Modes of the Harmonic Minor Scale

The harmonic minor scale is considered by some to be the homely sister of the elegant and useful melodic minor. Yes, it's kind of clunky. Yes, it makes you want to the do the snake charmer dance. Just like the melodic minor the harmonic minor scale generates some modes that are very useful for improvisation. Here they are:

  • On a C- maj7 you would play a harmonic minor from the root
  • Over a minor ii/V you would play harmonic minor from the I:
D-7b5 * C harm - starting on D (down a whole step)D.Eb.F.G.Ab.B.C(root, b9, b3,11 b5, 13, b7)
A more modern sound would be to play a melodic minor from the b3rd

G7b9 *C harm- starting on G (up a fourth) G.Ab.B.C.D.Eb.F (root, b9 ,3 ,11 ,5 ,b13 ,b7)
This is a classic Bebop approach to V7b9 chords (some call this scale an Augmented-Phrygian). Bird used this scale on minor tunes all the time and it is distinctly pre-Trane bop. The altered dominant (whole-half) scale
for the most part supplanted this sound in post-bop .

  • Over a Maj 7th chord you can play a harmonic minor scale from the third (Yes, the third)
Gmaj7 *B harm- starting on G: G.Bb.B.C#.D.E.F# (root, #9, 3, #11, 5, 13, 7)
This is called a Split Third Major Scale. Of course You wouldn't want to hang out on the #9.
This scale is very close to the Symetrical Major Scale, which is made up of three major triads a major third apart (C, Eb, E, G, Ab, B) or C triad+E triad+Ab triad.

  • Over minor 9(b5) you can play a harmonic minor starting on the fifth.
D-9(b5) *A harmonic minor from D:D.E.F.G#.A.B.C (root, 9, b3, #11, 5, 13,b7)
You could call this a Minor Lydian/Mixolydian scale.

  • Over a Maj 9 (#5) chord you would play harmonic minor down a minor third.
Dmaj7(#5) *B harmonic minor starting on D:D.E.F#.G.A#.B.C# (root. 9, 3, 11, #5, 7)
This is called a Major Augmented Scale. Notice the clunky natural 11, a melodic minor scale from the same root would give you a #11 instead.

  • Over a diminished 7 (b9) chord you would play a harmonic minor scale up a half step.
Adim7 (b9) *Bb harmonic from A: A.Bb.C.Db.Eb.F.Gb (root, b9, #9, 3,#11, b13, 13)
OK, this is really pushing it but you could think of this scale as an alternative to the Altered Dominant scale.

Obviously some of these scales are more useful than others, and most are not quite as hip as their melodic minor counterparts. These scales do offer some different flavors to add to your harmonic pantry.


Bob Mover's ii- V7 subs

These subs were from my very first post, so they were buried way back in the archives. They're so hip I thought I should present them again. You can blow over these subs while the rhythm section is plays a standard ii-7 V7 Imaj7.

ii-7 V7 chord substitutions-

/G-7 / C7 /F maj7/

/ Ab melodic- / Db melodic- /F

/G-7 Ab7#11 / Db maj7 Db mel- /F

/Ab-7 / G mel- Db mel- /F

/G-7 Ab-7 / Gbmaj7 Db mel- /F

/B dim / Bb dim /F

/G-7 Bb-7 / Db-7 /F

/Ab-7 Db7 / Db-7 Gb7 / F

/Ab-7 Db7 / Bb-7 / F

/Ab-7 Db7 / Bb-7 Db-7 /F

/Ab mel- / Bb mel- / F

Thanks Bob!
Bob's web site


PJJ TV show- John Stowell plays solo guitar

Here is episode number four of the Portland Jazz Jams Television series I am directing. Watch the entire half hour show streaming online. John is a truly masterful guitarist who has a very unique and personal style.

PJJ-TV episode #4 w/John Stowell

a production of Portland Jazz Jams – produced by Darren Littlejohn. For questions or technical concerns, please contact: info@portlandjazzjams.com

The video is viewable in the following ways:
1) by connecting to the PJJ-TV Video Blog: portlandjazzjams.blip.tv and viewing directly in your browser
2) by going to the PJJ Podshow page and right clicking the show file for direct download to your computer.
3) by subscribing in iTunes, via Windows or Mac, by searching Podcasts for Portland Jazz Jams.


