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Minor Chord Progressions; Natural or Harmonic?

Posted by Chris 
I have a question in regards to playing 'scale tone' chord progressions in minor keys. I'm familiar with the development of the harmonic minor to enable the introduction of the dominant 5th and it's what I've usually based my own minor progressions on. But I've noticed on many theory sites and some books, progressions based on the natural minor are used . So I guess what I'm asking is 'what's the convention'. Eg: if I go to jam with a piano player and he/she says 'hit me with a minor progression in A', do I play something based on natural minor or the harmonic minor. Are they considered different keys? Do I need to ask 'do you mean A natural minor or A Harmonic Minor?" And can I expect a look of perplexion if I ask such a question?

Have looked around online to try and answer this question and some sites do actually treat them as different keys eg: 'in the key of A harmonic minor' and/or 'A natural minor (essentially C major starting with Amin as the I chord) and some sites even suggest mixing between the two; eg: switching to harmonic minor when comming to the V chord so a dominant can be thrown in...
Re: Minor Chord Progressions; Natural or Harmonic?
June 12, 2012 05:16AM
Good question
There's no harmonic or natural minor key in music. There's only minor. The terms, harmonic, melodic and natural minor refer just to scales. The natural minor shows the native notes of the key while the harmonic and melodic minor scales are just a 'record' of the two very common modifications made by composers for centuries when writing minor key music.

If the pianist asks you to hit him with a minor progression in A, then it's completely your decision about which of the native chords and expected modifications you choose to play. Those modifications, such as raising the 7th to produce V7 instead of a v7, produce a strong effect, but it's a 'straight' sound that isn't very rock n' roll, and so those modifications are used far less in rock than in, say, classical music of the Common Practice Period.
Re: Minor Chord Progressions; Natural or Harmonic?
June 12, 2012 03:35PM
Chris Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I have a question in regards to playing 'scale
> tone' chord progressions in minor keys. I'm
> familiar with the development of the harmonic
> minor to enable the introduction of the dominant
> 5th and it's what I've usually based my own minor
> progressions on. But I've noticed on many theory
> sites and some books, progressions based on the
> natural minor are used . So I guess what I'm
> asking is 'what's the convention'. Eg: if I go to
> jam with a piano player and he/she says 'hit me
> with a minor progression in A', do I play
> something based on natural minor or the harmonic
> minor. Are they considered different keys? Do I
> need to ask 'do you mean A natural minor or A
> Harmonic Minor?" And can I expect a look of
> perplexion if I ask such a question?
>
> Have looked around online to try and answer this
> question and some sites do actually treat them as
> different keys eg: 'in the key of A harmonic
> minor' and/or 'A natural minor (essentially C
> major starting with Amin as the I chord) and some
> sites even suggest mixing between the two; eg:
> switching to harmonic minor when comming to the V
> chord so a dominant can be thrown in...

Fretsource is quite right, there is no "harmonic minor key". Harmonic minor is an occasional alteration of natural minor, within a minor key piece (or most conventional ones anyway).
You do get harmonic minor in rock (or at least you get major V chords in minor keys), but it's true it's not as common as in classical or jazz.

So the first thing I'd ask is - what kind of piano player is asking you that question? (I might be tempted to ask him back: " no YOU "hit me" with a minor progression in A" - just so I know what he is talking about...:-))
But in most cases I would probably do something using Am, Dm and E7 (not Em).
If it was jazz, I might use Bm7b5 instead of Dm. (And I might try and impress the guy with an altered E7, or a G#dim7 ;-))
If it was straightahead rock, it might be be Am, C, G, F, in some order or other, maybe with Dm or even D. But I wouldn't rule out E major. (Am-G-F is pretty standard)

The point about minor keys is that the 6th and 7th degrees are variable as a matter of common practice. And that's the case across the board, in rock and jazz as well as classical. (I can probably point to more rock songs that use major V chords in a minor key than those that use natural minor exclusively. And plenty that have major IV chords too.)
Re: Minor Chord Progressions; Natural or Harmonic?
June 12, 2012 03:42PM
Chris Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
So I guess what I'm
> asking is 'what's the convention'.

The "convention" Chris is based on the style.

Much modern pop music treats minor like "Aeolian" in that only chords from natural minor are used. There are of course many exceptions.


Eg: if I go to
> jam with a piano player and he/she says 'hit me
> with a minor progression in A', do I play
> something based on natural minor or the harmonic
> minor.

Since you're unlikely to "jam" like classical music, it's more likely going to be a pop style where the "Aeolianized" minor (natural minor) would be appropriate. To be safe, you could do something like Am - C - Dm - F and never hit the E chord :-). Pop minor progressions very often feature VI and VII so things like Am - F - G - Am are quite common.



Are they considered different keys?

Nope. Different "types".

Do I
> need to ask 'do you mean A natural minor or A
> Harmonic Minor?"

Maybe...


And can I expect a look of
> perplexion if I ask such a question?

Probably :-)

eg:
> switching to harmonic minor when comming to the V
> chord so a dominant can be thrown in...

This is the classical way.

Harmonic minor was not used in the past the way it has come to be used (or mis-used) in the present.

In A minor, your chords are:

Am Bo C Dm (D) (Em) E F (F#o) (G) G#o

Their thought process was that a minor KEY has two adjustable notes, the 6th and 7th scale degrees. You adjust those notes for "harmonic" or "melodic" purposes.

For example, you alter the 7th (raise it) when you want it to lead to the Tonic, mostly in chords (harmonies) with a dominant function - thus V and viio.

6th is most frequently raised to avoid a melodic augmented 2nd when moving to raised 7 (which was probably raised for a harmonic purpose). So you may see D - E, or F#o - G#o.

But when going down, the move is away from the tonic, so the natural version is used (why melodic minor is usually presented as a scale with two parts). So you see progressions like:

Am - G - F - E (note that the G has G natural, because it's a non-dominant, but the E has the G# because it is a dominant).

and even:

Am - Em/G - Dm/F - E (same idea).

But unless you're playing this style of music, or a progression reminiscent of them, these kinds of progressions are not all too common in popular music (comparatively, there are exceptions of course).

HTH
Steve
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