As most guitar players aren’t familiar with the melodic minor scale, this lesson concentrates on the basics – establishing the various patterns for this scale over a backing track that stays in one key. This time we get jazzy with the melodic minor scale. It’s the first lesson of series of guitar modes lessons. The fact that music is awash with minor scales comes as quite a shock to the average student. But, simply put, the melodic minor scale can be thought of as being exactly the same as a major scale – but with a minor third:
Traditionally (in classical music) the melodic minor scale used to be played in this form when ascending only and then as natural minor (Aeolian) on the way back.
However, in today’s music the scale is played in its ‘ascending’ form whichever direction you are moving – especially in jazz. Consequently it is often referred to as the ‘jazz minor’ scale.
The guitar modes lessons:
Even though it can be used over specific chords like m/maj7, m/maj9 etc, melodic minor is most commonly used in conjunction with Dorian over m7 chords. As a result, although melodic minor can be referred to as a major scale with a minor third, I think it’s more appropriate to think of it as Dorian with a major 7th.
You may be wondering how it is that you can use the melodic minor scale (which has a major 7th interval, B) over a m7 chord (which has a flat 7th interval, Bb). Well, to understand this you need to get to grips with how secondary dominant or ‘V’ chords work.
The perfect ‘turnaround’ chord is a dominant chord played from the fifth degree of any destination chord – this is known as a V chord.
Example: |G7 ///|Cm7 /// ||
Here, the G7 chord is the ‘V’ of Cm7 as its root note is based on the fifth note of the following Cm7 chord. The G7 sounds tense and pulls towards the more resolved sounding Cm7 chord – try it!
When soloing over a Cm7 chord, we can create a useful ‘tension and release’ effect by using the B note in C melodic minor to suggest the G7 chord. This is because B is the only note in the G7 chord that isn’t in C Dorian (Cm7 and C Dorian have both got a Bb). However, because C melodic minor
creates tension by suggesting G7 over a Cm7 chord, it has to be used with care. You keep hammering away on C melodic minor over a Cm7 chord producing tension, tension and more tension; you have to produce relief as well. This is why I referred to melodic minor as a scale to be used in conjunction with Dorian over m7 chords and definitely not as a substitute.
In the past, we’ve seen how various distinct flavours can be extracted from any scale by being selective with our note choice. When studying any new scale, get into the routine of applying the following interval formulae in order to extract the various flavours from within the scale:
Doing this from a C root in melodic minor will yield the following:
Try all of the above. It’s important that any of these devices which appeal to you get reduced to a series of useable shapes that exist in or around each scale pattern. As an example, I’ve included Cm6 pentatonic in the box diagrams just so that you can see how it should look within each of the five scale patterns of melodic minor. Where possible, you should keep each device within the confines of each particular scale fingering and, in general, all pentatonics (unless impractical) should be played two notes per string.
Don’t be put off by all the numbers on these pages. It may seem coldly mathematical, but this sort of research and development is vital if you are really going to get to grips with a scale. This information is always going to seem sterile if it stays on the page. Get it onto the guitar and start making music with it, then it’ll make sense.
On the audio track, you’ll hear improvising with C melodic minor scale over the following chord progression.
(Bossa Nova 120 BPM)
||:EbaugC | Am7b5 Ebaug/A | F7(#11)/D Cm(maj7)/D | G9 Gaug : ||
I can do this because all of the notes within each of these chords can be found within C melodic minor (in other words, diatonic). Which makes for an easier life, if you see what I mean!
To expand these ideas further, you need to know about the other modes of the melodic minor (yes, it has got seven modes – just like the major). Not all the modes are important scales in their own right, but you will have to know about them all. (You’ll see why soon!). So next time we look at the second mode of melodic minor, which is known as the Dorian b2.
Melodic minor neck diagram
C Minor chord shapes
C minor 6 pentatonic shapes
It’s a full lesson of Melodic Minor Scale.
Below you can download a copy of
Melodic Minor Scale lesson for free with backing track
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