Harmonic major scale

Harmonic major scale on C  Play .

In music theory, the harmonic major scale is a musical scale which found occasional use during the common practice era and is now occasionally employed, most often in jazz. It was named by Rimsky-Korsakov.[1] In George Russell's Lydian Chromatic Concept it is the fifth mode (V) of the Lydian Diminished scale.[2]

A progression in harmonic major  Play .

It may be considered as a major scale with the sixth degree lowered, Ionian 13,[3] or the harmonic minor scale with the third degree raised. It may also be generated by reversing the succession of intervals in the harmonic minor scale. It contains the following chords which are also considered borrowed from the parallel minor: the minor subdominant, Dom 7 9, the supertonic diminished triad, the supertonic half-diminished seventh chord, and the fully diminished seventh leading tone chord. It also contains an augmented triad.

The harmonic major scale has its own set of modes, completely separate from the harmonic minor, melodic minor, and major modes, depending on which note is taken to be tonic.

For example, a B major scale consists of the notes: B C D E F G A; whereas a B harmonic major scale consists of the notes: B C D E F G A. Notice the sixth note in the sequence is lowered, from G to G. The B harmonic major scale can also be obtained from the B harmonic minor scale, which is B C D E F G A, by raising the D to D. The B harmonic major scale may be derived from the E melodic minor scale with a raised fourth: E F G A B C D.[4]

Harmonic major scale on C

The harmonic major scale may also be considered a synthetic scale, primarily used for implying and relating to various altered chords, with major and minor qualities in each tetrachord.[5] Thus the musical effect of the harmonic major scale is a sound intermediate between harmonic minor and diatonic major, and partaking of both. The harmonic major scale may be used in any system of meantone tuning, such as 19 equal temperament or 31 equal temperament, as well as 12 equal temperament.

The harmonic major scale is a diatonic tonality like major, melodic minor, and harmonic minor. It is not a 'synthetic' scale, as some may think. As stated below, it can be organized so that there is a major or minor third interval between each note in the scale, as can be done with major, melodic minor, or harmonic minor. Therefore it is of equal value as the other tonalities in common practice because it fulfills a sequence of thirds like the others. A scale cannot be considered 'synthetic' on the one hand and 'diatonic' on the other, as that is a contradiction. Harmonic major is not commonly taught as a tonality, which adds to the confusion in a musician's vocabulary, since chords borrowed from this diatonic tonality are not recognized as readily as from the tonalities of major, harmonic minor, and melodic minor. This lack of including harmonic major in music education has a very real impact on music in application. Throughout history, many songs have borrowed chords from the tonality of harmonic major but have not been recognized as doing so. Examples are 'After You've Gone', 'Blackbird', 'Sleep Walk', 'Dream A Little Dream Of Me', to name a few, all borrow chords from this tonality. Harmonic major is clearly diatonic, built in thirds, with its own class of seven chords and scales, that are not being learned by the general music population. Why this obviously diatonic tonality is not accepted and taught currently, and historically, is perhaps another issue. But it is a self-evident fact that harmonic major can be organized in major and minor thirds and is therefore as relevant as the tonalities of major, harmonic minor, and melodic minor, and that chords from this tonality appear in many pieces of music.

One interesting property of this scale is that for any diatonic scale, there is a relative major or minor mode, and if each of these is made harmonic major or harmonic minor, the accidental required in each "harmonic" scale is actually the same note spelled enharmonically. For example, Bb/Gb in D/Bb harmonic major and A#/F# in B/G harmonic minor; i.e., B/G harmonic minor is an "enharmonic mode" of D/Bb harmonic major.

Harmonic major scale in thirds

The harmonic major scale has the diatonic thirds property, which means that the interval between notes two steps apart (e.g. C and E, D and F, etc.) are separated by the chromatic interval of three or four semitones. In this sense it generalizes a property of the familiar diatonic scale.[6] There are only seven such scales in equal temperament, including whole tone, hexatonic, diatonic, acoustic, harmonic minor, harmonic major, and octatonic. The harmonic major scale is also one of the five proper seven-note scales of equal temperament. Like five of those other six scales, it is a complete circle of thirds; starting from the tonic the pattern is MmmmMMm, where M is a major third and m is a minor third.

External links

Further reading


  1. Dmitri Tymoczko. 2011. A Geometry of Music. New York: Oxford, Chapter 4.
  2. Burt, Peter (2001). The Music of Toru Takemitsu, p.100-101. ISBN 0-521-78220-1.
  3. Haunschild, Frank (2000). The New Harmony Book, p.122. ISBN 3-927190-68-3.
  4. Holdsworth, Allan (1994). Just for the Curious, p.6. ISBN 0-7692-2015-0.
  5. Richard Lawn, Jeffrey L. Hellmer (1996). Jazz: theory and practice, p.43. ISBN 0-88284-722-8.
  6. Dmitri Tymoczko (2004). "Scale Networks and Debussy." Journal of Music Theory 48.2: 215-292.
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