I get that there are 3 forms of the minor(5 if you count Dorian and Phrygian as minor).

I have noticed though that the minors on which harmonic minor is used more than natural minor are very specific. A minor and E minor are 2 examples of this.

Most minors in my experience are played mostly in the natural form. D minor, G minor, F minor, and even C minor I have noticed being this way.

D is the most common key for Dorian mode(In fact Bach wrote 2 Toccata and Fugue in D minor pieces, 1 being the most famous and in D natural minor and the other one being unknown by most people and in D Dorian).

But I still don't get why most minors are played mostly in the natural form and only a few minors are played mostly in harmonic mode. I mean if I were composing a piece in A minor, I would use the natural minor.

  • I have not noticed this tendency. The minor preludes and fugues in WTC are not mostly natural minor, are they? Using the natural minor sort of precludes using a major Dominant for V-i cadences.
    – Brian Tung
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 23:45
  • I mostly hear Dorian mode in jazz (to be sure, although I listen to lots of genres, I mostly play jazz). That's surely associated with the ii-V7-I being the classic turnaround in jazz.
    – Brian Tung
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 23:47
  • This is not related to key, it's related to the pieces you are looking at.
    – Dom
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 2:20
  • @BrianTung - Surely the ii-V-I adds to the use of Dorian in Jazz but since the concept of chord scales came to be, Dorian is basically used as the chord scale for every minor chord, whether it's part of a ii-V or not. This seems to be based more on the harmonic side of things than melodic, where the raised 6 of Dorian allows it to be used as an extension, so it keeps the harmony nice and open without the added dissonance that can cloud the function of the chord that a b6 would give. Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 17:26
  • No it doesn't preclude using major dominant. In fact here is a completely natural minor, c minor cadence: Cm, Fm, Cm, Gm7, Cm. Using all the flats and no extra flats or sharps this cadence is natural minor. Using a G7 instead means melodic dominant in an otherwise natural scale. This to me is much less pleasant than using the minor 7th mainly because of the chord difference itself. The minor 7th is the most fitting for natural minor and the most consonant of all the 7ths. The dominant 7th or V7 is most fitting for majors, not minors, and is less consonant.
    – Caters
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 17:48

2 Answers 2


First off, let's define things a little. When composing a piece using exclusively natural minor, we would refer to this as being Modal in nature; when using melodic and harmonic minor at times and natural minor at other times, it would most often be considered Functional in nature. When you find exclusively harmonic or melodic minor, we could make an argument for it being either Modal or Functional depending on how the piece utilizes the tonality.

The choice of using exclusively natural minor or including harmonic minor and/or melodic minor is basically the choice of the composer. There are tendencies based on genre, so you may be noticing some patterns as a result of that. Most Classical music will utilize harmonic and/or melodic minor (earlier Baroque music tends to be more modal and some Romantic and Modern era music also used a modal approach) and is basically unrestricted as far as what key the piece would be in, so if you looked exclusively at Classical music, I would guess that your thought process would change a bit. Most Rock music, by my estimation, tends to be modal in nature, as well as being guitar based, so you're more likely to see standard guitar keys (A, E, D, G, C, etc.) using a modal approach.

The main difference between modal and functional approaches has to do with how the chords move and work within the piece. The initial intention of harmonic and melodic minor was to add a leading tone to the V chord to increase the feeling of tension and resolution. This approach typically uses natural minor throughout a lot of the piece and switches to harmonic or melodic minor when the V chord is being played. Modal minor tends not to use a V-i cadence in this way. We tend to find different cadential figures in these pieces, such as bVII-i. These two approaches can have very different affects on the overall feel of the piece and depending on what you're going for, it could be considered inappropriate for the genre to do so, for instance, if you were trying to write a piece and sound like Mozart, you would want to use a Functional approach, or things just won't sound like Mozart.

When a piece is using exclusively harmonic or melodic minor, it's possible that it is functional, using a V-i cadence, but more likely it would be modal. This sound is often said to have an eastern feel and often employees a drone or pedal tone. The use of a pedal tone on guitar encourages the use of open strings, so you would most likely run into A minor and E minor, as they are the lower strings and provide a thicker tone for the drone that will support the melodic activity more strongly.

I would say that I haven't noticed a particular pattern for which keys employee functional or modal harmony and I'm pretty sure your thoughts are the result of the type of music you listen to. Perhaps try checking out some different genres or widely within the genres you have listened to to see if this changes your thoughts.

  • Maybe something to chew on: many, possibly most, Baroque theorists considered the minor mode to be a direct descendant of the Dorian mode, not Aeolian (which had been added to the list of modes for the sake of completeness). The characteristic scale degrees of Dorian are ♭3, 6 and ♭7. The characteristic musica ficta for Dorian are sharp 7 or flat 6, depending on a mix of melodic direction and polyphonic function. Sound familiar? About the only thing that really changed between Dorian and minor was to lose the notion of ambitus. (more)
    – user16935
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 5:17
  • I don't disagree at all with your ideas of functional usage vs modal colour - in pieces using modes that have mutable degrees, like Dorian or minor, you'll have varying mixtures of the two. I think, however, that the ideas of "natural", "harmonic" and "melodic" minor scales are, at best, misleading. It is, for instance, very common to use "melodic" minor's sharped degrees in a descending melody when the harmonic context calls for it. (more)
    – user16935
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 5:18
  • It is almost invariable that, when the augmented second that is characteristic of "harmonic" minor shows up melodically, there is a very strong suggestion of compound melody with continuations both above and below the augmented second. It's a very complex set of criteria that determines when the mutable degrees mutate, so it's probably wiser to look at it as one mode with a canonic form and certain scale degrees that change in certain contexts (which can be quite a bit more ambiguous than the notion of all these scales implies).
    – user16935
    Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 5:19
  • @Patrx2 - Sounds like I may have been a little misleading about my description of baroque modal music and there appears to be a lot more to consider there. I had heard of Dorian being the real minor initially but not with the full detail that you've spelled out. I'm kind of approach this subject from a more modern standpoint though and intended the baroque reference to just be a caveat for those who think of Classical as being inclusive of baroque, which seems to be the case for most people who didn't get a music degree. Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 17:15
  • Ultimately, I'm kind of assuming that the OP is coming from a more modern thought process, where modal implies mostly sticking to the modes as they are referred to nowadays most commonly, ie, no mutations. Based on the patterns that the OP has found, it seems unlikely that they are referring mostly to Classical music since there tends to almost always be alterations to the scale to accommodate a leading tone and often the raised 6 for melodic purposes. Commented Nov 30, 2016 at 17:22

Composing in pure minor is pretty much the same as composing in Major. The sharp 6s and 7s of melodic and harmonic minors add more possibilities. More possibilities = More compositions.

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