for shape number 4…
Harmonic Minor – Shape 4
Woooooo! You’ve made it to the last one! Well, technically shape 5 is the last one, but anyway…
Shape number 4, coming your way:
But you’re more likely to use this shape an octave lower, so make sure you practice it there too:
Remember you’ll have to double-glue this shape because you’re sticking it onto the end of shape 3, and to the top of shape 5 too.
So promise me you’ll glue this shape on both ends, or else…
And after that, give yourself a pat on the back because you’re done learning the shapes.
Play Harmonic Minor Vertically Too
Hahaha, not so fast… In the second half of this post we’ll be getting stuck into how to actually use the D harmonic minor guitar scale to do cool stuff.
But first you should practice playing the D harmonic minor guitar scale on a single string.
That way you can play vertically as well as horizontally, and unlock a whole new world of delicious melodic phrasing.
You’ll be able to bend like a boss, slide like a beast, and slur like a drunkard in no time.
Get the Flavour of the Harmonic Minor
When learning a new scale/mode, I always think that getting the taste of what it sounds like is super important.
Ready salted, sweet chilli or – god forbid – cheese and onion, finding the scale’s flavour will stop it seeming just like a series of notes.
So to do that, I recommend playing a pedal note/chord in the background, and having a play around on top.
Just improvise in the D harmonic minor scale on your guitar, trying to build some melody and see what happens.
You’ll begin to discover instinctively where the tension and resolution notes are, along with an overall feel of the scale.
Plus, as you do this with more scales and modes in the future, you’ll be able to associate each one with a certain sound.
Then you’ll be able to recognize what scales and notes people are soloing with on the radio too. And MAN that’s a cool feeling.
Harmonic Minor Guitar Licks
Ohhhh boy I’m getting excited already. You know why? Because it’s lick time!
And that’s my second favourite time after lunch time.
So watch out because I’ve got some melodic licks, some fast licks, and some licks that are so good you’ll lose all your friends because you just want to stay at home and play them, coming your way.
Let’s begin with lick number 1:
Oooh baby! That one just sounds sooo classical. And it’s all because of that 17th note pedal in between the melody notes. I recommend learning those melody notes first, and then slicing them up with those 17th fret notes later.
So here’s lick number 2:
With the beginning bend – pretend to bend up to the 11th fret note before you play it. From there, play the string and slowly reverse the bend downwards.
It creates a kind of cool sighing sound when done right.
Also, the Xs indicate muted strings. When playing those first two notes, aim to mute a couple of strings below those notes with your palm. Try to hit these dead strings on the pick swipe through for some crunch.
This’ll help supercharge the bend with an aggressive sound!
You want some groove now? I’ll give you some groove:
This is a great example of mixing minor pentatonic and harmonic minor scales together.
We start by using the minor 7th from the pentatonic scale, but then opt for a major 7th instead later for that harmonic minor sound.
Time for a fast one:
It’s basically just a repeating pattern up the Harmonic minor scale, so learn the first 4 notes, and you’ll be good to go.
And finally, the ultimate descending harmonic minor lick:
Yes, that took a while to get that fast. Yes, that took me more than one attempt. And yes, I’m currently writing this upside down in a headstand position.
You may have noticed that I’m using the neck pickup for these licks. There’s just something about the neck pickup that makes it a match made in heaven with harmonic minor shred.
How to Improvise in Harmonic Minor
Okey-dokey. I’m assuming you’re here because you either want to solo in harmonic minor, write music with it, or both. So let’s start with the first one, improvising.
Epic Tip No.1 – You don’t have to use all the notes!
Just because you have 7 scale notes to play around with, doesn’t mean you have to play them all. If you end soloing in a strict, play-every-note manner, everything is just gonna sound robotic.
If it was robotic like the Terminator, then it’d be cool. But it’d probably be robotic like a toothpaste dispenser, which ain’t so cool.
So skip and miss notes freely depending on what feels right.
Epic Tip No.2 is to hit the chord notes.
Getting used to landing on the Bingo notes when soloing will make everything sound wayyy more melodic.
But don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly fine to hit a tense note on purpose and resolve it for effect.
The problem comes when you land on a non-chord note, and you don’t really know what you’re doing. Nothing will really have a direction or point to it – it’ll just sound meh.
Epic Tip No.3 is to follow the chord progression.
