Harmonic and Melodic Minor Scales

Learn these two scales, the harmonic and melodic minor scales through this lesson and start applying them to your playing!

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Ultimate Guitar
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In the lesson, you will learn about the harmonic minor, and melodic minor scales. You will learn how to create them, and how to use them. You will need an understanding of the major scale and the minor scale to understand this lesson.

Harmonic Minor

The formula for the Harmonic minor scale is:

1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7

For example, take C major scale (C D E F G A B C) and apply the harmonic minor formula to it:
C major:   C D E F G A B C
Intervals: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

C Harmonic Minor: C D Eb F G Ab B C
Intervals: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7 1
So C harmonic minor would look like this:
This formula applies to all major scales. A, for example:
A major:   A B C# D E F# G# A
Intervals: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

A Harmonic Minor: A B C D E F G# A
Intervals: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7 1
A harmonic minor looks like this:

The harmonic minor is very close to the natual minor scale. The only thing that sets it apart, is its major seventh. With a raised seventh, this takes away possibilities of playing the scale over dominant 7, and m7 chords. The lowered third takes away the possibility of playing it over major chords and maj7 chords. That doesn't mean that you can't play it over those chords. Be creative.

The only chord you can play this scale over without it sound notes from the scale clashing with chords tones, is a minor chord. You can experiment with playing it over m7, m6 and other minor chords, but you might have some bad notes. You can play harmonic minor is styles such as classical, metal, shred (think Yngwie Malmsteen), and neo-classical styles.

Melodic Minor

Melodic minor is very close to the major scale, the only thing that seperates it is the flat third (b3). So, the formula for Melodic Minor is:

1 2 b3 4 5 6 7

Lets use C for the first example again.
C major:   C D E F G A B C
Intervals: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

C Melodic Minor: C D Eb F G A B C
Intervals: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 7 1
C melodic minor looks like this:

That formula is also universal. Lets apply it to E.
E major:   E F# G# A B C# D# E
Intervals: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

E Melodic Minor: E F# G A B C# D# E
Intervals: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 7 1
E melodic minor looks like this:

You can use the melodic minor scale over chords where you would play another minor scale or pentatonic scale. You can play melodic minor over minor chords, m6 chords, and m/maj7 chords. But, since the melodic minor scale is so close to the major scale, you could play it in the place of major scale, major pentatonic, Lydian mode and Mixolydian mode. The melodic minor scale does not sound perfect over everything because of its flat third (b3) and natural 7 (7). If the seventh was lowered, it would be Dorian mode.

Melodic minor is used to solo in style such as jazz and funk. The melodic minor scale is especially good for Jazz styles because it is so close to Dorian mode (Dorian is as important to jazz as is the pentatonic is to rock). It is good for funk because of its major scale feel, and minor scale sound.

Melodic Minor (descending)

The second part to the melodic minor scale. You have already learned the melodic minor scale (ascending), and now its time for descending.

The formula for melodic minor (descending) is the same as natural minor (1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 1). The point of this second scale is to act as a leading tone, just going down. In the next two examples, I will will show you how to practice these scales at the same time, and an example lick using both ascending and descending scales.

How to play these when practicing:

Using both in a short lick:

Start practicing these scales, and they will be second nature in no time. You can use these scales over minor chords, in place of other minor scales or you could find you own way to make these scales sound good.

