I'm trying to get my head around modes and the tonal center.

In my understanding the natural minor scale is the same as the Aeolian mode.

However, when considering the mix-up that happens in the harmonic and melodic minor scales, this led me to wonder. Do the modes bear any relation with these two minor scales?

Like, if I'm playing Harmonic minor C scale with a tonal center of the D. Could that be considered Harmonic Dorian D?

If I'm way off with my question, please explain why I'm off, it will help me to touch base

4 Answers 4


Think of modes as the scale starting off at different notes. So, yes there are modes both for the harmonic and melodic minor scales.

In jazz, the melodic minor scale isn't the same as the classical one. It is the same while ascending and descending. So, the C melodic minor scale would be C D E♭ F G A B C.

here are the melodic minor modes:

enter image description here

The harmonic minor modes aren't used that much. You can see them here.

I'll just provide the names:

  1. Harmonic Minor

  2. Locrian ♯6

  3. Ionian ♯5

  4. Dorian ♯4

  5. Phrygian Dominant

  6. Lydian ♯2

  7. Superlocrian ♭♭7

  • 2
    The chart at the top is not consistent with the bottom section. The chart is right, but your names are wrong Commented May 9, 2017 at 3:30

Every scale has modes. As you shift what note in the pattern you start on, you come up with a different pattern that is related to the original scale pattern.

The names of the modes however, are not named the same way as the diatonic modes. The names of the modes are not based off scale degrees, but how the notes look compared to the scales/modes of the diatonic scale.

For example the second mode of C harmonic minor starts on D and contains the note D, Eb, F, G, Ab, B, C. Looks kind of like D Locrian doesn't it? The only difference being the 6 is raised hence the name D Locrian #6.

  • "Lorican"? Do you mean Locrian?
    – Aaron
    Commented Apr 23, 2021 at 1:49
  • 1
    @Aaron yeah my brain short circuited when I saw a misspelling error in comment here earlier, I now relize they were not saying I spelled locrian wrong.
    – Dom
    Commented Apr 23, 2021 at 3:07

All of the answers here are excellent. I would only add that the Harmonic minor scale and two of its modes, the one based on the 5th scale degree (Phrygian Dominant) and the one based on the 2nd scale degree (Locrian #6) are used a fair amount. With the Phrygian Dominant being pretty common among Heavy Metal guitarists. Here is an excellent example; The Sails of Charon, early Scorpions with Ulrich Roth on lead guitar:

(notice the harmonization key of B using B major and C major) Common chords for the Phrygian mode. In the key of B; I and bII, which correspond to V and VI in the key of Em, the corresponding minor key. (E harmonic minor and B phrygian dominant use the exact same notes)

The Locrian #6 used less commonly, but very important to those that like a Middle Eastern effect, used here by Ian Anderson (flute intro) on the song 'Valley' from the album 'Roots to Branches' Here, Ian Anderson plays a d harmonic minor scale using the second, an e, as the tonic i.e. e locrian #6.:

An interesting note on modes; Ian Anderson uses a mode of the pentatonic scale commonly, I believe this is a Celtic thing, Am pentatonic (or C major pentatonic) over Dmaj, (he also uses D mixolydian) check out the acoustic guitar in the intro of this same song; 'Valley'


Natural minor is a mode, however I would call the harmonic and melodic minor scales functional variations of natural minor rather than strictly their own modes. In minor harmonies, the seventh scale note is almost always raised, which creates a harmonic minor. Using the harmonic minor scale in melodic settings would create a really ugly augmented second between the sixth and seventh scale notes, so in melodic settings the sixth is typically raised as well.

It's important to remember that "music theory" began not as an academic pursuit but among musicians who were using their ears: raising the seventh note in the minor mode to create a leading tone sounded better, so they did it. Raising the sixth to prevent an augmented second sounded better, so they did it.

Edit: I would be curious to hear the reason that someone downvoted the post. I could certainly provide references, although googling "origin of the harmonic minor scale" gets a whole long list. The wikipedia article on the minor scale also makes reference to these ideas.

  • 1
    Didn't down vote, but you didn't address the question asked at all. The question was asking about modes of the harmonic minor and melodic minor scale not trying to say that they were modes of the natural minor scale.
    – Dom
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 18:29
  • They are not modes of the natural minor scale or any other scale. They are functional variations on the Aeolian mode. As such, they don't really have their own modes. I guess I still don't understand. Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 18:44
  • They are not modes of the minor scale which again wasn't the question. The harmonic minor scale and melodic minor scales do have modes of their own as does any scale.
    – Dom
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 18:45

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