Melodic Minor Scale 5 Patterns: Best Guitar Scales To Learn
Learn the Melodic Minor scale shapes on guitar to spice up your lead playing
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What Is The Melodic Minor Scale on Guitar?
The melodic minor scale, despite its name, is almost identical to the major scale. It is a 7 note scale with a flat 3rd separating it from its happy sounding major counterpart.
This versatile scale is popular with jazz guitar players and because of this is sometimes referred to as the "jazz minor scale".
Owing to its interval structure, the melodic minor scale can't quite make up its mind up if it's major or minor. The first half, with it's minor third interval has a minor flavour, whilst the top half sounds major.
For this reason, the scale can be thought of as two tetrachords (a 4 note chord spread over 5 semitones within a perfect 4th interval) separated by one whole tone:
Minor tetrachord = Tone - Semitone - Tone
Major tetrachord = Tone - Tone - Semitone
Taking the C melodic minor scale as an example, here are its two opposing halves:
(Minor tetrachord) C - D - Eb - F <-- tone --> G - A - B - C (Major tetrachord)
This split personality is what makes the melodic minor scale so useful for any guitar player wanting to expand their improvisation and writing horizons. From jazz to folk to bebop, the melodic minor scale has a few extra quirks we're about to discover...
The Melodic Minor Scale Is Different Forwards & Backwards
Taken in the traditional classical sense, the bizarre thing about the melodic minor scale is it is played differently ascending and descending. Played forwards, you play with a flat third and coming back down, you play the natural minor scale intervals we'll have a look at further down.
As we've touched up, today in contemporary music, the melodic minor scale is liberally used in jazz, and within this context most jazz guitarists think of it as being the major scale with a flat 3rd. It is therefore played the same forwards and backwards.
Let's look at the notes in the key of C melodic minor as an example:
Ascending = C - D - Eb - F - G - A - B - (C)
Descending = C - D - Eb - F - G - Ab - Bb - (C)
Just like all other musical scales, we use both a scale degree formula and semitone and tone interval formula (half and whole steps) to describe the melodic minor scale. This unique interval structure is what determines the flavor and mood of the scale.
Melodic minor scale formula ascending:
1 – 2 – b3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7
Melodic minor scale formula descending (same as the natural minor scale:
1 – 2 – b3 – 4 – 5 – b6 – b7
Melodic minor interval formula where T = tone and S = Semitone:
T – S – T – T – T – T – S
Here’s the formula shown in whole and half steps:
W – H – W – W – W – W – H
Pro Tip: Think of the melodic minor scale as the natural minor scale with raised 6th and 7th degrees (b7 becomes 7, b6 becomes 6), or a major scale with a flat third.
What Chords Fit Under The Melodic Minor Scale?
The melodic minor scale produces major, minor, augmented and diminished triad chords in this order:
Using the key of C melodic minor as an example, let's take a peek at the triads:
Triads: C minor | D minor | E♭ aug | F major | G major | Adim | Bdim
By adding a fourth note on top of a triad (a chord with 3 notes layered in intervals of thirds) you get various chord extensions, typically seventh chords, but also sixth. Here are the diatonic seventh chords in the key of C:
Extensions: Cminmaj7 | Dm7 | Ebmaj7#5 | F7 | G7 | Am7b5 | Bm7b5
Let's get to the melodic minor guitar scale patterns.
The G root note in our example key of G melodic minor is highlighted in aqua blue in the fretboard diagrams below. The flat 3rd interval which separates the melodic minor from the major scale is highlighted in purple.
Make sure you check out the practice tips below the scale diagrams to help make your practice time effective and pain free.
Melodic Minor Scale Shape #1 - (E Chord Form)
Melodic Minor Scale Shape #2 - (D Chord Form)
Melodic Minor Scale Shape #3 - (C Chord Form)
Melodic Minor Scale Pattern #4 - (A Chord Form)
Melodic Minor Scale Shape #5 - (G Chord Form)
1) Pick using strict alternate picking technique.
2) Start with one shape and break it down into one octave. Once that is memorised and sounding smooth, add on the next octave.
3) Start from the low root note in each shape ascending and descending through the pattern.
4) Record yourself practicing early doors so you can look back on your progression and catch any mistakes.
5) Always use a metronome once you have memorised the positions of the pattern notes. Using a metronome helps you play in time and measure your improvement at the same time.
6) Change up the rhythmic values. Try quarter notes (e.g 1 pick per beat at 110bpm) and then eighth notes (e.g 2 picks per beat 80bpm). Adjust the tempos depending on your ability level.
Essential Jazz Guitar Chords Chart Poster
Featuring 65 of the most used common jazz (blues, funk and country too) chord shape voicings & extensions + bonus Guitar Fretboard Notes Chart
Downloadable music prints that make your time learning guitar easier...
Jazz Guitar chord shapes include:
- Major seventh (Maj 7th)
- Minor Seventh
- Diminished - Half Diminished
- Dominant seventh
- Major 9th / minor 9th / dom 9th
- Maj11th / minor 11th / dom 11th
- Maj13th / minor 13th / dom 13th