The Melodic Minor is one of the most versatile scales a guitar player can know. The basics of it are easy. But as with anything, it’s most important to know how and where to use it. So let’s dive in and see what a guitarist armed with this scale can do…
First a quick primer on minor scales. There are 3:
Natural Minor – The naturally occurring minor scale based on your key signature.
So for A Minor: A B C D E F G A
Harmonic Minor – Same scale but with a #7.
A B C D E F G# A
Melodic Minor – Same again but with a #6 and #7, and returning to the natural minor when descending.
A B C D E F# G# A G F E D C B A
Jazz Minor – Because when you’re improvising a zillion notes a minute you don’t want to have to think about which direction you’re going, Jazz players will use the melodic minor with the #6 and #7 in both directions.
You can also think of the Melodic Minor as a major scale with a b3.
Let’s first look at the chords that are derived from the melodic minor to get some ideas of where the scale will work. I’ll present the basic triads and the more interesting 7th chords.
i – A C E = Am.
A C E G# = Am (maj7).
ii – B D F# = Bm.
B D F# A = Bm7.
III – C E G# = C aug.
C E G# B = Cmaj7#5.
IV – D F# A = D major.
D F# A C = D7.
V – E G# B = E major.
E G# B D = E7.
vi – F# A C = F#dim.
F# A C E = F#m7(b5).
vii – G# B D = G#dim.
G# B D F# = G#m7(b5).
Now we know we can use the A Melodic Minor over any of these chords. You can also write chord progressions based on these chords.
Let’s say you’re faced with a chord like Em7(b5). That type of chord can either be the 6th or 7th chord in the melodic minor. Which means you could use either D# or F Melodic Minor to play over it. Or both. Are you starting to see the myriad of possibilities here?
We can also look at the modes of the Melodic Minor by creating scales that start on each of the notes:
A Melodic Minor – A B C D E F# G#.
Use over major and minor chords.
B Dorian b2 – B C D E F# G# A.
Use over b9sus4 chords.
C Lydian #5 – C D E F# G# A B.
Use over maj7#5 chords.
D Lydian Dominant – D E F# G# A B C.
Use over 7#11 chords and tritone substitutions.
E Mixolydian b6 – E F# G# A B C D.
Use over 7b13 chords.
F# Aeolian b5 – F# G# A B C D E.
Use over m7b5 chords.
G# Altered (aka Super Locrian or Diminished Whole tone).
A user over altered dominant chords (ie. #5, b5, #9, b9, etc).
For the most part, you’ll notice that these are all altered dominant chords of some sort. So try mixing them up that way and see what happens. Another cool trick is to use the Melodic Minor a half step (one fret) higher than the root of your dominant chord. For example, use Bb Melodic over an A7 chord.
How to practice these… You might be thinking, “But I rarely run across some of these chords and when I do, I won’t think of playing this way.” The solution is to write some chords progressions for yourself that use these chords and start blowing over them. Even just a two-chord vamp will go a long way to helping you internalize these sounds and have them ready when you need them.