Hitting the chord notes is one thing, but if you can hit the notes of the other chords as you solo over them too, MAN it’ll sound good. This is by far the trickiest step, but definitely the mark of an improvising pro.
So let’s imagine you had a chord progression of Dm, Gm7, Bb and A7.
You’ll want to use the notes of the D harmonic minor guitar scale as passing notes to hit the Bingo notes of Dm to begin with.
Then as the chord changes to Gm7, you’ll want to use the D harmonic minor scale as passing notes to hit the notes of a Gm7 chord instead.
And then when the Bb comes, you’ll aim to hit the notes of a Bb major chord, etc.
That way, you stay connected to the backing track loadsss better, and don’t even have to change scale.
Epic Tip No.4 – Use Suspended Notes
Joe Satriani – being the rebel he is – has an alternative way of looking at following the chords. He’ll aim to hit suspended notes (e.g. 2nd and 4th notes) for each chord instead.
He does this to prolong the listener’s attention and make them wait for the resolution which comes later.
He actually did a whole video for Guitar World on this concept, so have a look here if you’re interested:
The Chords in Harmonic Minor
Knowing which chords you can play using a particular scale will allow you to write sick-ass chord progressions using the scale you’ve learnt.
That way, a scale becomes more than just a set of notes for soloing, but a tool to write entire songs with.
So for example, D harmonic minor has the notes D E F G A Bb C# in it. Each of these notes has a chord associated with it, which we make using the other notes in the scale.
And the best way to see this in action is by making a chord notes chart:
- Draw a 7 column by 5 row table.
- In the 2nd row up write the notes of the scale that you are using. (In this case D E F G A Bb C#)
- Add the other notes of the tonic chord vertically from there. (In this case D minor)
- Write out the scale again, starting with the two new notes you’ve just entered.
Boom! You’ve officially found all the notes in each chord. Now all you need to do is figure out whether each chord is major (IV) , minor (iv), augmented (IV+) or diminished (iv°).
If you know music theory or what these guitar chords look like already, then try and figure it out. If not, then that’s alright because I’ll show you anyway.
Just like that, you now know that if you want to play a G chord in the key of D harmonic minor, it should be a G minor chord.
And you know that if you write a chord progression using these chords, it’s probably going to work.
You can even take this up a level by finding the 7th that goes with each chord too. To do that, just add the 7th note of the scale on top and write out the scale again.
Voila! There’s your D harmonic minor guitar chords chart guys.
*The reason for the D/C# in ii° is because people tend to use the C# instead of the D when extending the ii° chord, making it a full diminished chord rather than just being half diminished.
You can use this when writing music in any key, with any scale too. Just write out scale notes and the tonic chord first and fill in the blanks from there.
Example Harmonic Minor Chord Progressions
Hopefully by now you understand the logic to how we get our Harmonic Minor chords. So let’s go through a couple of example progressions together…
Typically, the i, iv, V and VI chords the easiest to write progressions with in Harmonic Minor.
So you may make a progression like i – iv – VI – V 🌶️🌶️🌶️🌶️
Or i – V – VI – iv 🌶️🌶️🌶️
It doesn’t really matter. But it’s an unwritten rule that having an iv or V chord at the end of the progression typically sounds the best.
Fun(ish) Mini-game: Using the improvising concept from earlier, find a note or two from each of these chords, and make it a target note to hit each time the chord comes around.
But if you want to get fancy and start adding in some diminished chords, then ii° – V and V – vii° also work great at the end of progressions.
So you may have i – VI – ii° – V 🌶️🌶️🌶️🌶️🌶️
Or even a i – iv – V – vii° 🌶️🌶️
*If you have eyes, you may have noticed some obscure red vegetables lying about. And that’s because I like to think of cadences like chillis.
Each cadence has a different level of power, pull and spiciness. So pick and choose how strong you want a cadence to be for each scenario.
And if you still want to see more chord progression writing with the Harmonic Minor guitar scale, then Signals Music Studio did an awesome video on that too.
Wrapping It Up
BAM! That’s everything I know about the D harmonic minor guitar scale on a single, very long page.
Hopefully the thing to take away from this is there’s way more to scales than just learning the notes.
I mean, you can solo with them, write music with them, and even agitate your neighbours with them if you try hard enough.
Although, the last time that happened they threatened to unfollow me on Instagram, so I haven’t taken the risk ever since…
Anyway, I’ve been Sam Olverson
Have fun scaling!