One Melodic Minor Scale Shape Every Guitarist Should Know
Earlier this week on my Facebook Page I asked what readers would like to see a new lesson on and reader Jackson P commented “how to use melodic minor scale sounds for soloing. I am working on it at the moment and it seems over a minor I can’t get it sound any good”.
I decided to pick this question because I faced the same problem when I began learning jazz guitar scales. I remember the melodic and harmonic minor scales sounding Middle Eastern and I couldn’t relate them to my favorite players at all, but through transcribing and studying the scales for years I have discovered several lines and patterns found within the scales that make them sound musical.
Besides having a good chord vocabulary, jazz guitarists must also know how to practice and use scales. Today’s article will teach you how to play and practice the melodic minor scale in a musical and practical fashion, but first of all let’s just examine what the melodic minor scale is.
Melodic Minor Scale Construction
The melodic minor scale is a 7 note minor scale which is typically used to improvise over minor 7, minor 6, and minor/major 7th chords. Unlike the classical melodic minor, the jazz melodic minor formula stays the same when it’s ascending and descending. For this reason, the melodic minor scale is sometimes referred to as the jazz minor scale when used in jazz situations.
Melodic Minor Scale Formula: R, 2nd, b3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, #7
Melodic Minor Scale in D: D, E, F, G, A, B, C#
The melodic minor scale is almost identical to the Dorian scale, except that the 7th degree of the scale (C) in this case has been raised by a half step to C#. The diagrams below show the Dorian scale followed by the Melodic Minor so that you can see the difference between the two scales.
A melodic minor scale can be thought of as a Dorian scale with a raised 7th or a major scale with a minor 3rd. I personally like to think of it as a Dorian scale with a raised 7th.
Practicing the Melodic Minor Scale
The melodic minor scale might cause a bit of confusion at first because I am sure some readers will be puzzled by the fact that a minor scale has a major 7th instead of a flat 7th.
Indeed this might seem strange at first, but when used in the right way the major 7th can provide a crunchy form of tension and release within a line. Try using the major 7th on the off beats of the bar. Although you don’t want to stick to using the major 7th on off beats all the time, it’s always a safe bet and a great way to start practicing the melodic minor scale. The lick below shows how I created a jazz phrase by using the C# on the and of 4. Starting lines on off beats with passing commons is a common jazz rhythmic and harmonic technique
Another reason why this lick sounds good is because C# is the 3rd of A7 and A7 is the V chord of D-7 in a ii-V-I situation. The 3rd is one the quickest ways to define a chord, so by playing the C# over a D-7, a V-I cadence implied.
You can practice the melodic minor scale using the same techniques you would practice any type of scales, but make sure that you practice them in a musical situation. Modal tunes like ‘So What’ and ‘Impressions’ are good to start with because there is a lot of time on one minor chord to explore the melodic minor sounds. As mentioned earlier, the melodic minor is great for implying V-I cadences so the scale should also be practiced over minor ii-V-Is too.
Melodic Minor Pattern
Like many other scales, the melodic minor has shapes within it that lay out well on the guitar and are therefore used by many jazz musicians. The shape that I am going to teach you was called ‘the banana lick’ at Leeds College of Music. I have no idea why the shape was called that, but it certainly helped me remember the lick so it can’t be a bad thing.
The melodic minor shape uses the 3rd, 5th, #7th, and 9th degrees of the melodic minor scale as seen below. This shape gives the sound and flavour of the melodic minor scale instantly which makes it especially useful for accessing the melodic minor sound in a performance situation because there’s a lot less notes than the scale.
The following lick shows how this pattern can be applied in a jazz lick. You could argue that the lick also uses the minor Bebop scale because there is a C and a C#, but in the second bar I was certainly going for more of a melodic minor scale sound.
Melodic Minor Scale Sound with 1 Triad
For the last part of this melodic minor lesson, I’d like to mention that you can also get the melodic minor sound with just three notes. The melodic scale contains an augmented triad which is F augmented in the case of our D melodic minor example. The F augmented triad contains the 3rd of a minor 7th chord, the 5th and the raised 7th.
Out lining the 3rd and 7th of a chord is the quickest way to define it and this major triad contains both the 7th and 3rd. Having the 5th (A), brings a slightly fuller sound and the familiar fingering pattern of augmented triads on the guitar neck. An easy way to remember this, is to think a minor 3rd up from a minor chord. For example, if you wanted to get the melodic sound using an augmented triad over a C minor 7 chord, the augmented triad would be Eb.
Melodic Minor = Lydian Dominant
For the last part of this lesson I would like to show a quick trick on how you can use the melodic minor to get a Lydian Dominant sound. By starting a melodic minor scale on the 5th degree over a dominant 7th chord you get a Lydian Dominant sound.
While you can start the harmonized Melodic Minor on any degree to get different modes, I thought I would quickly share this tip because you can double your vocabulary by applying your melodic minor scales, shapes, and licks to dominant 7th chords which are very common in music. Because the Lydian sound #11 is usually used in a same way over dominant chords as a #7 is over minor 7th chords, the majority of the licks and patterns you use over minor 7th chords will work over dominant 7th chords.
An easy way to think of this on the fly is to think of the ii that belongs to a V chord. For example if you wanted to apply a Lydian Dominant sound over an F7, the ii chord that belongs to F7 is C-7. Therefore, you would think of C melodic minor. This might seem like a lot of thinking to do at first so it’s essentially that you get the initial melodic minor sound into your ears before investing these concepts.
I hope that this lesson helps you get some good practical use of the melodic minor scale so that you can make it sound jazzy in real life situations. Do you have any tips or tricks for using the melodic minor scale? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.