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Enharmonic equivalents and scale substitution I: Harmonic minor

Warning: The following theory is not for beginners. Any injury caused by over-stimulation of the pineal gland is entirely down to the reader.

The series of posts that I wrote about scale alternatives leads us nicely into an area of music theory that I don’t think is that well known. Scales substitutions based upon harmonic equivalents.

Hopefully, by now you have introduced a Melodic scale over the Dorian mode and the Ionian mode and perhaps even Neapolitan minor and Harmonic minor. (I realise that for most players, the time needed to invest in learning the modes from Neapolitan Major and Neapolitan Major b5 is just not possible.)

I am just going to focus on one scale for this post, the Harmonic minor. In G Major, the E harmonic minor scale is accessible, meaning that even though it has a D# in its structure, it still works over anything from the Key of G Major.

Now, enharmonic equivalents are notes that take up the same physical space in the ether. Between C and D is C# and Db. They are not the same. One implies D while the other implies C. When taken out of context, in a vacuum not related to the scale or key that they are from, then they are mistaken for being the same thing. That is not the case with scales.

For example: The G Major scale. The key of choice. If I raise the root of mode V, D Mixolydian, I create mode VII of E Harmonic minor, D# Alt bb7. Easy. Don’t forget that all of the Harmonic minor modes now fit over the corresponding Major modes, D Mixolydian = D# Alt bb7, E Aeolian = E Harmonic minor, F# Locrian = F# Locrian nat 6, G Ionian = G Ionian +, A Dorian = A Dorian #4, B Phrygian = B Phrygian Major and C Lydian = C Lydian #2.

Now, instead of calling the note between D and E, D#, I am now going to call it Eb. That now gives us the scale of G A B C D Eb F#, G Harmonic Major. (1 2 3 4 5 b6 7.) I can now substitute this scale for the one that had the D#, E Harmonic Minor.

Another way of looking at it, is to think of Harmonic Major as the relative major of the Harmonic minor scale. So whatever Harmonic minor scale you are using, change to the relative Major and play the Harmonic Major instead. Easy so far.

Now let’s compare the modes from each scale:

E Harmonic minor G Harmonic Major

G Ionian + G Harmonic Major

A Dorian #4 A Dorian b5

B Phrygian Major B Phrygian b4

C Lydian #2 C Lydian Diminished

D# Alt bb7 D Dominant b2

E Harmonic minor Eb Lydian +#2

F# Locrian nat 6 F# Locrian bb7

Pretty straightforward stuff. But here is where is gets really good. A good player mixes up these scales all of the time. So when you think of playing the Harmonic minor on the 6th degree of the Major scale, think of its relative Harmonic Major and play that too. Up one, down the other. Vice versa. Focus on the notes of difference and work around those. It produces ear bending phrases that while not being out, or particularly ‘jazzy’, sound pleasing yet intriguing. See example below.

Like what the hell is that guy doing? Now you know.

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You can also find my book at https://www.bedwellmusic.co.uk/general-7


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