Melodic Minor Scale

This is the third post on the minor scales in the series on “guitar scales”, and this time we’ll be looking at something called the “Melodic Minor”. So far we’ve done: the Natural Minor scale, and why there isn’t just one “minor scale”; the Harmonic Minor, and what happens when we try to create chords from the minor scale; now we’re going to have a look at the other minor scale: the Melodic Minor.

Last week, we created a new scale (A harmonic minor) from an old one (A natural minor). Just to re-cap what the main features were of this new scale:

  • It can be used harmonically (i.e. using the V7 chord in a minor key), or melodically (just like Yngwie..)
  • It can have a very “neoclassical rock/metal” sound
  • It can be used to create eastern/Arabian sound (esp. the 5th mode…)
  • There is an augmented 2nd (three frets) gap between the 6th and 7th notes- which creates some interesting sounds

See the last one there? Well some people thought this “gap” in the scale didn’t sound interesting at all- in fact, they found it awkward! It’s not particularly useful for really melodic stuff…so what did they do? They wanted to keep the 5th chord major, but needed to close the gap. The answer? Sharpen the 6th note too! Now there isn’t a huge gap between the 6th and 7th notes, and we have this scale (in A):

A B C D E F# G#

Here it is on the fretboard:

e -------------------------------------------------7--8--10--
B ---------------------------------------7--9--10------------
G -----------------------------5--7--9-----------------------
D -----------------4--6--7-----------------------------------
A -----------5--7--------------------------------------------
E --5--7--8--------------------------------------------------

…compare it to the A natural minor scale, which is:


Also, compare this to the A Major Scale:

A B C# D E F# G#

Half and Half

You see, although we’ve developed this scale from the natural minor scale, it actually has slightly more in common with the major scale (the only difference is that C#- the major third). This means that the Melodic Minor scale can sound bright and “jazzy” over a minor progression!

As you may have guessed: this scale sounds more “melodic” than the Harmonic Minor, but more interesting than the bog standard Natural Minor. It’s because of this that it’s used quite often in Jazz improvisation and solos.

Using the Melodic Minor

The Melodic Minor scale can be used over a minor song or progression to create more interesting melodies. In classical music, melodies are written using the Melodic Minor when going up the scale, and the Natural Minor when coming down, but in Jazz and Modern music it’s just treated as the one scale like any others.

Main features of this scale include:

  • Can be used over a minor progression to “brighten” it up
  • Is more melodic sounding than the harmonic minor
  • Together with the harmonic and natural minors, it creates the minor key
    • What do I mean by that last one? Well, if you create a chord progression using the chords from the Natural Minor, change the 5th chord to a major one (Harmonic Minor), and then put a melody over it using the Natural Minor and Melodic Minor- you’ve just written a song in a minor key!

      Hopefully now you can see why it’s a bit more complicated than just going: “this is THE minor scale, use it for songs in minor keys” (just like you can do with the Major Scale).

      Harmonising the Melodic Minor

      The melodic minor can be used over most of the same chord progressions as the natural minor scale, but because of the slight difference in notes, it also has a set of chords all it’s own. Here they are from the A melodic minor scale:

      Am, Bm, Caug, D, E, F#dim, G#dim

      Mostly, though, you’ll be using this over a jazzy, minor “iiø- V7 – i” progression.

      Melodic Minor Licks

      Licks for this scale tend to sound pretty jazzy. You can give the impression of this scale by adding the major 6th to a minor pentatonic (which also implies the dorian mode…).

      e -----------------------------------5--8--
      B ---------------------------5-(6)-8-------
      G ----------------------5--7---------------
      D -----------------5--7--------------------
      A --------5--7-(8)-------------------------
      E --5--8-----------------------------------

      …or here’s an example of a Jazz lick in A minor:

      e ---------------------------------------
      B ---------------------------------------
      G -----------------------------5-----7/9-
      D --------------------6--9--7-----7------
      A -----------5--9--7---------------------
      E --5--8--7------------------------------

      This scale is also called the “Jazz minor” scale, because it’s used so much in Jazz music.

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