The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes Part 9 – Visualizing Melodic and Harmonic Minor

A while ago, I had posted that given an hour, I could get almost anyone at an intermediate level to visualize any of the Major, Melodic Minor or Harmonic Minor modes anywhere on the guitar.  In this overdue return to the serialization of the guide to modes book –  I guess this is my put up or shut up moment. ; )  Since this is print as a pixel based medium – I’m going to cover it in a lot more detail than I might normally in, say a 1/2 hour lesson.
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As a precursor, all of the information here works off of the 2-string (3 note-per string) pattern visualization method that I’ve covered in parts 3a and 3b of this series, if any of the initial shapes (or connecting ideas) in this post seem confusing, just go back and review the following:

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THE GUITARCHITECT’S GUIDE TO MODES PART 3B – Seeing The Six-String Major Scale

THE GUITARCHITECT’S GUIDE TO MODES PART 3A – Seeing The Six-String Major Scale

THE GUITARCHITECT’S GUIDE TO MODES PART 2 – Seeing The Two String Major Scale

THE GUITARCHITECT’S GUIDE TO MODES PART 1 – Seeing The Single String Major Scale

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A Pedagogical note (taken from part 2)

Since the initial emphasis of this lesson series is on sonic visualization and making sense out of 2-string and positional fingerings, I’m only dealing with visualizing parent scales (Major, Melodic Minor or Harmonic Minor in this case)  as a whole here.

While modes are always associated with a chord or a chord progression, I’m limiting harmonic options only to C Major/Melodic Minor/Harmonic Minor  for now.

Extremely important elements in this process, such as harmony, modal interchange, arpeggios, individual modes and actual music making are the topics for other posts.  Having said that, it is important to state again, that modes (or any scale), in and of themselves, are not music but are only a tool in making music.   Anything I post here should always be filtered through your own aesthetic and utilized, adapted or even ignored accordingly (i.e. take what works for you).

With that in mind here’s a review of much of the information as it relates to C major.  For the Melodic and Harmonic minor shapes – just skip down to the next section.

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Major Scale/Modal Visualization Review

  • The guitar fingerboard can be divided into 3 sets of two strings. Any 2-string fingering pattern that starts on the B string can be moved to the same starting pitch on the D or the low E string and keep the same fingering.
  • The major scale can be broken down into seven two-string modes that follow a specific order based on its scale degree from the parent scale (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian). The two-string patterns are modular and can be adapted to positional playing (see rules above).

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The modular 2 string modal shapes I use look like this (The numbers represent fingers).

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Here’s a C major scale played  on only the B and E strings:

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Comparing the initial shapes to the ascending pattern, the positional patterns can be broken down into the seven 2-string modal fingerings that ascend in sequential order  (i.e. C Ionian, D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian, G Mixolydian, A Aeolian and B Locrian).

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Since the two-string patterns are modular they can also be adapted to positional playing.  So if we look at a C Major scale played in the 8th position and starting from C:

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This 6-string fingering can be seen as containing three distinct patterns:

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 Two-string sets of C Ionian

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Here are the important things you need to know for visualizing this:

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As the fingering pattern ascends across the strings,

the six note modal fingerings descend to the next modal pattern.  

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Like wise, as the fingering pattern descends across the strings,

the six-note modal fingerings ascend to the next modal pattern.    

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This is true of any 2-string pattern.

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Adapting Major shapes to create Melodic and Harmonic Minor fingerings

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I’ve talked before about the modal microscope and seeing things on the parent major level.  The advantage of this comes into play right here. First, let’s take another look at a C major scale played in the 8th position again:

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Here’s the audio.

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Note:

In all the audio examples, I’ve played the example first as sextuplets – then at a slower tempo (i.e. 16ths) – then as sextuplets again.

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Each mode is associated with chords as well.  Here’s a chart of the triad and 7th chords  for C Major:

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In all of the chord examples below, I’ve taken sample diatonic 7th chord shapes for the E, D, G and B strings with the roots on the low E string. These are certainly not the only way to play these chords, but if you’re not familiar with the voicings they’re not a bad place to start.  Also, while I’ve notated each chord as a 1/4 note, I’ve held each chord for 2 bar lengths (i.e. 8 beats) to be able to play the scale patterns against.

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Also, distortion tends to wash out chords with larger voicings, so for all the examples in this exercise, I’ve used a clean setting courtesy of Scuffham Amps.

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Melodic Minor

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To visualize Melodic Minor Patterns – simply flat the 3rd of the Parent Major scale.

(i.e. to visualize C Melodic Minor just play C major but change every E  to Eb).

