Master The Melodic Minor Guitar Scale: A Quick Breakdown

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The melodic minor guitar scale is a musical scale that’s similar to the natural minor scale but with a raised sixth and seventh note when ascending. It’s commonly used in jazz and fusion music to add depth and complexity to a musical piece. 

Learning the melodic minor scale has its benefits, such as expanding your improvisation & soloing skills, understanding of music theory, and adding new textures to your playing.

What makes the melodic minor scale unique is the tension and resolution created by the raised sixth and seventh notes. Additionally, it is often used to play over minor seventh chords as the raised seventh note creates a leading tone that resolves nicely to the root note of the chord. 

Overall, the melodic minor scale is an essential tool for those looking to expand their musical vocabulary & expressiveness. In this article we’ll go over some of the basics including related chords, and other scales to look into.

melodic minor guitar scale, jazz dorian darya-sannikova-3073891

Melodic Minor Basics

Scale Degrees

The melodic minor scale is made up of seven degrees or notes, just like any other musical scale. The interval formula for the melodic minor scale is W-H-W-W-W-W-H, where “W” stands for a whole step (two frets) and “H” stands for a half step (one fret). 

Interval Formula

The degrees of the melodic minor scale, along with their corresponding intervals from the root note, are as follows:

1st degree: root note

2nd degree: whole step up from the root note

3rd degree: minor third interval up from the root note

4th degree: perfect fourth interval up from the root note

5th degree: perfect fifth interval up from the root note

6th degree: augmented sixth interval up from the root note

7th degree: major seventh interval up from the root note

An example of the melodic minor scale in the key of A:

A – B – C – D – E – F# – G# – A

The raised sixth and seventh degrees in the melodic minor scale (F# and G# in this example) give the scale a unique sound compared to the natural minor scale.

When descending the melodic minor scale, the scale is played like the natural minor scale, so the intervals are different from when ascending.

Dorian Mode vs Melodic Scale

Dorian mode and melodic minor scale share some similarities when it comes to their use in jazz music. Both are minor modes that can add different colors & emotions to a musical piece.

The main difference between the two is that the Dorian mode has a flat seventh, while the melodic minor scale has a natural seventh when descending and a raised seventh when ascending. This means that the Dorian mode has a more stable and resolved sound, while the melodic minor scale has a more tension-filled sound, making it more suitable for resolving to a major chord.

In jazz music, the Dorian mode is often used over minor seventh chords and is commonly used in modal jazz, while the melodic minor scale is often used to add tension and color to a dominant seventh chord, as well as for improvisation & soloing over complex chord progressions. Both modes are important tools for jazz musicians to consider.

Minor vs Major

The difference between minor and major scales in terms of sound is that minor scales tend to sound sad, moody, or introspective, while major scales sound happy, bright, or uplifting. 

Additionally, minor scales often use harmonic or melodic variations to create a more complex sound. For example, the harmonic minor scale which creates a more pronounced sense of tension & resolution when resolving to the root note. The melodic minor scale creates a brighter sound when ascending and is played like the natural minor scale when descending, which creates a more melancholic sound.

Melodic Minor Scale Examples

2 Octaves

2 octaves melodic minor scale

Full Fretboard

melodic minor entire guitar fretboard

Melodic Minor Chord Examples

To determine the chords in the key of A melodic minor (for example), we can build triads (three-note chords) on each degree of the scale.

Here are a few of the most common chords in the key of A melodic minor:

Related: How to read chord charts

A minor with a major 7th (A-C-E-G#)

Am (Maj7), A minor with a major 7th (A-C-E-G#)

 B minor 7th flat 5th (B-D-F-A)

Bm7b5,  B minor 7th flat 5th (B-D-F-A)

C augmented triad (C-E-G#)

C aug, C augmented triad (C-E-G#)

Related: Everything you need to know about Augmented Chords

3 Types of Minor Scales

Harmonic Minor

The harmonic minor scale is a minor scale that is characterized by its raised seventh note, which creates a strong pull towards the tonic note.

This leading tone is what distinguishes the harmonic minor scale from the natural minor scale, and gives it a unique sound that is often associated with Middle Eastern, Spanish, and classical music.

You can learn more about the harmonic minor scale here.

Natural Minor

The natural minor scale is typically just referred to as “the minor scale” & is characterized by its distinct sound that can be described as sad or melancholy.

The natural minor scale differs from the major scale in that it has a flattened third, sixth, and seventh note, which creates a minor third interval between the root note and third note. This minor third interval is what gives the natural minor scale its unique sound.

You can learn more about the natural minor scale here.

Melodic Minor

The melodic minor scale is a minor scale that is similar to the natural minor scale, but with a raised sixth and seventh note when ascending, while descending it is played like the natural minor scale.

This unique feature of the melodic minor scale creates a tension and resolution that distinguishes it from other minor scales, and gives it a distinct sound that is often used in jazz, fusion, and other genres.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you identify a melodic minor?

To identify a melodic minor scale, you need to listen to the scale’s specific pattern of whole and half steps. The melodic minor scale is similar to the natural minor scale, but with a raised sixth and seventh note when ascending, while descending it is played like the natural minor scale.

So, if you start on the root note of a melodic minor scale and play the scale ascending, you will hear the raised sixth and seventh notes. When descending, these notes will be lowered again to their natural minor counterparts.

Alternatively, you can also look at the scale’s interval formula, which is 1, 2, ♭3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 (compared to the natural minor scale, which is 1, 2, ♭3, 4, 5, ♭6, ♭7, 8).

Is jazz minor the same as melodic minor?

The term “jazz minor” can refer to either the melodic minor or the harmonic minor scale, depending on the context. In some jazz theory texts, the term “jazz minor” is used interchangeably with the melodic minor scale, as it is a commonly used scale in jazz improvisation. However, other texts use the term “jazz minor” to specifically refer to the harmonic minor scale, which is another minor scale commonly used in jazz.

It’s worth noting that there are also other variations of the minor scale used in jazz, such as the Dorian mode and the Aeolian mode (natural minor). So, while the term “jazz minor” can refer to the melodic minor scale in some contexts, it’s important to be aware of the different variations of the minor scale used in jazz music.

Why is there a melodic minor scale?

The melodic minor scale was created as a way to address certain limitations of the natural minor scale in Western music. In the natural minor scale, the seventh degree is a whole step below the tonic, which creates a weak or unresolved sound when played over a dominant seventh chord. To address this issue, the melodic minor scale was created with a raised seventh degree when ascending, which creates a stronger sense of resolution when played over dominant seventh chords.

The melodic minor scale also provides a more diverse range of harmonic and melodic possibilities for composers and improvisers, particularly in jazz and other forms of modern music. By incorporating the raised sixth and seventh degrees in certain situations, musicians can create tension and release in their melodies and chord progressions, adding interest and complexity to their music.

Overall, the melodic minor scale was developed as a way to expand the harmonic and melodic vocabulary of Western music and to provide a more versatile and expressive tool for musicians to work with.

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