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Home > Scales > Melodic Minor

Melodic Minor Scale on Guitar

The melodic minor scale is a wonderful scale to add to your repetoire. It's often used interchangeably with the harmonic minor scale, as both share similar qualities and common tones.

This lesson will provide you with the basic melodic minor patterns and fingerings, some theory behind playing it over chords and finally some backing tracks to try out your own ideas.

Melodic minor scale patterns and basics

In a nutshell, melodic minor is the same as harmonic minor but with a major 6th (6) as opposed to a minor 6th (b6) interval. Here's the root position box pattern with its intervals...

So, like harmonic minor, the melodic minor scale uses the major 7th, one semitone down from the root. The only difference is that 6th tone. Soon, we'll get to know how the combination of this 6th and the major 7th gives melodic minor its unique flavour.

The fingering below is only a guide. You'll probably need to change it when you start moving outside this box...

Also, don't forget to learn the box pattern on the A string, which allows you to build melodic minor conveniently around chords with an A string root note (e.g. A form barre chords).

Note that you'll have an opportunity to expand out of these boxed patterns in a coming lesson.

Playing the melodic minor scale over chords

Before we have a go at playing the scale over backing tracks, let's think about how to apply it over chords and chord progressions.

As the name suggests, melodic minor works over minor chords. However, that doesn't mean it will work in every instance of a minor chord. A lot of whether it fits depends on any other chords being played in the progression.

Over time, as with any scale, you'll develop an ear for when is "right" to use it. Certain chord movements complement melodic minor.

For example. a typical two chord phrase between a minor tonic and its V chord...

A minor - E7 (i - V) click to hear

A melodic minor would be an option there, to highlight the resolution back to A minor. As E major is part of the A melodic minor scale, you can also play it through that chord change.

A lot of whether it works will depend on the tones used in these chords. For example, if it's just the basic minor and major triads, you'll have more freedom to choose between harmonic and melodic minor. If, however, the chords are stacked a bit fuller, they will play a larger role in defining which tones you can play in your solo without sounding "outside".

Again, using A minor as our tonic minor chord (therefore A melodic minor becomes the "resolution scale"), another typical movement would be to the IV chord of that scale, one whole step down from the V...

A minor - D7 (i - IV) click to hear

Just like with harmonic minor, you have to be careful when using the scale's major 7th over that home minor chord as it sounds very unstable. The best way to use it is as a passing tone, glancing over it rather than emphasising or holding onto it.

The major 7th also functions as a leading tone, which is a note you use just before resolving to the root of the same scale, one semitone higher. Try using the major 7th just before the chord sequence resolves back into its minor tonic.

The 6th also carries a fair bit of tension, but it's less jarring than the major 7th and can be held. In fact, using the 6th as a resolution/landing tone on that tonic minor chord really brings out that haunting melodic minor quality.

Click to hear

Melodic minor backing tracks

Ok, let's really get to know this scale by experimenting with our own ideas over the tracks below. The first is based on a relationship we've been looking at. The chords are...

A minor - E7 

So our tonic "resolution" chord is A minor. This is the chord you'll need to focus on higlighting using the A melodic minor scale. It'll still work over E7 as this chord is part of the scale, but this chord is only there to create the tension needed for setting up a satisfying A minor resolution. You'll need to think about this while using A melodic minor away from A minor.

Try skipping around both boxed patterns from earlier. As we're in the key of A minor, the E string root note will be at 5th fret and the A string root at 12th fret.

                        Fret 5

                      Fret 12

Right click to download the backing track

This next jam track is a little trickier. The chord change is as follows...

C major - F minor 

This time, melodic minor is not compatible with the major tonic chord since its tones lie outside that scale. This means you'll need to negotiate two separate scales. I recommend simply playing the C major scale over C major and then F melodic minor over the F minor chord.

major scale first position boxed pattern
                        Fret 8

                        Fret 8

Start by just playing over F minor, then when you're confident, add the C major scale over C major.

Right click to download the backing track

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