Anyone who has played a musical scale knows they are not really musical. But, scales have a purpose, so, if you are just starting to look into theory as a way of improving your musicianship, then the Beginning Jazz Theory series is a great place to start, where we discover the why and how of scales.

We noted in the previous article that the major scale is a good starting point for understanding other musical concepts and scales.

So, in this article we look at the construction of the melodic minor scale.

Why Learn about Scales?

Musical scales unto themselves are not really musical.

But, what they will do for us is important.

  • You will fundamentally know your instrument better
  • It will improve your ability to solo
  • They are an important tool when composing and harmonizing

The Melodic Minor Scale

The melodic minor scale is a common scale you will come across in jazz and other genres.

If you have reviewed the first article of this series and are familiar with the major scale, then the melodic minor scale will be very easy to understand as there is only a one-note difference between the two scales.

The melodic minor scale has a flattened third as indicated in the diagram below.  Part III of the Beginning Jazz Theory talks about intervals and scale degrees such as the flattened third).

The Melodic Minor Scale in C

The Melodic Minor Scale in C

W = whole step, h = half step

In the major scale, the E is not flattened.

You may have noticed that the formula of whole and half steps is different than the major scale

The formula for the melodic minor scale is: W-h-W-W-W-W-h

Here is this scale displayed on one string of the guitar fretboard.

The Melodic Minor Scale displayed on one string of the guitar fretboard

Notice the same spacing between the notes for this scale on both the piano and guitar.

In your mind, apply the whole and half step formula between each of the notes on this fretboard.

Why is the Minor Formula Different than the Major Scale?

The major and minor scales sound different than each other, as do major and minor chords whereby each chord consists fundamentally of notes from a specific scale.

Musical compositions in a minor scale are somewhat more melancholy in feel than their major counterpart, which are considered more uplifting.

As a result, the accompanying scales must be different to achieve this and in this case, one note can make a big difference.

Here are some sound clips demonstrating the difference between the major and melodic minor scales.

The Major Scale

The Melodic Minor Scale

C Melodic Minor Scale

It is important to note that in classical music, musicians will alter the melodic minor scale while descending.  They will play the flattened three when ascending the scale but will flatten the 6 and 7th when descending.

For jazz players, the scale is the same both ways (just the flattened 3rd), so you don’t have to worry about any changes while descending this scale.  Yes!

More good news is that the melodic minor scale formula will never change within a jazz context no matter what key you play it in.

Here is the D melodic minor scale (demonstrating use of the formula).

Notice the formula of W-h-W-W-W-W-h still applies to this D Minor scale by sharpening the C which alters the spacing to conform to the formula.

This maintains the last Whole step after the B and also provides the last half step between the C# and the D.

Try it on your instrument and note the application of the formula.  An easy method is to count D as one, D# as two, and E as three.  Visualize this on the fretboard above by counting each fret.

This three-count represents a Whole step.

A two-count is a half step, such as between the E and F above.

Here it is in notation.  Notice it is difficult to visualize the whole and half steps in notation but is more intuitive on your instrument.

In the D major scale the F would be sharp as well but true to the melodic minor scale pattern, the third note is flattened from F# to F.

Summary

We have looked at the construction of the melodic minor scale and compared the fundamental differences between the major scale and the melodic minor scale to help us learn.

We have also learned that there are basic formulas applicable to each scale.

If you’re tired of scales by now, don’t fret because in the next article of this series, we are going to look at harmonizing (with chords) these scales and discuss a common chord progression used in jazz.

We will also look at how and why these chords work together.



About the author: Robert Weeks is a jazz music enthusiast and guitar player from British Columbia, Canada.

