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Harmonic Minor and Jazz Minor Tone Tendencies

Jerry

Our previous post, Minor system and aeolian scale tendencies, looked into the natural minor (aeolian), harmonic and melodic minor scales, and at the tendencies of all the tones in the natural minor (aeolian) scale .  All these scales have the same intervals for the first five scale members (1 2 b3 4 5), and hence share the same tendencies for these.  They all differ in their sixth and seventh scale member.  In this post we look at their tendencies. fter reading this, you should have a reasonable idea of how to use (resolve) both scale notes and chromatic notes in a harmonic and melodic minor scale melody (and by implication how to handle these when they occur in chords).

This post includes emuso interactivity.  If you  read this blog in emuso, remember you can click on the eye-ear icons below , and on chord and scale images (unless stated otherwise), to go interactiveRemember, for a scale shape on “guitar” or “piano”, hover over a scale note, with the ALT- key held down, to hear the chord from that root (and use the “generated chord compexity” widget to select from triads to 13ths).  If reading via your browser, on mobile, and so on, this does nothing.  Also remember emuso only plays whatever pitches are visible on “guitar”, so you may want to use the “.” (full stop) and “,” (comma) keys to move the scale shape to another region, where all the scale members are visible.  To change the tempo of Rhythm-X snappets, type in a new bpm value, then press “Set bpm”.  Some tracks have chords.  To see them rather than the melody, use the “visual feedback” dropdown menu, select “link track to active layer”, and click anywhere on the chord track.  If the track has bass, do the same to see it on a “bass”.

 

The Minor System

The minor system is comprised of three scales:  natural minor (aeolian), harmonic minor, and melodic minor.   These can get mixed up as well in one (section of a) tune.  These are discussed below in more detail.  The aeolian scale had one interval adjusted to create some extra bite to its resolutions, resulting in the harmonic minor scale.  The harmonic minor scale then had one more interval adjusted to smooth it out, make it more melodic, while still retaining the extra bite for resolutions.  This resulted in the ascending melodic minor scale.  Classical music used this for ascending melodies, and made one more adjustment for descending melodies … this actually being tha natural minor scale again.  But modern music, and jazz especially, loves the sound of the ascending melodic minor scale, and uses it ascending and descending.  So, it’s frequently called jazz minor.

The scales

Natural minor has the intervals (1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7)
Jazz minor (ascending melodic minor) has intervals (1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
Harmonic minor has intervals (1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, 7)

Below, I’m arbitrarily using A as the tonic (the scale start note).

This is only evident below by

In the previous post, I used fret zero on the 6th string (E) as the tonic.  By shifting up to A,  the interval 2 appears on the 3rd string (it’s unavailable on the 3rd string when the tonic is at fret zero (the nut).  This means I can demonstrate some chord shapes better, visually.

 

Aeolian

Jazz Minor

H. Minor

 

The V chord

The V chord is rooted,by definition,  at the 5th member of each of the above scales … this root makes an interval of a perfect 5th (5) with the tonic.

The V chord very often (not always) is used to make the listener want to hear the I chord next.  That’s its normal use (normally how it functions).

The next three images (non-interactive) superimposes each scale with its V chord.  The V chord is labelled with intervals made with its root (corresponding to the 5, (b)7 and 2 of the scale.

V Aeolian

V Jazz Minor

V H. Minor

Below shows the I chord triad (the minor chord rooted at the scale tonic), (non-interactive) which is the same for all three scales.  It also superimposes the b7 (only found in aeolian) and the 7(only found in jazz minor and harmonic minor).   Look back at the images above of the V chord superimposed on each scale.  It’s very apparent that the V chord in jazz minor and harmonic minor each have one chord member (its 3rd) one semitone lower than the tonic of the scale, and hence set up a strong pull to the tonic.

When we look at scale tendencies below, it becomes apparent that, paradoxically, more complex I chords (sevenths, ninths etc) found in harmonic minor and melodic minor are unstable, so are mostly used as passing chords, not as somewhere to rest on.

Am

The 5th scale member of both harmonic minor and jazz minor forms a perfect 5th with the scale start note (tonic).  Chords rooted here (known as the V chord) include the major triad (e.g. E is V chord in A harmonic minor and A jazz minor ) and the dominant 7th (e.g. E7, the V7 chord).  Refer to the images of the chords below, and the labelling of the intervals as you read the next paragraph.

E7 creates a very strong pull to A-, because the 3 of E up a semitone with the A- chord).

 

Expectation and Resolution

A scale tone (the sound of an individual note), when heard, may make the listener expect to hear it replaced by a specific nearby scale tone. A chromatic tone will make the listener expect to hear it replaced by a nearby scale tone.  The act of replacing the tone is known as resolving that tone.

The idea is that the replacement tone (the one that follows) reduces, or even removes, the level of expectation the listener was in due to the first tone.

 

Examples

You can get a sense of the expectations present in the tones of the harmonic and jazz minor scales, by playing an arpeggiated  I minor triad , followed by each scale note in turn, from which you can judge how much that scale note needs to resolve to another scale note.  Two examples of this are tabbed out below.  The first example is using E harmonic minor.  The second example uses E Jazz minor.