On positive audience feedback

This is from a letter to another musician who was wanting some positive reactions from listeners after his gig:

"I’ve come to believe over the years that the audience hardly ever has any clue about how good the music is. Only if you see a great musician in the audience will anyone know anything about what you are doing. So this means that compliments mean almost NOTHING. They usually mean something like- they liked how the horn player was swaying back and forth or that the guitarist had really shiny hair, or that the drummer made a lot of cool faces. You think that you want someone to say that you sounded good, but that would just mean that you looked cool playing on stage. If I go by the this assumption then I won't be emotionally attached to the audience’s reaction. I have to assume that my idea of what sounds good is more developed than the crowds. Once in a while our tastes will happily coincide, when I will feel that I’ve played good music, and they will feel that they’ve heard good music. Just because there are more of them than me I don’t fall for the natural human tendency to think that they’re right. I have better things to think about when I'm improvising. If I feel that I played really great, then the fact that no one clapped for me doesn’t affect my satisfaction one bit. If you don’t give a shit then you will be free to really relax, and only then. Then you will be able to swiftly pull yourself out of any musical hole that you’ve dug for yourself without losing the natural flow. If you care what they’re hearing then when you hit that ‘wrong note’ you’ll say to yourself, “FUUUUUUCK!!!”. Saying, "FUUUUUCK" breaks the natural flow because it brings you back to self-consciousness. No audience, no self, only music. This is of course the ideal.

  • If you are thinking about the audience when playing then you are not concentrating on the music enough.

My way of thinking won’t always get you the most chicks, but you’ll play better music. If you want more compliments then go find a really great shampoo and conditioner, practice moving around while playing and making scrunchie faces in the mirror.

Lots of players get into music because they want positive feedback from people. I think that these players didn’t get enough compliments from their parents or were picked on in school. Know that what you are doing is worthwhile. Don't listen through someone elses ears!

When I was young my dream was to be discovered and recognized by the next generation of young players (or even two or three generations down the line). I wanted to be several decades ahead of my time. They would hopefully say, ”Man, too bad Valdez didn’t make many recordings in his time, they just didn’t understand his genius back then.” That is how I want to be recognized.


February NW Jazz Profile article- Dan Gaynor

At the tender age of 25 Dan Gaynor is one of Portland’s brightest young stars. Since graduating from PSU Dan has become one the North West’s most respected and busy pianists, working with players like Nancy King, Glen Moore, Bobby Torres, Barbara Lusch, Dan Schulte. I talked to Dan about his trio with Glen Moore and some of his other projects.

DCV: So you’re playing with Glen Moore at the Blue Monk?

Dan: Yes, on February 3rd and 4th. We played there in December with Charlie Doggett and had a really positive response. This time we're playing with Gary Hobbs. Tyson Stubelek and Glen and I have rehearsed for a while as a trio and have had a couple of gigs in the past together, while Tyson still lived in town. Now that he's studying at New England Conservatory in Boston, we only get to play with that trio for the holidays. Our trio thing is getting really flexible. We're playing with four different drummers, depending on the context. We've played with Tyson Stubelek, Charlie Doggett, Ken Ollis and now with Gary Hobbs. Glen and I have both played with Gary (Glen has recorded with Gary, and Gary played in Oregon for a hot minute), but this will be our debut as a trio.

DCV: How long have you been working with Glen Moore?

Dan: Glen and I have been playing since I was at Portland State. I took his improvisation class and we really hit it off then. I also played in the "Oregon Ensemble" which performed Ralph Towner's music and had a gig at the Oregon Bite in 2004. (With Mary Sue Tobin, Josh Cliburn, Dan Duval, Eric Gruber and Tyson Stubelek.)

DCV: Will you be playing out of the Oregon book at the Blue Monk?

Dan: We'll be playing about 50-70% Oregon material. We have a lot of Ralph Towner's songs in the book, but we also have songs that Glen recorded with Nancy King and some standards. We have tunes by some of our influences (Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, Herbie Nichols, Duke Ellington, Lee Konitz) in the book. We also do a Lawrence Williams song. When we do standards, sometimes we take it to a magical place, you see. We'll be doing All or Nothing at All, but it resembles the Frank Sinatra record in no way. When we played LVs Uptown Jazz Club last week, we played an extended version of Caravan, which we hadn't planned on doing, and it seemed to be one of the more memorable numbers we played.

DCV: What other projects are you and Glen involved in right now?

Dan: We're working on the beginning stages of a couple of projects together, including some marching band arrangements (the good kind) and some work with a trio and a choir. Besides playing with Glen, I'm doing some things with Nancy King and with the Dan Schulte Sextet. Nancy and I are playing Abou Karim on January 20. Gary Hobbs and I are recording this month with Barbara Lusch for her upcoming CD.

DCV: I've heard rumors that you're heading for the East Coast.

Dan: Rumors are rumors, even if I'm the one starting them. I would definitely like to pursue an advanced degree in a big city, but I'm doing a lot of things around here that are challenging me.

You can hear this piano tyro with world-renowned bassist Glen Moore at the Blue Monk Feb.3rd and 4th (3341 SE Belmont st, Portland, Oregon 97214, ph: 503.595.0575)

With legendary vocalist Nancy King at Abou Karim on January 20
(221 SW Pine St, Portland, OR 97204, (503) 223-5058)



Dave Liebman's Jazz articles

Here are some articles from Lieb's web site:

Tim Price's Minor seventh flat-five lines

These are lines that Tim Price wrote to open up his ears. They're highly chromatic and very interesting. They remind me of Joe Viola lines from Technique of the Saxophone- Vol.II. Just click on the graphic for a larger version.