There are 0 comments on this article so far

Comment on this article

Name
Email address
solve the following equation: 4 - 2 =


Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin Archtop Hollowbody P-90 Pickup Cognac Burst

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, 64161, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

$699

Home Guitars Percussion Accessories Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin Archtop Hollowbody P-90 Pickup Cognac Burst Cognac Burst item# 1275776905442 New The Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin is a hollowbody electric guitar that brings you back to a time when the archtop acoustic guitar reigned supreme. With the soul of a 1950s archtop, the 5th Avenue guitar has the true vintage spirit of yesteryear with today's level of modern playability. With more projection and volume in the low and mid tones than traditional ... more

Eastman AR380CE John Pisano Signature Archtop With Case @ LA Guitar Sales

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA, 90069, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

$1362

This item is being offered to you by L A Guitar Sales located on the world famous Sunset Strip in West Hollywood California. We are authorized dealers for Bedell, Blackbird, Breedlove, Cordoba, Eastman, Larrivee, Martin, RainSong, Ramirez, Santa Cruz, Taylor, Rick Turner and Voyage-air with their full line available. We are a true brick and mortar store and have over 12-years of online sales experience so you are in good hands with us. Please note that we are always looking for used guitars and ... more

Custom Sunburst Epiphone Emperor Regent Archtop, L-5 Johnny Smith, HSC

ATHENS, OHIO, 45701, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

$1300

When I first saw a Korean Epiphone Emperor Regent II in a musical instrument store back in the mid ‘90s, I was amazed by the Gibson-shaped long-scale body. It looked like Epi hardware had been imposed on the figure of a Gibson Venetian cutaway. I wondered how difficult it would be to transform the instrument so that it had the appearance of a classic Gibson jazz guitar. Eventually, as repro parts became more available and I became more adventurous, I began customizing select Korean Emperor ... more

Custom Natural Epiphone Emperor Regent Archtop, L-5 Wes Montgomery, OHSC

ATHENS, OHIO, 45701, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

$1300

When I first saw a Korean Epiphone Emperor Regent II in a musical instrument store back in the mid ‘90s, I was amazed by the Gibson-shaped long-scale body. Amazed, as well, because it looked like Epi hardware had been imposed on the figure of a Gibson Venetian cutaway. I wondered how difficult it would be to transform the instrument so that it had the appearance of a classic Gibson jazz guitar. Eventually, as repro parts became more available and I became more adventurous, I began customizing ... more

The Loar LH-650-BK All Solid Archtop Guitar with Floating Humbucker, Black

MEDFORD, OREGON, 97501, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

$499

The Loar LH-650-BK All Solid Archtop Guitar with Floating Humbucker, Black. Condition is Used I bought this archtop last yr. here on eBay and it is really nice shape, just the usual scratches on the pickguard. I bought this to lead a roaring 20's hot jazz / charlie christian type band. The setup is pretty nice on it right now and I have put roundwound .10's back on it now. Plays great and sounds great through tube amps. Continental US shipping only please Please feel free to ask any Q's and I'll... more

2005 Aria Pro II FA-700 Hollow Body Archtop Electric Guitar Blonde, Samick

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON, 98117, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

$699

Up for sale, a 2005 Aria Pro II model FA-700 archtop guitar in exceptional, 100% original condition and in perfect working order. Clearly inspired by Gibson's premium archtop designs, the Aria FA-700 really outshines the competition, with a brilliant blonde finish, trapeze tailpiece, bound neck and body, and split block fingerboard inlays. The guitar features a full 3 5 / 8" body depth, with a generous 17" lower bout and Venetian cutaway to allow easy access to the higher frets. This fully ... more

Find more jazz guitars for sale at jazzguitarsforsale.com


Jazz Books


Hal Leonard Guitar Method - Jazz Guitar: Hal Leonard Guitar Method Stylistic Supplement Bk/online audio. Featuring in-depth lessons and 40 great jazz classics, the Hal Leonard Jazz Guitar Method is your complete guide to learning jazz guitar. Songs include: 'Satin Doll', 'Take the A Train', 'Billie's Bounce', 'Impressions', 'Bluesette' and more.

Jazz Guitar Lessons


Jazz Bebop Blues Guitar helps you to create the authentic sound of jazz guitar, without having to learn numerous scales and modes. Based around the familiar blues progression, this book uses simple chord / scale substitution ideas to create beautiful jazz-blues lines in the style of the great jazz guitarists