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It’s important to note that all of the fingering conventions mentioned here are solely to assist with visualization. Melodic and Harmonic Minor really aren’t directly related to the Major scale sonically.  

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Melodic Minor short cuts:

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Using the Parent Major patterns above here’s a list of short cut’s to help you visualize the patterns.

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Note: in the F Lydian shape – there’s no change from the major shape since there’s no Eb in the 2-string pattern.

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Here’s the initial melodic pattern with the modified major fingerings written above the 2-string shapes:

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Here are the diatonic triads and 7th chords.

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Try playing the initial C Melodic Minor shape over any of these chords..

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Harmonic Minor

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To visualize Harmonic Minor Patterns – simply flat the 3rd and the 6th of the Parent Major scale.

(i.e. to visualize C Harmonic Minor just play C major but change every E  to Eb and every A  to Ab).

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Here are the pattern adaptations.  In a situation like this, it can get confusing to remember a formula like “Dorian b2, b5” so as an alternative you may just want to try remembering something like “Pattern 1” for Ionian b3, b6, “Pattern 2” for Dorian b2, b5, etc.

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Here’s the same scale pattern – I left off Pattern 6 by mistake but the sequence is Ionian b3, b6 (Pattern 1 ), Locrian b4 (Pattern 7) and Ionian b5, bRoot (Pattern 6).  You can really see this if you compare it to the initial major patterns.
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Here are the diatonic triads and 7th chords:
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Try playing the initial C Harmonic Minor shape over any of these chords…
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Performance Notes:

  • This whole process just a short cut for a visualization process to see C Major/Melodic Minor/Harmonic Minor on the fingerboard.  In parts 3a and 3b of this series, I’ve provided every C major positional fingering.  As a first step, you should consider adapting each of those fingerings to Melodic and Harmonic Minor.  After you get the shapes under your fingers, try moving them to other keys as well.
  • In addition to using a time keeping device of some kind (like a metronome, drum loop, etc) playing along to a chord or a bass note will help establish tonality and help associate each pattern with a sound).  I’ll get more into application in further lessons, but for now try playing the patterns over any of the bass notes or chords in the mp3s and once you get familiar with the chord shapes, try writing tunes or solos with the material.

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Technical Notes:

  • While it’s natural to want to progress quickly, trying to play too quickly too soon results in excess hand tension which will increase the difficulty of what you’re trying to play.  Fluidity comes from focused, relaxed repetition.  
  • Fretting hand: When playing these patterns, practice using just the fingertip to fret the notes and use the minimum amount of tension needed for the note to sound cleanly.  Additionally, try to keep the fingers down on the strings when playing and remove them from the string only when necessary.
  • Picking Hand:  Try using the above picking pattern on the top two strings or alternate picking.
  • Practice the scale ascending and descending and really focus on clarity of notes, hand tension and timing.  Even many intermediate to advanced players can gain something by really focusing on making clean transitions between the fingering shapes.
  • Isolate problem areas and work out.  You’re not going to be able to play the sequence cleanly if any of the individual components aren’t 100%.  This isn’t a bad thing.  Things you develop over time are more likely to stay with you (and thus be accessible when you’re improvising).

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Musical:

  • Making music from the patterns is a whole other skill set, but you need to know where to put your fingers on the strings while you  bend, slide and phrase your way into making music.  Having said that, since the visualization process doesn’t take that long,  as soon as you get the shapes down I’d recommend to start manipulating them to try to make them more musical to your ear.   See Part 2 of this series for more specifics or the making music out of scales post for some suggestions for how to do this.

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Like I said before, I’ll be going deeper into using these scales (and using them in other harmonic contexts) in future posts.  With any lesson material, I recommend you just go through the lesson at your own pace and return as you need to.  Please feel free to post any questions you might have (or pm me at guitar.blueprint@gmail.com).

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I hope this helps.   As always, thanks for reading!

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-SC

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P.S. If you like this post – you may also like:

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Books:

The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes: Harmonic Combinatorics “Pre-Release” Now Available

THE GUITARCHITECT’S POSITIONAL EXPLORATION PRE-RELEASE NOW AVAILABLE

THE GUITARCHITECT’S GUIDE TO MODES: MELODIC PATTERNS BOOK “PRE-RELEASE” NOW AVAILABLE

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LESSONS

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Modes:

The Modal Microscope And A Sequenced Arpeggio Approach

Slash and Burn – Creating More Complex Sounds With Slash Chords

The GuitArchitect’s Guide to Modes Part 8 – Major Positional Modal Interchange and Complimenting Modes with Chords

