Minor 251 Progression

Minor 251 Progression Jazz Piano

After you have learnt the major 251 progression in all 12 keys it’s time to learn the minor 251 progression. Minor harmony is much more complex than major harmony and it takes more time and patience to master.

You will encounter a problem when you try to build the 2, 5 and 1 chords out of the natural minor scale. This is because the 5 chord in the natural minor scale is minor in quality and this creates a very weak sense of resolution from the 5 chord to the 1 chord in the progression. This is where the Harmonic Minor Scale comes into play.

If this sounds new to you,  you should make sure you are familiar with the different types of minor scales and their uses and application in jazz piano.

Free Downloadable Lesson Supplement 

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Minor Harmony in Jazz

Minor harmony is much more complex than major harmony and it takes more time and patience to master. Before watching this lesson I’d recommend checking out the following 3 lessons:

–  3 Minor Scales
–  Rootless Voicings
–  Extended Chords

The information in these lesson will be useful when learning this new theory.

Building a Minor 251 Progression

You will encounter a problem when you try to build the 2, 5 and 1 chords out of the natural minor scale. This is because the 5 chord in the natural minor scale is minor in quality and this creates a very weak sense of resolution from the 5 chord to the 1 chord in the progression. We learnt in the lesson on the Major 251 Progression that the 5 chord must be dominant – this is where the Harmonic Minor Scale comes into play.

The Harmonic Minor Scale

The harmonic minor scale is used to create more interesting harmonies in minor keys. To construct the harmonic minor scale, we take the natural minor scale and we raise the 7th note by half a step. So in the key of C we take the Bb and we raise it to B. The harmonic minor scale has a middle-eastern quality at the top of the scale which gives it a very distinctive sound.

To build a minor 251 progression, the 5 chord comes from the harmonic minor scale of the key you are in. The 5 chord from the harmonic minor scale is always dominant in quality which creates a very strong sense of resolution to the 1 chord in the 251 progression.

*RULE* The 5 chord in a minor 251 progression always comes from the harmonic minor scale

What Changes in the Harmonic Minor Scale?

Now that we have raised the 7th note of the scale, we now have 4 different chords in the scale. We have already talked about the 5 chord so now let’s look at the other 3.

The 1 chord was a minor 7th chord in the natural minor scale, now that the minor 7th has been raised this creates a minor-major chord. You may not have come across minor major chords but as the name suggests they are a cross between minor and major chords and contain a minor 3rd and a major 7th.

The next chord that changes is the chord built of the 3rd degree. We did have an Eb major 7th chord in the natural minor scale, but now the 5th has been raised which creates an Eb augmented chord. An augment 7th chord is the same as a major 7th but the 5th has been raised by half a step.

Finally, the last chord that changes is the chord built off the 7th degree of the scale. In the natural minor scale this was a Bb7 chord but now that the 7th note of the scale has been raised we now have a B diminished chord.

Diminished chords create a greater sense of resolution from 7 to 1 in minor keys.

The 2 Chord – The Minor 7 b5 Chord

The 2 chord in a minor 251 progression is always a minor 7 b5 chord. Minor 7 flat 5 chords are also known as half diminished chords and both terms refer to the same thing. This chord is built of the 2nd degree of the harmonic minor scale which makes it the 2 chord in a minor 251 progression.

The 5 Chord – The Altered Dominant Chord

This is where things get a little bit more complicated. The 5 chord in a minor 251 progression is always an altered dominant chord. An altered dominant chord is a dominant chord where the upper extensions of the chord have been raised or lowered by half a step.

These alterations create extra dissonance and tension on the 5 chord and create a greater sense of resolution to the 1 chord in the progression.

The 1 Chord – You Have 3 Options Here

Finally, we have the 1 chord. You have three options here.

The first is a normal minor 7th chord – the Bb isn’t actually in the key of C harmonic minor but you can still play that chord and it will still sound good.

The second option in a minor major chord – this is the diatonic 7th chord built of the 1st degree of C harmonic minor.

The third option is a minor 6th chord – here we have the root, 3rd, 5th and 6th – again, the A natural isn’t in the key of C Harmonic minor but you can use this chord.

Any Questions? Leave A Comment Below….

  • Natasha

    Hi Hayden, I found this lesson very useful. Are the chords that come from a harmonic minor scale played as modal scales — like the Ionian, Dorian, etc from a major scale ? I did try to play them as scales and they sounded quite exotic ! Cheers.

    • Hayden

      Hey Natasha, thanks for letting me know and I’m glad you found the lesson interesting 🙂

      Minor and major 251s are very important so try to get them under your fingers in all 12 keys. Perhaps focus on 3 or 4 keys at once, practice for a couple of weeks and then move onto the next 4 keys. This is better than trying to practice all 12 in one sitting.

      To answer your question… Yes. In the same way that we derive modes from the Major Scale and the Melodic Minor Scale, we can derive 7 modes from the Harmonic Minor Scale. As you say, this mode has some very exotic sounds!

      I would recommend first learning the major scale modes, and then melodic minor modes, these are by far the most useful and practical.

      In the future we will certainly explore the modes of the Harmonic Minor and the application to jazz piano.

      Hope this helps 🙂
      Hayden

  • Patrick J. Nugent

    I confess to being too cheap to pay for the lessons. But I’ve played classical piano for 45 years and for thirty-five years I have been banging my head against the wall trying to figure out jazz. I was able to get some basic concepts but the rest has been like black magic. I’ve gotten many books, but all those wacky chords were like learning a new language by memorizing piles of vocabulary without knowing the meanings of the words or having any grammar to string them together. Your video on chord extensions changed my life — a light bulb suddenly went off, or I suddenly got a key that unlocked all the magic. I watched a couple of your other videos, and then had another revelatory experience with the major 2-5-1 video. I’ve been able to make sense now out of what the books were trying to teach me, and in four months I’ve made more progress than in the previous 35 years. I’ve watched many of your other videos (including the minor 2-5-1) and am immensely grateful. I’ve referred some gifted secondary school pianists to your site as well and they are very excited. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Patrick Nugent
    Executive Director
    The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra
    Annapolis, Maryland, USA

    • Hayden

      Hey Patrick, I’m really happy to hear about your progress 🙂

      251s are the DNA of jazz and so spend time to learn these important progressions in all 12 keys. These progressions occur in pretty much every jazz standard you will come across and so spending the time to learn them properly will help you down the line.

      Also remember to download the lesson supplements to help you learn and memorise these important progressions – but don’t become reliant on the notation! You need to be able to ‘see’ the chord tones, extensions and alterations on the keyboard.

      And thanks for the recommendations to your students… much appreciated.

      If I can help you with anything you are working on, just let me know.

      Cheers,
      Hayden