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The harmonic minor scale is often associated with flamenco and Middle Eastern musical traditions. Up to, and during, the Renaissance period, harmonies that were considered dissonant were usually avoided. Certain melodic intervals were avoided as well. Essentially, the other scales were created out of the need to approach the leading tone without having to jump over a tone and a half to get there. Make no mistake about it, this is getting into advanced stuff, way beyond what beginners typically do when they start to strum guitar.
If you are already familiar with the natural minor scale, then it should be easy for you to learn the harmonic minor scale. There is only one tone difference between natural minor and harmonic minor, and that is the position of the seventh. It is raised by one semitone. The raised seventh gives the harmonic minor a distinguishing three-semitone interval between the sixth and seventh note.
While it evolved primarily as a basis for chords, the harmonic minor is sometimes used melodically. You can find it in Mozart, and most notably in Schubert. In this role it is used descending more often than ascending.
The harmonic minor is also sometimes referred to as the Mohammedan scale because its upper tetra chord parallels the Hijazjins commonly found in Middle Eastern music. You can hear examples of the harmonic minor scale in popular music today. “Easy Please Me,” by Katy B, is a rare instance of a pop song written purely in harmonic minor.
If you are a guitarist that does not enjoy improvising, then you are probably familiar with the frustration of thinking that all of your solos sound alike. One of the best ways to counteract that feeling is to introduce yourself to a new sounding scale. The harmonic minor, one of the more unusual sounding scales, can add a completely new sound to your solos.