61 comments sorted by best / new / date

    trashmaniac
    wow...1st!! i always waiting for this moment Anyway, nice lesson dude,at least for me. i don't know that there is another minor beside natural minor. i wonder if there is major, dominant, dimished, augmented, sus2 or sus4 in natural and melodic.
    ZHIWEIPIPI
    Thanks you so much. With this perfect lesson,I could get more musical ability. lol
    Steve Guitar
    kdo wrote: weird...why does the melodic minor change when it decends...
    I don't know the history and math of it and all of that but think about it when notes rise it is more sharp and when they fall they go flat, kinda like sex
    whm119
    A little clarification on the melodic minor ascending vs. descending: when you are playing the scale, the direction from one note to the next determines whether you use the ascending or descending notes. Example: Playing this series of notes, in any minor key. 1 b3 2 4 2 5 6 1(octave above) This is where you use the ascending pattern. (high)4 2 1 b6 5 b3 2 1(low) This is when you use the descending pattern. This one is tricky: 1 b3 5 7 b6 7 4 6 1(octave up) b7 b6 7 It is a combination of ascending and descending. When you go from 7 down to b6, use descending; then when you get to 4 6 1(octave), you use ascending. For more examples, listen to music from the Baroque period like Johann Sebastian Bach.
    slash_pwns
    Does it say "Harmonic and Melodic Minor Scales & Their modes"? No. It doesn't. Thanks for rating it on something it's not... Dick.
    SilentDeftone
    The b7 and b6 lead downward, while the natural 6 and 7 lead upwards. Generally you'll just play the ascending version both ways.
    i wonder if there is major, dominant, dimished, augmented, sus2 or sus4 in natural and melodic.
    To keep this short, we'll stick to the melodic minor and natural minor scales alone, not their modes. Neither scale can produce a major chord. Since neither scale has a major triad, they can't produce a dominant chord. Diminished is out, no b5's. No major 3rds, no augmented chords. sus2 can be formed by either scale, as can sus4. 7sus4 can be formed by the natural minor scale also. Again, if you use the various modes of those scales, you can produce the requested chords, but that's kind of another lesson? -SD
    brutaltxdm
    ah harmonic minor.. the sweetest sound you can make from your guitar. good job bro. \m/
    gelcap
    ...gray areas. First: "With a raised seventh, this takes away possibilities of playing the scale over dominant 7" Untrue...the whole point of the harmonic minor is to accommodate for the V7 chord, which, if we take G7 (the notes G-B-D-F), fits perfectly into C Harmonic Minor (C-D-Eb-F-G-Ab-B-C.
    gelcap
    Second: "The only chord you can play this scale over without it sound notes from the scale clashing with chords tones, is a minor chord. You can experiment with playing it over m7, m6 and other minor chords, but you might have some bad notes. You can play harmonic minor is styles such as classical, metal, shred (think Yngwie Malmsteen), and neo-classical styles." Wow. I don't even know where to begin here. Literally every sentence is flawed. I can go into more detail but I'm really not a fan of tearing people down that clearly aren't sure what they are talking about. You might want to go back to music school buddy. Not just for your benefit, but for every potential new musician that comes across this board. I apologize if this comes off as rude.
    gelcap
    I also forgot: "With a raised seventh, this takes away possibilities of playing the scale over...m7 chords." The iv7 chord in C Harmonic Minor: Fm7(F-Ab-C-Eb). Study, study, study....
    BloodNChunks
    And a word of advice: Try the Locrian scale sometime. Very interesting indeed...I haven't played around with it but it seems like it might make a really cool (serious and a little edgy) acoustic piece.
    explorer58
    this is a great lesson. but an easier way of finding the harmonic minor rather than flattening 3 and 6 of the major is to sharpen 7 of the minor. still this really helped. 2 thumbs up.
    Aikoj
    Thank you, I've spent years studying music theory (school, college, and such), yet I never remembered these two, and I forgot to bring it up to my teacher. Thank you, this is a very thorough and helpful lesson. I really appreciate it .
    kevinbeingkevin
    Do the Harmonic and Melodic Minor Scales have different modes to them to like Dorian, Phrygian, etc. ?
    BloodNChunks
    Now I already knew all about scales and modes and stuff, so not at all knocking this: Seems many have learned a good bit from this. But really I just came here to check out how the Harmonic Minor scale goes because I never really saw it before =P
    kevinbeingkevin wrote: Do the Harmonic and Melodic Minor Scales have different modes to them to like Dorian, Phrygian, etc. ?
