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The Ways of Melodic Minor

Scott AllenHi all and welcome to this exploration of the misunderstood (by metal players anyway) Melodic Minor scale. This scale is indispensible in Jazz and believe it or not is very useful in Rock and Metal too. So what is a Melodic Minor scale anyway? I’m so glad you asked! To put it simply a Melodic Minor scale is a major scale with a lowered third degree. Another way you could look at it is it is a natural minor scale with a raised sixth and seventh. Either way the scale formula is (1-2-b3-4-5-6-7-8). It is my opinion that one of the best ways to approach learning the Melodic Minor scale patterns is to think of them as major scales first, and then just lower the third. That means that any diatonic scale shapes you know will only require minimal modification and you should be up and running pretty quickly. I like this method best because it not only allows you to traverse the entire neck sooner; it shows you where the third is in each scale shape at the same time. Win-Win Baby!

This scale has many uses, but the common ones are to play it over a minor (major seventh) chord, a simple minor triad, or use it over a minor seventh to take advantage of the inherent tension it will create. This is not the end of the story though because just like Harmonic Minor, Melodic Minor has seven modes. Here you go!

Modes of Melodic Minor-

1st mode – Melodic Minor – (1-2-b3-4-5-6-7-8)
2nd mode – Dorian b2 – (1-b2-b3-4-5-6-b7-8)
3rd mode – Lydian #5 (Lydian Augmented) – (1-2-3-#4-#5-6-7-8)
4th mode – Lydian b7 (Lydian Dominant) – (1-2-3-#4-5-6-b7-8)
5th mode – Mixolydian b13 – (1-2-3-4-5-b6-b7-8)
6th mode – Locrian Natural 2 – (1-2-b3-4-b5-b6-b7-8)
7th mode – Altered – (1-b2-#2-3-b5-#5-b7-8)

To build any of these scales all you need to do is build the original Melodic Minor scale and then start on the appropriate scale step. For instance if you took an A Melodic Minor scale (A-B-C-D-E-F#-G#-A) and started on the fourth step D you would be playing a D Lydian Dominant scale (D-E-F#-G#-A-B-C-D). If you started on the second step B, you would be playing a B Dorian b2 scale (B-C-D-E-F#-G#-A-B) etc. To apply these scales you need to understand your chord theory. Look at the chord tones of each scale (i.e. 1-3-5-7) and see which kinds of chords these create, and look for scales that will not conflict with the basic chord tones. The color tones such as seconds, and thirteenths will only give the flavor of the melodic minor to the chord you play them over. For instance playing Lydian Dominant over a Dominant chord will give the flavor of the augmented fourth to the dominant sound making it sound, dare I say a little hipper than the Mixolydian.  Of course there are many more ways to apply these than I have listed here, but that is for another column, this is only meant to get you started. Check out the Melodic Minor patterns below for a quick start, but I would encourage you to take all of your diatonic scales and lower the third as mentioned earlier to get them most out of these shapes. See you next time.

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