Fun With Six-Tone Minor Scales!

When October finally rolls around, I usually make a bunch of jams and loose compositions with minor modes and scales. This year I’m going to go into a little more in depth about why this is so cool, and why removing notes or scale resources actually gives you more freedom to improvise and compose intelligent melodies around a simple, repeating chord progression.

In this case our chord progression is mostly Em – D – Em – D — except the end which usually goes Em-Bm – Em (or Em-B5 – Em, which just means that you have no 3rd in your Bm chord: just a Root and 5th – for instance when you do a barre chord on the 5th fret). So the chord pattern is very hypnotic and easy to remember if you play it over a few times. To create more interest and “directionality” I usually move these chords with a descending bass line:

|Em|D|Em/B |D/A |Em/G |D/F# |Em-B5 |Em |

or:|Em|D|Em/B |D/A |Em/G |D/F# |Em-Bm/D |Em |

If you’re not familiar with these “slash chords” — it is a great system of showing a chord progression AND a bass line at the same time. Its not hard to understand this system if you can get a few things solidly implanted in your brain:

  1. If you see a chord with no slash, like the first two measures: these chords are in “root position” as the bass note is the root or name of the chord.
  2. If you see a chord with a slash and a note after the slash, like Em/B: this means “play an E minor chord with B in the bass”

So to read the descending bass line then, you would just say to yourself: “E down to D down to B, down to A, then G down to F#, and E up to B (1st fret middle string) — and finishing on low E” — or in fret numbers mostly on the bass string:


This one uses the second progression with the Bm/D instead of the B5 chord.

If you have a keyboard instrument like a piano, organ, or synth, why not try this out and see if you can come up with some ideas. (NOTE: I have no piano chops at all….I barely got through keyboard harmony class before I entered Ohio State as a music major. But keyboard work always gives me another window into what might happen on the dulcimer or the guitar, and besides, if you have a piano handy, your left hand can play such nice low bass notes!!!)

In 2017, I did some lessons at Patreon on this stuff, and for the November lessons I will soon add some new melodic ideas, and even some basic two-part counterpoint for the Intermediate level.

Here are the pdf files from 2017:

Thanks for reading and trying stuff!

New Single Coming Soon!


This is a brand-new version of an original tune from about 1993. It is in the spirit of an Irish slow air, and it has strong modal flavoring throughout. The original recording was just solo acoustic mountain dulcimer….fingerpicking style and just some open string drone in spots. This new recording uses a few tracks of  electric dulcimer, along with some ambient wash in the background. I have also added more chords: making it a bit less of a dronal texture.

Here is the link for doing a pre-save on the major streaming platforms:

Nine Bridges Lamentation