March 2019

Techniques: Harmonic Minor Scale (Part 2)

From age-old Middle Eastern music to vintage big-band jazz to various pop hits of today, the modes of the harmonic minor scale offer an exotic spice.

National Standards: 1-3, 5-7, 9, 11

Prepare

Have the class read Techniques: Further Exploration of the Harmonic Minor Scale (page 24 of the student edition).

Key points in the article:

    • The sounds of the harmonic minor scale don’t start and end with the melodic possibilities we covered last month
    • Other, unique sounds are created through modes: starting on different notes of the scale
    • For example, “F Dorian s4” is one mode of the C harmonic minor scale that begins on F and has a sharp fourth note.
    • The song “Casbah” is based on a riff that uses the Phrygian dominant mode (the root, third and fifth of which create a G major triad)
    • The fourth mode of C harmonic minor starts on F (the root, third and fifth create an F minor triad)
    • The melody of the song “Caravan” uses the Phrygian dominant scale

Begin

Example 1

Play the three scales from the first example on a piano. Explain that each scale contains exactly the same notes, but sounds different only because of the note each scale starts with.

Example 2

Play “Casbah” by Sandy Nelson. Ask students to listen for the major triad in the melody, and how every measure begins on one of the tones of the G major chord.

Example 3

Play the F minor melody from example three on a piano. Have students listen for the minor triad, especially how it contrasts with the B natural in the melody.

Example 4

Play Duke Ellington/Juan Tizol’s “Caravan.”

Take note of the chord progression and how it changes every few measures. These chord changes are between C7 and F minor. Have students listen for how the soloist plays between the C Phrygian dominant scale and F natural minor to blend the two scales together.