• Who Else Wants To Learn The Melodic Minor Scale?

    in Piano,Scales,Theory

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    In today’s lesson, we’ll be doing a study on the melodic minor scale.

    Every serious musician should learn the melodic minor scale because it’s part of the traditional scales we covered in the previous post. Without any further ado, let’s get straight into the review of scales.

    Review Of Scales

    A scale is a succession of notes in ascending or descending order using a fixed formula. The term scale comes from the root word scala in Latin which means ‘ladder’ or ‘staircase’.

    So, exactly the same way you climb a staircase step-wise or skip-wise, that’s how you can ascend and descend with a scale of notes.

    One of the most common scales on the keyboard is the A natural minor scale:

    Playing the A natural minor scale is as simple as playing all white notes on the piano:

    …starting from A to A:

    In a previous post, we learned that the natural minor scale and the absence of the leading note feel between its seventh and eighth tones. which led to the development or invention and introduction of its chromatic variant – the harmonic minor scale.

    Today, we are studying the melodic minor scale which is another variant of the natural minor scale. But before we go ahead, let’s take some time to talk about the melodic challenges of the harmonic minor scale.

    The Melodic Challenges Of The Harmonic Minor Scale

    Now in the previous post, we did a study on the harmonic minor scale, formed by raising the seventh degree of the natural minor scale by a half-step. For example, in the A natural minor scale:

    …raising the seventh tone (which is G):

    …by a half step, to G#:

    …produces the A harmonic minor scale:

    The harmonic minor scale has what music scholars call the leading note feeling that the natural minor scale does not have. In other words, between the seventh and the eighth tone of the A harmonic minor scale:

    …G# to A:

    …is a half-step.

    However, this produces a gap in the harmonic minor scale between its sixth and seventh tones (F and G#):

    The distance between F and G# contains three half-steps (aka – “a sesquitone”.) For the most part, traditional scales are built off [intervallic distances of] whole-steps and half-steps.

    In addition to the gap created between the sixth and seventh degrees, the interval between the sixth and seventh tones is the augmented second interval. In the classical music tradition, all augmented intervals are considered to be unpleasant, harsh, unstable, etc.

    Further reading: Who Else Wants To Know What Chromatic Dissonant Intervals Are?

    Now, there’s a scale that fits into most harmonic situations that the natural minor scale can’t because of its leading note feel. However, due to the gap between the sixth and seventh degrees of this scale and the harsh intervallic outcome – the augmented second, this scale was considered to be melodically challenging.

    “Time To Say Goodbye To The Harmonic Minor Scale”

    In the next segment, we’ll be looking at another variant of the natural minor scale that solved the melodic challenge of the harmonic minor scale.

    The Melodic Minor Scale

    In simple terms, the melodic minor scale is a scale derived from the natural minor scale by raising its sixth and seventh degrees by half-steps. For example, in the A natural minor scale:

    …if we raise its sixth and seventh degrees (which are F and G):

    …by half-steps respectively to F# and G#:

    …the outcome would be the A melodic minor scale:

    Now, here’s the melodic minor scale – another variant of the natural minor scale that has the leading note feel:

    …between the seventh and eighth tones, neither without a gap between the sixth and seventh tones:

    …nor an augmented second.

    Attention: Have you ever solved a problem only to create another? That’s exactly what we’re going through. The harmonic minor scale solved a harmonic problem, but had melodic challenges. Now that we’ve solved the melodic challenge, permit me to show you the challenges of the melodic minor scale.

    The Challenges Of The Melodic Minor Scale

    The natural minor scale ends differently from the way the natural major scale ends. Here are the last four notes (aka – “upper tetrachord”) of the A natural minor scale:

    E to F [half step]

    F to G [whole step]

    G to A [whole step]

    …and here are the last four notes  (aka – “upper tetrachord”) of the A major scale:

    E to F# [whole step]

    F# to G# [whole step]

    G# to A [half step]

    Can you see the difference? The natural major and minor scales differ in their respective tetrachords.

    In the melodic minor scale, things are entirely different. The upper tetrachord of the melodic minor scale has exactly the same notes with the upper tetrachord of the major scale.

    Here are the upper tetrachords of the A major scale:

    …and the A melodic minor scale:

    Can you see that the notes and spelling are exactly the same?

    The challenge in using the melodic minor scale is that while descending, it sounds ambiguous, and makes it difficult for one to say whether its a major scale or a melodic minor scale.

    If I’m playing the following notes on the keyboard…

    A:

    G#:

    F#:

    E:

    Can you tell me if it’s the descending form of the A major or the A melodic minor scale? The descending form of the melodic minor scale sounds ambiguous.

    Solution To The Ambiguity Of The Melodic Minor Scale

    Due to the ambiguity of the descending form of the melodic minor scale, the natural minor scale is used as its descending form and this makes the melodic minor scale the only traditional scale that has a descending form that is different from its ascending form.

    Here is the ascending form of the A melodic minor scale:

    …and here’s the descending form of the A melodic minor scale:

    Let’s round up by looking at the formation of the melodic minor scale.

    Formation Of The Melodic Minor Scale

    There two ways to form the melodic minor scale using scales you already know – the natural major and minor scales.

    Formation Technique #1

    The melodic minor scale can be formed using the natural minor scale. Raising the sixth and seventh tones of any known natural minor scale [by a half step] produces the melodic minor scale.

    Raising the sixth and seventh tones of the C natural minor scale:

    …which are Ab and Bb:

    …respectively [by a half step], produces the C melodic minor scale:

    Raising the sixth and seventh tones of the E natural minor scale:

    …which are C and D:

    …respectively [by a half step], produces the E melodic minor scale:

    Formation Technique #2

    The second approach to the formation of the melodic minor scale capitalizes on the relationship between the melodic minor scale and the natural major scale.

    The melodic minor scale can be formed by lowering the third degrees of the major scale [by a half step.]

    The C melodic minor scale can be formed from the C natural major scale:

    …by lowering its third tone (E):

    …by a half-step. Here’s the C melodic minor scale:

    …looking like a C natural major scale with a flattened third.

    If you lower the third tone of the A natural major scale:

    …which is C#:

    …by a half-step (to C):

    …you’ll have the A melodic minor scale:

    Final Thoughts

    The melodic minor scale is that minor scale that has a leading note feeling and at the same time is not gapped.

    In another post, you’ll discover the relationship between the melodic minor scale and the natural major and minor scales.

    Until then!

     

    P.S.

    Here are the melodic minor scales in all twelve keys…

    C melodic minor scale:

    C# melodic minor scale:

    D melodic minor scale:

    Eb melodic minor scale:

    E melodic minor scale:

    F melodic minor scale:

    F# melodic minor scale:

    G melodic minor scale:

    Ab melodic minor scale:

    A melodic minor scale:

    Bb melodic minor scale:

    B melodic minor scale:

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    1 Jo

    Great! Please what are the chords and chord qualities for melodic minor? Example I ii iii IV V vi vii for major scale. Thanks.

    Reply

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