THE GUITARCHITECT’S GUIDE TO MODES PART 7 – MINOR POSITIONAL MODAL INTERCHANGE AND COMPLIMENTING MODES WITH CHORDS

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THE GUITARCHITECT’S GUIDE TO MODES PART 6 – THE CIRCLE OF 5THS AND MODAL INTERCHANGE

THE GUITARCHITECT’S GUIDE TO MODES PART 5 – MAKING THE MOST OF ONE PATTERN

The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes Part 4 – Modes and Chords

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THE GUITARCHITECT’S GUIDE TO MODES PART 3B – SEEING THE SIX-STRING MAJOR SCALE

THE GUITARCHITECT’S GUIDE TO MODES PART 3A – SEEING THE SIX-STRING MAJOR SCALE

THE GUITARCHITECT’S GUIDE TO MODES PART 2 – SEEING THE TWO STRING MAJOR SCALE

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The GuitArchitecture Guide To Modes Part 1 – Seeing The Single String Major Scale

Making Music Out Of Scales

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Pentatonics:

Making Sense Of The Pentatonic Scale – Diagonal Forms – Part Two

MAKING SENSE OF THE PENTATONIC SCALE – DIAGONAL FORMS – PART ONE

Free Sweeping Pentatonic Minor Scale Lesson on Live4Guitar.com now online

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2 STRING SHAPES OR MAKING SENSE OF THE PENTATONIC MINOR SCALE

THE BAKER’S DOZEN APPROACH TO PENTATONIC SCALES

GUITARCHITECTURE, SONIC VISUALIZATION AND A PENTATONIC APPROACH FOR THE HOLIDAYS

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Chords/Triads/Superimposition/Arpeggios:

CREATING CHORDS AND LINES FROM ANY SCALE – A HARMONIC COMBINATORICS / SPREAD VOICINGS LESSON

AUGMENT YOUR KNOWLEDGE: SONIC SHAPES AND GETTING MORE FROM AUGMENTED CHORDS

Slash and Burn – Creating More Complex Sounds With Slash Chords

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GETTING HIPNESS FROM A MAJOR TRIAD OR MORE CHORD RECYCLING PART 3

Getting Hipness From A Major Triad Or More Chord Recycling Part 2

GETTING HIPNESS FROM A MAJOR TRIAD OR MORE CHORD RECYCLING PART 1

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Getting Through The Gig – Negotiating A Chord Chart Part 3

Getting Through The Gig – Negotiating A Chord Chart Part 2

GETTING THROUGH THE GIG – NEGOTIATING A CHORD CHART PART 1

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RECYCLING CHORDS PART II: TRIAD TRANSFORMATION

RECYCLING CHORDS PART I OR WHERE’S THE ROOT?

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FAVORED CURRY OR SPICING UP CHORD SCALES AND TRIADS PART 2

FAVORED CURRY OR SPICING UP CHORD SCALES AND TRIADS PART 1

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RECYCLING SHAPES OR MODULAR ARPEGGIOS FOR FUN AND PROFIT

GLASS NOODLES – ADAPTING A PHILIP GLASS ARPEGGIO APPROACH TO GUITAR

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Practicing:

MELVILLE, MADNESS AND PRACTICING – OR FINDING THE DEEPER LESSON PART 2

Some Useful Online Practice Tools

POSSESSION IS 9/10S OF THE LAW BUT PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING OR PRACTICING PART VII

TESTING YOUR VOCABULARY OR PRACTICING PART VI

PRACTICE WHAT YOU PLAY OR PRACTICING PART V

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DEFINITIONS AND DOCUMENTS OR PRACTICING PART IV

TENSION AND THE SODA CAN OR PRACTICING PART III

PROPER POSTURE IS REQUIRED FOR PROPER PERFORMANCE – PRACTICING PART II

PRACTICE MAKES BETTER AKA PRACTICING PART I

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2 thoughts on “The GuitArchitect’s Guide To Modes Part 9 – Visualizing Melodic and Harmonic Minor

  1. Excellent lesson as always. Funny thing, I’ve stumbled upon your site a few months ago because one of your POD HD reviews and have found here a ton of information which is much more valueable than anything about the POD.
    Thank you for all the inspirational stuff here and keep ’em coming 🙂

    Cheers from snowy Budapest
    Zsolt

    • Hey Zsolt

      Thank you for the kind post! I’m glad the material is helping you.

      I may have mentioned before that I visited Budapest years ago and really fell in love with the city. Every time i see Kontroll (which is more often than I’d care to admit) I get a little nostalgic for it.

      I really hope to get back to the city sometime and play there (instead of just visiting) and maybe get to see the rest of the country.

      Stay warm. Hopefully the lessons are at least keeping the blood flowing in your fingers!

      -SC

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