The Melodic Minor Scale and an Overview of Minor Scales / Music Theory Lesson

Author: sleepfreaks

About the Melodic Minor Scale

This time, we will be looking a the last of 3 types of minor scale, the “melodic minor scale”.

Those who improvise will often change the root of a scale and use the melodic minor when thinking/learning of a new scale (ex. altered scale).
In addition, to seperate it from classical theory, you may find it called by a different name.

Here we will be looking at why there are 3 types of minor scales, like we did when looking at the harmonic minor scale.
First, lets take a look at what we’ve learned and some key points.

✳︎ One thing to be aware of is that we’ve taken a look at each minor scale as we discovered a flaw in it in relation to the analysis of modern music.
(Each minor scale is still used to the fullest and each have their own possibilities; neither is subjectively better than the other)

The “Naturally Occurring” Natural Minor Scale

We first learned about the natural minor scale.

Like the major scale, we can consider that this scale was born “naturally” from human intuition.

Natural Minor Scale

Though we could create diatonic chords for it, because it was missing the leading tone, chords made on the dominant scale degree looked like as follows (read articles 49~52 for more details).

Nm Diatonic
Nm Diatonic
☆There is no “Leading Tone” on the chord made from the dominant scale degree, and the 7th chord (m7 chord) does not contain the tritone.

Although moving from the V→I gives a mild sense of conclusion, it has a weaker resolution than in a major key.
❇︎You may see it written just as T, SD(S), D as well.

Moving to the Harmonic Minor Scale

Next we had learned about the harmonic minor scale.

The deliberate change of the function of a note to emphasize resolution in a song may be the reason behind the name harmonic minor scale, as it allows you to utilise more powerful pulls in harmony.

Hm Scale

By creating diatonic chords by first changing the subtonic (b7) of the natural minor scale to a leading tone (7), we can create chords over the dominant scale degree as shown below:

Hm Diatonic 3
Hm Diatonic 4

Like a major key, we have a traid V with a leading tone, and we have a tritone in our 7th chord V7 as well, creatign a strong sense of resolution that was not found in a natural minor key.

While there wasn’t anything odd when we lined up the scale like below,

Hm melo1

when we accented the b6 and 7th (augemented 2nd interval) in the harmonic minor scale…

Hm melo2

we end up with a more arabic sounding feel that is not common in western styles of music.

The Introduction of the Melodic Minor Scale

Lets take a closer look at the name melodic minor.
You may have already noticed the use of the word “melodic” in it, inferring the kind of tonality that this scale may have.

Lets change the b6 7 interval from the haromnic minor scale (augmented 2nd) to what is shown below:

Mm Scale

By doing so, we have a leading tone, while remedying the augmented interval that we had as well.

Though we will get chords that we haven’t learned yet by making diatonic chords on this scale, on the dominant scale degree, we will still get a triad V with a leading tone, and the 7th chord V7 still contains the leading tone as well as the tritone interval.

Mm Diatonic 3
Mm Diatonic 4

☆You may hear the idea of ascending melodic minor and descending natural minor. The reason behind this is the idea that a leading tone is not necessary when descending a scale, and that it is difficult to tell that the scale is a minor scale when descending until the 3rd note is reached.
We can consider the 3rd (3 or b3) to be a large factor determining whether or not a scale is a “major type” scale or a “minor type” scale.

Last but not least, lets apply numbers to each minor scale type.

  • Natural Minor Scale
    1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 (8)
  • Harmonic Minor Scale
    1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7 (8)
  • Melodic Minor Scale
    1 2 b3 4 5 6 7 (8)

When analyzing a song, it may be good to analyze and note the different uses for each scale as well.
Try using the video below, particularly from 4:58 as reference.

Article Writer: Kazuma Itoh

講師 伊藤
After moving to the USA at 18 years of age with a scholarship from Berklee, he completed a 4 year study focused on song writing and arranging there.
Using this knowledge, he works across a variety of fields from pop music, film music, and more.