Single Topic Practice Session - E Harmonic minor

Core Location: Nucleus

single topic practice session wheel

A single topic practice circuit is taking one topic and exploring its many facets.

For this circuit, we will be looking at the E Harmonic minor tone group and working the materials in a number of ways.

Here's our path:

  1. Tune & warm up: first, we get in tune, and play a warm up exercise.
  2. Training: we then do some picking/fretting training with the tone set.
  3. Theory: next, we understand our tone group in theory language.
  4. Harmony: we play a chord scale.
  5. Improvise & Write: we wrap up our practice session with some improvising and writing chord progressions.

Tune & Warm Up

detail bullet from big practice wheel

Get in Tune

Each string is struck twice - Low E to High E. We are working in standard tuning.

Warm Up

For our warm-up exercise, we will play a linear chromatic.

Linear Chromatic

We start slow [with or without metronome], then bump up the tempo once our hands are warm. Synchronize the picking with the moment the each finger is fretted; and, lift the previous finger up as the new fretted tone lands [this is called exchange]. As we increase the tempo, we are entering more advanced levels.

P = Position. The number after is the position; the fret number where the 1 finger is located for a series of tones. Use the positions indicated.

linear chromatic guitar exercise in single line tablature
Play on any and every string.


For training, we will play a scale linearly, then do a pull exercise, then some exercises within octave 53.

Play these tones up and down - any rhythm - on string 1 [they work on string 6 too!]:


Once we are familiar with the tones in the series, we can choose fingerings.

This is a personal preference type thing, yet there are better and worse fingerings.

Playing them all with the 1 finger [changing positions for every tone] may be a challenging exercise as far as position, but it isn't the best choice for good economy [saving energy - being efficient].

An example of a better fingering: 0-2-3 in P2, 5-7-8 in P5, 11-12 in P11, then reverse.

Pull Exercise

Next, let's use the linear version on string one and do a pull exercise. Keep the picking consistent [down-pull-up]. We are playing triplets for the rhythm [rounded feel]. Ascend and descend in order.

e major pull exercise on guitar string one

Keep the picking consistent [down-pull-up].

For the same exercise but in E Major, see this session.

Octave 53

And wrap up our training session with octave 53 using 3 different fingerings. We will play each scale up and down, in tone order, as shown in the tablature.

different fingerings for e harmonic minor in octave 53 in guitar tablature

Try all 3 fingerings. Which fits your hands best?

You can use a metronome to track your speed. Set the metronome at 80 and play 8ths notes [two tones per click]. Once you have total control at that setting, bump it up to 90 and play 8ths again. Then 100, 110, etc.

Another good training device is to play 8ths at a metronome marking, then double-time it [play 4 tones per click - this would be 16th notes]. So, for each metronome setting, play 8ths, then 16ths.


detail bullet from big practice wheel

Harmonic minor has a distinct sound. The 3 fret spacing between the 6th and the 7th degrees create a sonic gap or jump in the sequence. For students just getting started with scales, the idea is to first to simply play the scale, taking note of the tone names and spacing. We don't ask too many questions, we just play; we are simply getting familiar with the sonic flavor.

As we progress with scales into more advanced realms, we can talk about points of comparisons to create formulas and come to understand that any scale has multiple names.

The tone group [scale] we have been exploring is E Harmonic minor. The tones are E, F#, G, A, B, C, and D#. Let's compare these tones of the E Major scale.

E Major

e major on a line on guitar string

E Harmonic minor

e harmonic minor on a line on guitar string

The Major scale provides a point of comparison for other scale types. The Major scale formula is R 2 3 4 5 6 7 [all 'normal']. When we compare the Harmonic to the Major scale, we see that the 3 and 6 in the Harmonic minor have been lowered one half step [one fret]. These can be called the ♭3 [flat 3rd] and ♭6 [flat 6].

So, this would be the Harmonic minor scale's short formula: ♭3, ♭6. It's complete formula: R 2 ♭3 4 5 ♭6 7. We can shorten the formula to just the tones that are different from the Major.

Since this scale is named Harmonic minor, we could assume that this is a minor scale that is built to create harmony. This is true. The D♯ in the scale makes the V chord Major (D♯ is the 3rd of B). This is important for making the E tone feel final in our ears.

We can describe this scale's origin by comparing it to other known things. An example: Harmonic minor is the Natural minor scale with a raised 7th degree. Since the Natural minor has a lowered 7 from its corresponding Major, the five-type chord will be minor, rather than Major. To get it to be Major, we 'raise' the 7th degree from what it is in Natural minor; this, again, makes the five-type chord Major. So, the Natural minor alone won't make the E sound final, so 'raising the 7' achieves this.

The basic rule is that the number of tones in a scale is the minimum number of names that it can have. So, each tone of the scale can be a 'starting point.' Therefore, this scale of 7 tones is really 7 scales.

Other Names/Types

When we start from the tone = the scale name/type is...

  • E = Harmonic minor
  • F♯ = Locrian 13
  • G = Ionian #5
  • A = Dorian #4
  • B = Phrygian Dominant. Also called Spanish Gypsy.
  • C = Lydian #2
  • D♯ = Phrygian Diminished

Chords from the Tone Set

Tones in a group can be combined to create chords. Chords are built EON [every other note]. Three tone chords are called triads.

Get the following triads in your hands

e minor, f sharp diminished, g augmented, and a minor on chord grids
b major, c, and d sharp diminished on chord grids

+ = Augmented. o = diminished. Empty strings are not played or muted.

two fingerings of b seven and one of d sharp diminished seven on chord grids

B7 is another chord that comes from this group, when we extend the triad to a 4-tone chord. All of the chords in the tone set can be extended to 7 type chords [and beyond]. For this exercise, we are focused on the triads, but have included the B7 and D♯o7. Both of these chords serve the same function space [Dominant].

Play the Chord Scale in 3 or 4 beat Groupings

e harmonic chord scale in rhythm notation
/ = 1 beat
This is written in 4 beats each. Try 3 and 2 beats as well.
1 beat each is a good challenge.

Try including the B7 and D♯o7 in place of the triads.


detail bullet from big practice wheel

To wrap up our session, we do some improvising with the scale. Experiment with the tones within each octave. When we improvise, we can also punch chords or mini chords [such as doublestops or triplestops] and play arpeggios.


Here is a picture of e harmonic minor for the entire fretboard. We focused on Octave 53 in our training, so maybe start at that part of the board.

fretboard map of e harmonic minor

Experimenting with Chords

We can also improvise with chords. This is the foundation process for writing songs. You may want to start with playing the chord scale again. Make sure you have the fingerings completely in your hands.

e harmonic minor chord wheel

Then, start the reordering process. Go every other or in any order that comes to you. On the wheel, we've connected every chord to Em, but make all of the other connections as well.

Example Progression

e minor, c major, a minor, b major chord progression in slash marks

The B can be B7 as well. And, any chord can be a 7th, or modified in any way that sounds good to you.

Let me know if you have any questions about breaking down a topic into exercises. The essential contours are above, for a single topic expansion.

Learning to expand topics into workable musical exercises is a vital skill for teachers. And, since all of us teach ourselves, this applies equally to each of us. Do good work!