There are several scales that can be used over a minor seventh flat five chord:
  • Major up a half-step
  • Harmonic minor down a whole step
  • Melodic minor up a minor third

Free download of Jazz Improv's NYC Jazz Directory

Jazz Improv magazine has a free download on it's web site of it's comprehensive NYC directory of venues, record stores, music stores and more. You can also download back issues in PDF format. They also have links for festivals, record labels, cruises, artist directory, instrument sales, Jazz magazines, photographers, music publishers, music schools, venues, and Jazz legends. This is good stuff.

Mulgrew on Woody Shaw- the 'blue major third'

Woody Shaw is one of my favorite musicians on any instrument. He had one of the heaviest harmonic concepts in Jazz music. His compositions were as interesting as his trumpet playing. His use of synthetic and exotic scales was amazing. The Woody Shaw Aebersold is just about my all time favorite and just about the hardest. In this interview Mulgrew Miller he talks about playing with Woody Shaw and Woody's harmonic concept. He says that there were many elements to Woody's style besides just pentatonics. One of Woody's signature devices was the use of the major third over a minor chord. This is classic Woody all the way. He hits the major third and then slides down to the flat third, then he usually resolves the line by going to the root. Play some pentatonics moving stepwise then do the major to minor third thing, now you sound like Woody. Normally we don't think about using a major third over a minor chord or a major seventh over a dominant chord. Each and every note can be used on every chord. You just have to know how it wants to resolve, or it's 'tonal gravity' as George Russell would say.

Pentatonic lines- navigating outside tonal harmony

Here are some nice pentatonic lines from Reno Stefano.
Pentatonic patterns allow for the construction of very open and modern sound lines. Many modern Jazz players use pentatonics as a way to move back and forth from inside to outside. Since there are fewer notes to deal with you gain more control of tonality when moving outside.
Players like Woody Shaw, Freddie Hubbard, and McCoy Tyner have mastered this technique. Raymon Ricker's Pentatonic Sclas for Jazz Improvisation is the best book on pentatonics that I've seen. Ramon maps out how far outside each pentatonic is in relation to a single chord. For example when played over a major seventh chord, the pentatonic from the forth is much more inside than the pentatonic off the seventh. The pentatonic a whole step up is somewhere between these other two.

If you move outside or inside in increments your playing will have more direction and internal logic. George Russell also teaches this type of outside harmonic navigation. Inside and outside are to be thought of in incremental stages rather than an either/or situation. As long as you're movin 'inward' or 'outward' you're creating forward motion, even though you've left traditional tonal harmonic resolution in the dust. The ear still hears harmonic motion, though it is of a different sort. Jerry Bergonzi's pentatonic book is also helpful and thorough.


Tim Price's random lines exercise

Here's an exercise from Tim Price's blog. Garzone used to have me do this one. It's a great way to get comfortable playing outside, it's also a way to discover new and interesting lines.

  • "Here’s another exercise that may help you to find some other stuff to play: choose a tempo and start to play in a swing feel with no tonal center. Let the rhythmic focus be your guide; that is, play rhythmic phrases typical of jazz phrasing, but with a random choice of notes. Try to throw in some really large intervals. Play any note! In fact, the more outrageous the better. Tape yourself and see what happens. There may be some highly musical and personalized notes in there. By experimenting with intervallic and sequential playing you can eventually develop a vocabulary that will enable you to move from note to note. This is a really spontaneous way to improvise, and results in some pretty wild stuff that you may have never played before."

Once you are comfortable with a high degree of randomness in your playing (of course we can never truly be totally random) you will be able to start introducing small amounts into your soloing. Practice playing lines over changes, as you are playing slip a bar or two of totally random notes in and jump right back to following the chord changes. Now try just a few beats of randomness. As you practice playing 'random' notes be aware of trying to use different and wider intervals and direction. Direction is an important element of free/outside playing. Experiment with lines while focusing on just this one element, don't play more than a few notes without changing direction. Next introduce wider intervals into the mix. Don't stop swinging as you are doing these things. If you're swinging really hard the listener will accept these far out lines as being musical. The farther out you go the harder you need to swing. If you mess with the rhythm of a cliché Bebop line it will sound much more outside than a freaked out random line that really swings hard.


Casa Valdez is required reading for UNCA

I want to thank David Wilken at the University of North Carolina for making this humble blog required reading for his Jazz theory and improv class. I've been working on my search engine but it still kind of sucks. The best way to find old postings is to dig through the archives. I delete anything that's time sensitive, so everything in the archive is still useful to the Jazz student. I've also cut the number of posts that appear when you load the page to speed things up for those on slower internet connections. If you have any questions about any of the subject matter in the new or old posts please go ahead and leave your questions in the comments section. I get e-mails for every comment, no matter how far back in the archive it's from.