Melodic minor scale is really similar to the harmonic minor scale.
We already studied the harmonic minor scale and we saw that it has a “long” distance between 6 and 7 degrees (one and a half tone). With a goal of reducing this distance, it was added an intermediate note to approximate the sixth degree from the seventh. This would make the sound of harmonic scale more melodic, creating the Melodic Minor Scale. For this, the sixth degree that before was minor in the harmonic scale became major in the melodic scale.
Difference between melodic scale and harmonic minor scale
For you to see the difference, we will show the harmonic minor scale of A and Melodic minor of A, one below the other. Compare them:
- Notes of Am Harmonic: A, B, C, D, E, F, G#
- Notes of Am Melodic: A, B, C, D, E, F#, G#
Notice as the difference is in the sixth degree (in this case, F).
Drawing of the Am melodic
The 6th and 7th degrees are highlighted:
Try to play this scale repeatedly to feel the created melody. The “flavor” of the melodic minor scale differs a little bit to the “flavor” of the harmonic minor and is quite hard to analyze it, because it has two changes in relation to the natural minor scale (6th and 7th degrees), while the harmonic minor scale has just one change (7th degree).
Before going on, it is worth to mention that there are two melodic scales: real melodic and classic melodic. Real melodic is that one we already showed. The classic melodic is a scale that increases as the melodic minor scale and decreases as the natural minor scale. In other words, it has a shape when goes up and different one when goes down. See below:
Drawing of the classic melodic minor scale
This scale is used by musicians that don’t like the “flavor” of the minor melodic when it goes down and prefer using it only when it goes up. The name “classic” comes from the origin of its creator (Sebastian Bach), great baroque composer. A lot of people prefer to call the classic scale of “Bachian Scale”. Here in the Simplifying Theory, however, in all the times that we mention melodic minor scale, we are talking about real melodic minor (goes up and down the same way).
Chords of the Melodic Minor Scale
The harmonic field created by melodic minor scale of A is the following one:
In a generic way, the chords of the melodic minor scale are created by:
Im7M – IIm7 – bIII7M(#5) – IV7 – V7 – VIm7(b5) – VIIm7(b5)
Very well, in the same way that we talked about the application of the harmonic minor scale, the melodic minor scale needs to be studied besides the context of harmonic field, because not many songs have the melodic minor tonality. It is time to lose our “addiction” of thinking only in “harmonic field”. Let’s be free. This scale is extremely used by musicians of various styles, especially guitar players of Jazz. And it’s not by accident, because the melodic minor scale is a great option to have an alternative sonority, which mixes tonal feelings with atonal ones. Learn how to follow the contexts in which you will use this scale in practice!
How to use the melodic minor scale
The context that the melodic minor scale uses to appear more is in a dominant chord. How is this? It is simple! When a dominant chord appears in some song, you can use the melodic minor scale in that exact moment.
But which melodic minor scale? Which tone?
We will show this with an example. If in some moment of the song was played the chord G7 (dominant that solves in C), we could play in this G7 the melodic minor scale of D. In other words, you play melodic minor scale of the fifth degree of the dominant chord. Another way of thinking in it is playing the melodic minor scale that is one tone above of the chord that will be solved. In this case, G7 is the dominant of C (it is solved in C). Therefore, we would play the melodic minor one tone above C, which is D.
The justification that makes this application possible is quite complex and will be studied in advanced topics. For now content yourself with the fact that the dominant is unstable and tense chord, which opens space to many “bold” melodic resources.
This application we taught. Does it work always? Yes, since that is a non-altered dominant chord. Just to remember, non-altered dominant chord is that one which has only fundamental notes (tetrad). And the altered dominant has some accident (for example, the augmented fifth).
In our example, G7 is a non-altered dominant. If it was an altered dominant, G7(#5), the melodic minor scale that we would use would be G#. In other words, to altered dominant chords, you can use the melodic minor scale that is one semitone above the dominant chord in question.
Due to this purpose, this scale became known as altered scale, because it has many accidents in relation to the tonic. We will talk about altered scale in another topic, but is important that you know that altered scale of a certain tone is the melodic minor scale played one semitone above it. For example, the altered scale of G is the melodic minor scale of G#.
Summarizing how to use the melodic minor scale
Summarizing everything, we can use the melodic minor scale:
– One fifth above the non-altered dominant
– One semitone above the altered dominant
Observation: In the case of the non-altered dominant, if the resolution chord is minor, it is more desirable to play the melodic minor scale a fourth above instead of a fifth above. For example, if the chord G7 solves in Cm, the C melodic minor scale would be more advisable than the D melodic minor scale. There is nothing to stop you from playing the D melodic minor scale in this case (the dominant chord enables many different choices, even “bold” ones) however, the C minor melodic scale would be advised simply because the chord G7 belongs to the C melodic minor’s harmonic field.
We will show now this application with two examples: one for each kind of dominant. Download the files from Guitar Pro below and start to practice and stimulate your ideas! Invest time in this study, take songs, identify the dominants and abuse of melodic minor scales in them. This way you will develop a rich vocabulary and cause a new feeling in your improvisation.
About non-altered dominant: minormelodic1.gpro
About altered dominant: minormelodic2.gpro
Download the Backing track: Train of melodic minor scale.gpro
In this base, the tonality is G minor. You can apply the melodic minor scale of A when the chord D7 is played.
To finish, we will show a part of the song “Yesterday” from The Beatles. In this song, the initial melody makes a passage by the melodic minor scale. Observe it:
F Em A7 Dm Dm/C
Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away
We highlighted the word “troubles” because is in it that the passage happens. So, take as exercise to listen and verify the other moments of the song where this application repeats. The tonality is F major. The chord A7 is the dominant V7 that is allowing the utilization of the melodic minor scale of D.
Go to: Altered scale
Back to: Module 8