    Well, you can always take a scale up from one of the scale degrees of another scale. That's basically what those modes you named do, but to the major scale. So basically just do the same to these and you could have some "different modes to them" as you say.
    Shockhead45
    Actually bro, you can play this over, Full Diminished (Locrian bb7), Half-Diminished (Locrian Nat.6) Dominant (Phrygian Major), Major (Lydian #2), Min (Dorian #4, Major Augmented (Ionian #5) and Minor Augmented 7th (Harmonic Minor) chords because the other 6 modes have triads that allow intense, and very creative usage of the scale to improvise and superimpose over them. You should make a 2nd one going into detail with the other 6, because the amount of flavors you can get is extremely versatile just from Phrygian Dominant alone (I did Southern licks using the 1, b2, 3, and 5, and b7)
    MotMandre
    Poor explanation as to what you can and can't play Harmonic minor over. You make it sound like there are no minor7 Major7 or Dominant7 chords in the scale.
    jared12369
    are there like different types of melodic minors, because my guitar teacher says its the exact opposite, that its major 3rd, and minor 6 and 7, and my friends in orch said that its ascending as a major scale, but decends like a normal minor scale. or are both other sources wrong or what?
    xXxA7X~Fan07xXx
    Cool lesson. Thanks for making this. This will help me with my melodic metal alot which I like playing but is always stuck on it. I'll be learning tapping licks mixed with melodic metal and heavy riffs, that will sound sweet once I get it all down. I'll be uploading a video of me jammin on my new Dean Dimebag Razorback V255 when I get it in two months of me playing the stuff I've learned. It will be in the black and silver finish, getting it from DrumCity Guitar Land in Colorado because I'm going on vacation there so I might as well visit the store. Would you mind posting a video doing some melodic metal, finger tapping, and heavy riffs mixed together sometime? That would be cool to see if you can.Just to give people more of an idea ya know. Anyway, have a nice one and keep jammin! What kind of guitars you got? I got a Dean EVO Special in flame red, a Jackson, and a Cruzer Crafter guitar so far. The Jackson was bought used but I love it.
    ibz120
    Rocker3829 wrote: y'all dont forget descending melodic minor is just the natural minor
    If you're playing jazz, the melodic minor scale is played the same way (major scale with a b3) ascending and descending; you don't need to worry about that descending natural minor stuff.
    gwhipple
    here are some chords that will work, theres more i didnt feel like working more of them out for harmonic minor in ``A`` lets say you could have Bdim on the second: 1st, b3, b5 Dm on the fourth: 1st, b3, 5 Dm7 on the fourth: 1st, b3, 5, b7 E, F chords Gsharp dim on the seventh: 1st, b3, b5 FMajor7 1, 3, 5, 7
    sammo_boi
    the harmonic minor scale does have different modes like the major scale. i think the fourth mode is called phrygian dominant, so if change the formula of whole, half, whole, whole, half, 1 and a half, half, and start at a different point, different modes will be the result.
    Silky Smooth
    Mike_uk2k wrote: anyone know what kind of scales yngwie malmsteen uses? my guitar teacher told me they're probably harmonic and melodic minors, but i just can't get them to sound... 'right', if you know what i mean.
    Hes uses the harmonic minor scale, natural minor and phrygian major scale the most in his playing.
    kdo
    weird...why does the melodic minor change when it decends...
    self-made_page
    to the writer - it'd be great if you could edit this (idk if you can) and put in the second octave: I bet solos using only the bottom 3 strings are rather uncommon. but thanks for the article. roXXorz
    slash_pwns
    ^I thoguht about that but my method of teaching (if you could call it that) is to give the knowledge to do it your self. Just find the notes on the neck, and go from there. If you need help just dorp me a PM.
    Mike_uk2k
    anyone know what kind of scales yngwie malmsteen uses? my guitar teacher told me they're probably harmonic and melodic minors, but i just can't get them to sound... 'right', if you know what i mean.
    robelie
    hehehe sorry but i didnt understand it, =( hey do you know the minor scales?
    george1345
    i was taught the harmonic (i think) like this..well basically the one in i think A is : E-5,7 A-3,5,7 D- 3,6,7 G-4,5,7,9 B-6,9,10 e-7,8,10 I'm confused
    WageSlave
    good lesson, dose anyone know how the harmonic minor would be figured in like whwwhww or if its even possibal. and another question was this lesson all done in the key of C.