Harmonic minor (E)

The first bar spells out the Em triad, accompanied by the bass E ringing out.  The second bar uses the first member of E harmonic minor accompanied by a bass E.  Same idea for the third bar.  The fourth bar uses the second member (2) of E harmonic minor accompanied by a bass E, and its resolution.  Similar ideas apply to the sixth, eighth, tenth, twelvth, fourteenth and sixteenth bars.  The sixth bar uses the 3rd scale member (b3).  The eighth bar uses the 4th scale member (4)and resolution.  The tenth bar uses the 5th scale member (5).  The twelvth bar uses the 6th scale member (b6) and resolution.  The fourteenth bar uses the 7th scale member (7) and resolution.  The sixteenth bar uses the octave of E.

Here is this same example as an emuso snappet.  Press “Start” on Rhythm-X to play it and again to stop it.

When you listen to the above, the most obvious (strongest) tone tendencies are for the  7 to resolve up to 1, and the b6 to resolve down to the 5.  Both the 7 and b6 are very unstable in E harmonic minor.  Whereas the notes of the tonic triad (1, b3, 5) don’t really create any expectations … they are stable tones.  Though the ultimate resolution would be for both the b3 and the 5 to resolve to 1.

Jazz minor (E)

The first bar spells out the Em triad, accompanied by the bass E ringing out.  The second bar uses the first member of E jazz minor accompanied by a bass E.  Same idea for the third bar.  The fourth bar uses the second member (2) of E jazz minor accompanied by a bass E, and its resolution.  Similar ideas apply to the sixth, eighth, tenth, twelvth, fourteenth and sixteenth bars.  The sixth bar uses the 3rd scale member (b3).  The eighth bar uses the 4th scale member (4)and resolution.  The tenth bar uses the 5th scale member (5).  The twelvth bar uses the 6th scale member (6) and resolution.  The fourteenth bar uses the 7th scale member (7) and resolution.  The sixteenth bar uses the octave of E.

Here is this same example as an emuso snappet.  Press “Start” on Rhythm-X to play it and again to stop it.

When you listen to the above, the most obvious (strongest) tone tendency is for the  7 to resolve up to 1The 6 is only mildly unstable, and in jazz, it is very often used as a stable note.  Whereas the notes of the tonic triad (1, b3, 5) don’t really create any expectations … they are stable tones.  Though the ultimate resolution would be for both the b3 and the 5 to resolve to 1.

 

Resolving chromatic tones

Chromatic tones are all unstable.

A chromatic tone typically wants to resolve down a semitone, when that chromatic tone itself has been approached from above.  In music notation, that tone is shown as a flattened version of the scale note preceding it (for example, we have B, Bb, A).

It wants to resolve up a semitone, when that chromatic tone itself has been approached from below.  In music notation, that tone is shown as a sharpened version of the scale note preceding it (for example, A, A#, B).  The next diagram shows this using the dark blue circles with the name including b (flattened) or # (sharpened).

If a chromatic tone is jumped to, rather than moved to by a semitone, then the preferred resolution is the nearest, least unstable scale tone.  For example, jumping from the 6 (C#) down to the #4 (A#) resolves up to the 5 (B), which is far less unstable (actually a very stable tone) than the 4 (A) … which would then itself probably need resolving down to the 3 (G#).

Note that the b6 and 7 are both very unstable in harmonic minor, so a jump to a b7 could go to either of these, and then on to stable note (b7, 7, 1.    Or b7 b6 1).  But a quicker resolution is simply to follow the b7 by the nearest 1 or 5.

 

Press “Start” on Rhythm-X to hear the above, and again to stop it.

 

Here is different example as an emuso snappet,with two short licks with chromaticism.

The first lick uses a jump, from the b3 down to the 7.  This wants to resolve up to the 1, but delays that resolution, going via the 2, and then to the 1.   This is a very common little lick in jazz, with both HM and JM scales.  The second lick uses a chromatic run up from 7 to 2, then jumps to 4, and chromatically descends to 2

 

Press “Start” on Rhythm-X to hear the above, and again to stop it.

 

 

Summary of tone tendencies common to all three minor scales

This next diagram summarises  tone tendencies for the scale members 1,2,b3,4,5 when creating music based on the minor system  Remember, these exact same tendencies are present in the harmonic and melodic minor.  Click on it to enlarge it.

 

 

 

NOTE:  THIS DOES NOT MEAN THESE RESOLUTIONS MUST BE OBEYED (oherwise music would be pre-ordained, which would be a nightmare)

 

Tone tendencies specific to harmonic minor

 

Tone tendencies specific to jazz minor

 

 

Tone tendencies and chords

Also note that when these tones appear in chords being used with the melody, the same same tendencies are present, which is why the V chord, a major triad, same as the I chord, has much more drive, setting up the I chord, resolving the 7 and the 2 in the V to the 1 of the tonic triad, as a very strong resolution.

 

Some resolutions

Here is the resolution from 4 to b3 in E minor.

Here is the resolution for jump from one to chromatic b7, via 7,  to 1 in E minor.

 

 

Test your understanding

This next test asks you to adjust some tendency tones in E minor, to remove the tensions as much as possible.  Hint. Think where the most stable nearest tones are.

 

This next test plays two notes in E minor, and then jumps to a chromatic note.  Resolve that chromatic note, assuming you’re using E jazz minor.

 

This next test plays two notes in E minor, and then jumps to a chromatic note. Resolve that chromatic note, assuming you’re using E jazz minor.