Harmonic and Melodic Minor Scales

author: slash_pwns date: 04/12/2005 category: guitar scales and modes
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Harmonic and Melodic Minor Scales
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.
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