The Lydian Minor Family: Neetimati, Dharmavati and Simhendramadhyamam

Dharmavati and Neetimati have come up a couple of times in my practice so I thought it was time to look more closely at them. I'm especially interested in learning to hear the differences between them as both can be thought of as "Lydian minor" sounds that seem initially very similar. When I dug into it a bit more deeply, I found a third member of the same family, and then of course a bunch more.

The Starting Hexatonic

We start with the hexatonic scale formed by superimposing two minor triads a semitone apart. We'll take the "root" to be C, so start with Cm, which is C-Eb-G, and add a minor triad a semitone below, B-D-F#. The combined notes are C-D-Eb-F#-G-B. I think of this as the heart of the Lydian Minor sound since it's spelled 1-2-b3-#4-5-7.

I think the first thing to do is just get used to the sound of this scale, since all the others in this post are derived from it by adding an extra note. You can think of it as Hungarian Minor Pentatonic, affectionately known around here as MiP, with an added major second (ie. MiP is 1-b3-#4-5-7). That turned out to be a rich and interesting little collection of notes and I made a series of posts about it and its relatives. MiP can be thought of as a pairing of C minor and B major triads; in that case the thirds of the two triads coincide, giving us only five notes.

Note that the upper Cm triad will always have a "minor-major" quality due to the natural 7, although we won't always think of it this way. I'm not very consistent about how I write chord symbols in HTML but here I'll use CmM7 to mean C minor with a major 7, i.e. C-Eb-G-B. And of course the lower Bm will always have a major third above the minor third because the Eb of C is the same as the D# of B, which is what happens in MiP.

Another nice feature of this scale is the major 7 chord at the fifth -- in this case GM7. Emphasizing this can provide a welcome change if you find the minor triads create a bit too much dissonance, or you end up playing too many cheesy "exotic" lines. The GM7 with the 11 (C) and b13 (Eb) creates a strongly Harmonic Major feeling, which is very distinctive. I'll have more to say about the Harmonic Major connection later.

Adding A Sixth

A question that arises here is which sixth to add to create a heptatonic scale. We have three choices. Adding the b6 gives us Simhendramadhyamam, adding the 6 gives us Dharmavati and the #6 gives us Neetimati.

We can see Dharmavati as coming from adding the b7 to the lower minor triad, e.g. adding A to the Bm to create Bm7. So play Cm (or CmM7) with Bm7. Similarly, Neetimati comes from adding the major 7 to the lower triad, so it becomes B-D-F#-A#. But this A# is a Bb, which is the minor 7 of the upper triad. Finally, adding the major 6 to the lower triad, making B-D-F#-G#, produces Simhendramadhyamam.

So one way to think of it is like this, although you can always think of the C as just a plain minor triad instead:

  • Dharmavati is CmM7 + Bm7
  • Neetimati is Cm7 + BmM7
  • Simhendramadhyamam is CmM7 + Bm6

In a sense it might be easier to hear the differences if we consider the B to be the root, since then we have three different root chord qualities, all with the same triad suspended over them. The reason not to do this right away is that this produces very exotic scales. We can explore this briefly by continuing with a flavour of Cm as the root and superimposing a Dbm triad on it producing modes of the original scales:

  • Cm7 + Dbm is Phrygian b4 (1-b2-b3-b4-5-b6-b7)
  • CmM7 + Dbm is Dhenuka b4 (1-b2-b3-b4-5-b6-7)
  • Cm6 + Dbm is Senavati b4 (1-b2-b3-b4-5-b6-bb7)

The b4 note on a minor chord is something I've been interested in for a long time: it's essentially the "ultimate avoid note" in most Western music but it can be very interesting and attractive. We'll file these away for a later discussion, but note that a scale contains the sounds of all of its modes so this minor-major ambiguity will still be present in the music we make with Dharmavati, Neetimati and Simhendramadhyamam.

Whenever we have a family of sounds like this, I find the hardest thing is learning to hear the differences between them, so let's focus on each of the three members in turn.


Dharmavati is CmM7 + Bm7, i.e. 1-2-b3-#4-5-6-7. Here's a song that uses Dharmavati and even has a pun on its name in the lyrics:

Dharmavati is a mode of Harmonic Major, whose root is at the 5 of Dharmavati, so that GM7 we mentioned earlier gets the full Harmonic Major treatment. This is a great place to start with these scales as Harmonic Major is becoming somewhat familiar in a jazz context. If you're a Rick Beato fan you can find a bunch of long videos on his channel about it. Harmonic Major is the same as Sarasangi, and is one of those scales that sometimes gets called "Hungarian Minor".

There's also a lovely mode at the major 6, Dorian b5, which can be suggested by throwing Am7b5 into the mix; combine this arpeggio with either the Bm7 or GM7 and you're covering all the notes of the scale.

