Tech Tip:Harmonic Minor Scale, Choosing Strings, Tips On Note Bending

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The following tips for aspiring guitarists are courtesy of John McCarthy of The Rock House Method, publisher of video lessons for musicians at every skill level.

Birth of the Harmonic Minor Scale

Carlos Torres; San Juan, PR


Q: Can you explain how to create a harmonic minor scale and some of its uses?


A: A harmonic minor scale is constructed by raising the seventh degree of the Natural Minor scale.


Let’s take the notes of an A Natural Minor Scale for an example:




1-2-3-4- 5-6-7


Now you raise the seventh degree one half step which would make the G into a G# and the Harmonic Minor Scale is now:




1-2-3-4- 5-6-7


This scale tends to have an Egyptian sound that is very distinct. The most common application for the harmonic minor scale is over the V dominant 7th chord (referred to as V7) in a minor key. For those of you who aren't familiar with chord theory, the V7 chord in a minor key is seven frets up from the first chord in the key. For example, in the key of A Minor, the V7 chord is E7 (the note E is seven frets up from A). In the key of E Minor, the V7 chord would be B7.


Let's use the progression A minor to E7 to illustrate good use of the harmonic minor scale. Over the A Minor chord, a guitarist could play minor pentatonic licks, blues licks, ideas from Aeolian or Dorian modes, etc. But, when the progression moves to E7, the guitarist would play notes from the A Harmonic Minor Scale (note: you do NOT play the E harmonic minor scale over the E7 chord). This is a bit tricky and will take some getting used to because you are changing scales in mid solo and using a chordal soloing approach.


Experiment and try to come up with some great sound using the Harmonic minor Scale.



Choosing the Right Strings

Fred Hamilton; Augusta, GA


Q: I am a new player and need some advice on what gauge strings I should buy for my guitar. I have a Washburn Lyon electric guitar and the strings are getting rusty.


A: The gauge of your strings has a lot to do with the tone and the playability of your guitar.


If you use heavy-gauge strings you will get more tone in the string sound but because they are thicker you will get less flexibility. A lighter-gauge string tends to sound thinner but you will be able to move the string easier while bending notes.


I recommend that you start with a standard .009 gauge set of strings and then as you progress you can decide if you want to go up or down a gauge.



Bends, Bends, and More Bends

Scott Sawala; Norwalk, CT


Q: How high am I supposed to bend a note up? I love the sound of a bend and want to do this technique proficiently.


A: There are many ways to bend a note. This is why the technique is so great. The most common bend is the whole-step bend in which you bend the note up one whole step or the equivalent of two frets on the guitar.

Other types of bends include a half-step bend, double pump, step and a half, and the ghost bend just to name a few. I recommend that you experiment and develop your own unique bending techniques that will give you a signature sound.


Hope this helps!


Yours in Music,
John McCarthy
Rock House