Playing over minor II V I's:

It's always made the most sense to me to think of the harmonic minor scale as the "basic" scale for a minor progression like the minor II-V-I, similar to the major scale being used for a major II-V-I.

The harmonized A harmonic minor scale would contain the following seventh chords:

  • I Am/maj7
  • II Bm7b5
  • III Cmaj7#5
  • IV Dmin7
  • V E7
  • VI Fmaj7
  • VII G#dim7

So, for a typical II V I progression in A minor (Bm7b5 - E7 - Am) you could use A harmonic minor for all three chords to get the basic flavor of the A minor tonality. Though in common practice the minor I chord is often played as a minor 7, not a minor triad or a min/maj7, if you don't emphasize the natural 7th (G#) over the Am7 chord it'll sound pretty good; the G# is a half step leading tone into A, and kind of naturally "wants" to resolve there.

Then again, in actual practice, most jazz players will stick different substitute scales over the different chords. Examples would include the A natural minor, dorian, or melodic minor over the Am7, B locrian natural 2 (6th mode of D melodic minor) over the Bm7b5, and E altered (seventh mode of F melodic minor) or E half whole diminished over the E7 chord.


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