Melodic Minor - An Introduction with Jens Larsen

A lesson on what the melodic minor scale is, what diatonic arpeggios it contains. There are also few examples of lines you can make with the diatonic arpeggios it contains when you play over a Tonic minor chord.

Ultimate Guitar
I've had quite a few requests for a lesson on melodic minor so here's a lesson giving you, what I consider, a good place to start to learn melodic minor: melodic minor on a tonic minor chord.

I've tried to give an introduction to some of the sounds of the melodic minor scale here, but also to demonstrate the approach to finding material to play that I described in my lessons on diatonic arpeggios and superimposing arpeggios.

YouTube preview picture

Construction of a melodic minor scale

A melodic minor scale is a minor scale with a major 6th and a major 7th. In my video I've chosen to use E minor as an example so E minor is E F# G A B C D E and E melodic minor is then E F# G A B C# D# E.

To understand what chords and sounds are contained in the scale we can look at the diatonic 7th chords in it. See my lesson (Diatonic arpeggios) for a bit more insight in how these are constructed.

Here are two ways to play through the diatonic chords in an E minor melodic scale:

Learning the scale

For practical reasons I am using this position of the E melodic minor scale, but in the end you will need to learn the scale all over the neck. Don't forget that each time you need to learn a new position of a scale you already know in other positions it gets easier so don't get too discouraged by how much hard work it is in the beginning.

Here's the scale position written out:

Once you know this position by heart make sure to run through the following exercises in this position (or whatever position you are working on).

Diatonic 3rds:

Diatonic Triads:

Diatonic 7th chords:

Examples of lines

If we approach improvising over an EmMaj7 or Em6 chord with the melodic minor scale in the way that I have described in my two lessons on diatonic chords, we can easily come up with these 3 arpeggios that will work well as a starting point for composing good lines: EmMaj7, Gmaj7#5 and C#mb5.

In the video I make small rubato improvisations with each one, and then I give these examples:

I hope that you liked the lesson.

About the Author:
By Jens Larsen. There are more lessons on my website. If you have any questions or comments then feel free to leave them here or on the video. Please subscribe to my YouTube channel and feel free to connect with me via Facebook, Google+ or Twitter to keep up to date with new lessons, concerts and releases.

27 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Thanks Deadds, 1. & 2. This lesson is indeed about the way you use melodic minor in a jazz style improvisation so it is the same both ascending and descending being a jazz musician that would be the best way to teach it for me. It has been widely used like this since the 60's, I did not say it was invented then. 3. Did I say it may only be played on guitar? I certainly didn't mean to. I know several jazz drummers who never play it though. 4. All the online lessons I have done until now have been free. I do teach guitar and you are welcome to drop by for a lesson. Jens
    Cool like everybody else I dig the jazz lessons. Really into guys like Wes,and Tommy Bolin the way he would treat any scale or arpeggio like it was an ordinary blues scale turns my around. I know it's a pain to upload on youtube any corrections but perhaps on your website if you could fix the typos I could follow you better on these useful patterns. Also perhaps if you get time maby do a lesson on your favorite openstring chord voicings~progressions and how you use disidence and playing outside the diatonic scale. I know there is a lot to be said for diatonic "inside" playing, But ya know it's just get so old. I just finished Ted Greene's solo jazz book 1. and it really helped my note reading alot and I'm now doing Vincent Bredice's great book. But learning to play jazz takes alot of discipline. Playing in all sharps and flat keys will flat out wear you out! and any enthusaism you might of had for Jazz quickly wanes when you are reading and playing out keys like Gb or Db,F# lol..everything comes to a crawl... what I've found anyways.
    Not that I don't appreciate the lesson because I do. But why like in example 3 on the second string 9th fret are you hitting G# which would be a major3rd to the key of E. You even have it marked as a G# in the notation above the tab.But when you blazed thru the scale you went to the minor 3rd (g) note. and not the G#?!?In example 4 you have an A# on the 4th string 8th fret which isn't part of the E melodic minor scale. are these outside notes intentional? It's sort of like when Sid Barret played this improv song to his bandmates but kept changing the chord arrangement then asking them..."Have you got it yet?" Also I know this is an introductory to the melodic minor scale but I was hoping you would go into it's modes more like the Super Locrian scale, the locrain 2 scale and how you apply them to minor 2-5-1 progressions sorry about the complaints just the patterns are hard to make out with the added notes that are not part of the scale.
    I have a silly little question(s) about how you labelled the chords in the first section. Wouldn't it make more sense to label the 1 chord Em7, and the 2 chord F#mb7 (F sharp minor, flat seventh)? I have a feeling I just answered my own question because of how that second one looks typed out lol. The reason I ask this is because the names of intervals seem to be derived from the major scale; a degree without any sharp/flat should naturally signify a major or perfect interval, correct?
    The most used 7th is the minor 7th, probably as a part of a dominant chord like G7. You want to have the chord symbols arranged so that 7 is not confused with Maj7. I think that's the main reason. Jens
    Sorry to pick apart your lesson, but misinformation has to be corrected. 1. Melodic Minor scales have been in use since the Baroque era of music. 2. Melodic Minor comes in two established forms: Ascending Melodic minor and the true Melodic Minor scale that ascends melodic but descends in Natural Minor(b6 and b7). 3. This lesson is about the ASCENDING Melodic minor, also known as the Jazz (melodic)minor scale to some, that ascends and descends with the same notes. A scale played by all sorts of instruments in jazz, not just electric guitar. 4. Nice little introduction. I'm guessing its usage in modern harmony does not fall under the category of a "free" lesson?
    It is indeed impossible to fix the videos or change anything here. Te rest I might do at some point. Maybe I'll do a lesson on some of the principles you can apply for outside playing, but actually the stuff I cover in the lesson on Dom7th chords is already about some of that, especially at the end of the video. The key to reading stuff like you talk about is to practice reading in the key so if you know what the key is then you don't have to spend nearly as much energy on the sharps and flats (if they are notated properly anyway) That is why they invented key signatures
    Hi Avenger! No problem! It's not complaining when you are pointing out typo's, and as you hear in the video it is not what I play when I demonstrate it. So there's no G# or A# I was probably just in a hurry when typing it up. I chose the tonic melodic minor sound to begin with because it is a stable sound and you don't immediately have to couple it with other chord sounds. That's a better place to start than a II V I with up to three different scales in a fairly short time. I will probably do a lesson on the altered and the Loc nat #2 modes too, I don't always have it all planned out but that would make sense. You can check my YouTube channel for a lesson on the 4th mode: Lydian dominants and there's also a lesson on Dominant 7th chord scale choices which uses the altered scale in one example. Combining this and the two lesson I mentioned you've covered 2 of the 3 chords in your minor II V I Hope that helps? Jens
    Hey Jens! Great lessons. You are awesome with Jazz and I look forward to more. Thank you! -GS
    "I know several jazz drummers who never play it though." And I know several jazz drummers that can sing them from memory, including major, minor (harmonic and melodic), and whole-tone, and also play them on xylophones. Lessons? Sure. What do you know of 16th century modal counterpoint, post tonality, and neoclassicism?
    I can play melodies by holding my mouth open a bit differently for each note and smacking my cheeks with my fingertips- no instruments necessary. My e-penis is bigger than both of yours put together.
    You're right of course, even if a diacussion like this is entertaining it is prwtty useless