Another good mode is Chakravakam, which you can think of (in C) as D7 plus Eb+. This again covers the whole scale (the root, C, has become the b7 of D7). The D7 is the home chord of Chakravakam. Finally, there's a set of fully diminished chords at the root, b3, #4 and 6.

Dharmavati matches the scale used for raga madhuvanti in North India. Here's the mighty Hariprasad Chaurasia performing it:


Let's now move over to Neetimati, which is Cm7 + BmM7 = C D Eb F# G A# B. Again, here's a short Carnatic composition using the scale to set the mood:

Neetimati has only one mode that has a standard name: Gangeyabhushani, which is another maj7 sound built on the fifth (so the same "function" as Harmonic Minor in Dharmavati). But Neetimati has two things that Dharmavati doesn't, to make up for the relative obscurity of its modes. The first is the two augmented triads at the 2 and b3, which link it to the world of the Augmented hexatonic. The second is the fact that the m7 on top can also be played as a min-maj, which makes this a sort of "minor Double Harmonic" scale -- a pair of min-maj arpeggios a semitone apart.

For me the connection with Augmented Hexatonic overrides a lot else in this scale, so I consider this a way to shift from the "core" sound of Dharmavati to a familiar application of the Coltrane Cycle: the sequence of arpeggios b3M7-5M7-7M7, which is a great sound on a minor chord and one I'm already very familiar with.

I wasn't able to find any Hindustani ragas that are close to Neetimati, although some contain its notes in a larger gamut. Confusingly, there seems to be a raga called Naatimati, but that uses the scale we're about to discuss instead of this one -- I may be misunderstanding my sources here so would be interested to hear form anyone who knows better.


This one is CmM7 + Bm6 -- the big gap between the 7 and b6 seems to be characteristic; at least it's what makes this sound different from its two close relatives mentioned above:

As with the other scales, here's a Carnatic composition to get us started:

This one is a mode of Rasikapriya and Double Harmonic, which gives it a pair of M7 arpeggios a semitone apart: GM7 and AbM7 with the root at C. The GM7 is shared with Dharmavati but the AbM7 isn't, so this is the really distinctive sound but the arpeggio pair is just so flavourful that I can't help thinking of it as the soul of Double Harmonic.

This scale shares one of Neetimati's augmented chords, the one at the b3. There's also a m7b5 chord, too, but not where Dharmavati's is: it's at the b6 instead (e.g. Abm7b5 in C). Although they don't cover the whole scale they do sound nice together and seem to capture some of its essence quite well.

It's my understanding that a number of Hindustani ragas use this scale but I wasn't able to find any performances online.

Closing Thoughts

We can make major versions of all these scales simply by replacing the minor triads with major ones. For example, the major version of Neetimati is Double Harmonic, which is BM7-C7. I recently wrote a post about this scale here. Here's Tom Lippincott giving some other perspectives on this scale, which has become very important in modern jazz:

As I mentioned above, this scale is a mode of Simhendramadhyamam.

Dharmavati is a mode of Harmonic Major; its major version is Lydian #9 (B7-CM7), which is just a mode of Harmonic Minor -- I could almost think of Dharmavati as a "relative minor" to harmonic Major, and Lydian #9 as a "relative major" to Harmonic Minor, except I'm starting to confuse myself with all these minors and majors...

Anyway, Lydian #9 is a very pretty scale that can be used almost anywhere you would use Lydian to inject a little extra spice. The #9 chord is a diminished seventh -- I'm no expert on Barry Harris stuff but combining B diminished with CM7 this sounds like it lives in that kind of territory. Here, for the first time ever, is Jens Larsen and me using these scales side-by-side (alright, in different videos, but whatever):

(Kidding aside, Jens is there because he explains what he's doing; I'm there because I do it for four minutes, which gives you a lot of time to hear the sound.)

Finally, the major version of Simhendramadhyamam is CM7 + B6, C-D#-E-F#-G-Ab-B, which is Dhatuvardani, a mode of Gayakapriya. Here is a very delicate performance of a melody in Dhatuvardani on violin:

The scale starts off with a jazz/blues diminished sound (1-#9-3-b5-5) but rounds off with that typical Harmonic Major sequence 5-b6-7-1; in a tonal harmonic context this creates a very odd effect of being both an altered dominant and a tonic major at the same time.

Dhatuvardani is also a sort of mother-scale to the Hungarian pentatonics; that's nice, since we started with MiP, and makes me wonder whether I should think of all this as "extended Hungarian pentatonic language". There's also a secret connection between Gayakapriya and Neetimati that could be exploited if you wanted to build a lot of vocabulary from this system of scales.