The Melodic Minor Scale: Supercharge Your Jazz Improv With Melodic Minor Modes

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The melodic minor scale is one of the most important and useful scales you can master.

Yes, you should know your major scale and its modes, but the major scale and other derived scales, like the natural minor scale, don’t cover all sounds found in jazz music.

To access those jazzier sounds while improvising, you’ll need to learn the melodic minor scale (also known as the jazz minor scale) and all its modes.

In this post, we will go over all the melodic minor scale modes and discuss how you can use them to supercharge your jazz improvisation skills.

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Melodic Minor Scales Overview

Some of you may have taken a music theory course that discussed the melodic minor scale in the classical sense. In classical music theory, the melodic minor scale changes depending on whether or not you are ascending or descending. Therefore, it has two forms.

Ascending Melodic Minor Scale

When ascending the melodic minor scale, the sixth and seventh degrees are raised when compared to the natural minor scale. On the way up the scale, the sixth degree is a major sixth interval above the scale’s root, and the seventh degree is a major seventh interval above the root.

C Melodic Minor Scale Ascending

The ascending melodic minor scale formula is:

  • (W)-(H)-(W)-(W)-(W)-(W)-(H)
  • C-D-Eb-F-G-A-B-C
  • Rt-M2 m3-P4-P5-M6-M7

Descending Melodic Minor Scale

When descending the melodic minor scale in classical music, you’ll lower the sixth and seventh scale degrees. The descending melodic minor scale has the same notes as a basic natural minor scale. The sixth scale degree is a minor sixth interval above the root, and the seventh scale degree is a minor 7th interval above the root.

C Melodic Minor Ascending and Descending

The descending melodic minor scale formula is:

  • Descending: (W)-(W)-(H)-(W)-(W)-(H)-(W)
  • C-Bb-Ab-G-F-Eb-D-C
  • Rt-m7-m6-5-4-m3-2-Rt

The idea behind having a different ascending and descending scale is to create a sense of levity on the way up and a sense of gravity on the way down.

  • The ascending version has a lighter feel due to the raised 6th and raised 7th scale degrees.
  • The descending version feels heavier due to lowered 6th and lowered 7th scale degrees.

This can enhance the emotional experience of the music.

But What About Jazz?

However, for jazz musicians, the melodic minor scale is just the ascending version of the “classical” melodic minor scale.

We don’t picture this scale as having different ascending and descending versions. Jazz musicians are more concerned with pitch environments or collections of pitches that create a specific sound. We see the ascending form and descending form as different because they make two different pitch environments:

  • One is the melodic minor scale (raised sixth and seventh)
  • The other is just the natural minor scale (the sixth mode of the major scale)

Some ways to think about the melodic minor scale:

When learning music, having a few ways of thinking about a concept is useful. There are a few ways you can use scales you already know to help you remember other scales.

You can think of the melodic minor scale in two ways:

  1. Major Scale with a minor third scale degree
  2. Natural Minor Scale with major sixth and major seventh

Modes of the Melodic Minor Scale

Just like the major scale, the melodic minor scale has seven modes. Each note in the melodic minor scale can be a root in its own scale. Though the sequence of notes is the same, what we consider the root note changes depending on the mode.

For example, the sequence of notes in the C major scale is:

  • C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C

However, we don’t have to start on C. Let’s change the root note to E but keep the same sequence:

  • E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E

As long as we maintain the sequence of notes, the mode will change, but the relationships between the notes remain intact.

C major and the E Phrygian mode are the same sequence of notes. C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C and E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E

For a refresher on the major scale modes, check out this guide to the major scale modes.

The same reasoning applies to the melodic minor scale.

Within a C melodic minor scale, there are six other scales. Many of these scales are vitally important to the jazz sound! In the following section, we will go over vital information you need to know about all seven of the melodic minor modes and associated melodic minor chords.

Note that you’ll see both the “correct” mode name and what the scale is more commonly called in the sections below. Classifying things can get tricky, especially when focusing on the details. The “correct” mode name is the most “technically accurate way” to refer to a scale, but this can lead to confusion. In practice, you’ll almost always use the common name when referring to these scales.

First Mode: C Melodic Minor Scale

C Melodic Minor Scale (Parent Scale) and associated 7th chord
  • Mode Position: C melodic minor: “Parent” scale/mode or “root mode”
  • Scale Spelling: C-D-Eb-F-G-A-B-C
  • “Correct” Mode Name: Dorian Natural 7
  • Commonly Called: The Melodic Minor Scale
  • 7th Chord: C-(maj7)
  • Related Major Mode: Dorian

Second Mode: Dorian Flat 2

D Dorian Flat 2; Second Mode of C Melodic Minor
  • Mode Position: C melodic minor played from D
  • Scale Spelling: D-Eb-F-G-A-B-C-D
  • “Correct” Mode Name: Phrygian natural 6
  • Commonly Called: Dorian Flat 2
  • 7th Chord: D-7
  • Related Major Mode: Phrygian

Third Mode: Lydian Augmented

Eb Lydian Augmented; 3rd Mode of C Melodic Minor
  • Mode Position: C melodic minor played from Eb
  • Scale Spelling: Eb-F-G-A-B-C-D-Eb
  • “Correct” Mode Name: Lydian Sharp 5
  • Commonly Called: Lydian Augmented
  • 7th Chord: Ebmaj7(#5)
  • Related Major Mode: Lydian

Fourth Mode: Lydian Dominant

F Lydian Dominant; 4th Mode of the Melodic Minor Scale
  • Mode Position: C melodic minor played from F
  • Scale Spelling: F-G-A-B-C-D-Eb-F
  • “Correct” Mode Name: Mixolydian Sharp 4
  • Commonly Called: Lydian Dominant
  • 7th Chord: F7 (especially F7#11)
  • Related Major Mode: Mixolydian

Fifth Mode: Mixolydian Flat 6

G Mixolydian Flat 6; the 5th Mode of the Melodic Minor Scale
  • Mode Position: C melodic minor played from G
  • Scale Spelling: G-A-B-C-D-Eb-F-G
  • “Correct” Mode Name: Aeolian Natural 3
  • Commonly Called: Mixolydian Flat 6
  • 7th Chord: G7 (especially G7b13)
  • Related Major Mode: Aeolian

Sixth Mode: Locrian Natural 2

Locrian Flat 2; Sixth Mode of the Melodic Minor Scale
  • Mode Position: C melodic minor played from A
  • Scale Spelling: A-B-C-D-Eb-F-G-A
  • “Correct” Mode Name: Locrian Natural 2
  • Commonly Called: Locrian Natural 2, or “Minor 7 flat 5” or “Aeolian flat 5”
  • 7th Chord: A-7b5
  • Related Major Mode: Locrian

Seventh Mode: Super Locrian or Altered Scale

B Super Locrian or B Altered Scale; Seventh Mode of the C Melodic Minor Scale
  • Mode Position: C melodic minor played from B
  • Scale Spelling: B-C-D-Eb-F-G-A-B
  • “Correct” Mode Name: Ionian Sharp 1
  • Commonly Called: The Altered Scale, Super Locrian, or Diminished whole-tone
  • 7th Chord: B-7b5
  • Related Major Mode: Ionian

BEFORE YOU CONTINUE...

If you struggle to play amazing jazz solos and want to learn the secret strategies the pros are using to improvise, our free guide will get you on the right track.

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Melodic Minor Chord Scales (Seventh Chords)

Melodic Minor Chord Scale (7thChords)

Notice how a melodic minor chord scale differs from chord scales built from natural minor scales:

Here is a natural minor scale harmonized in seventh chords (note how Roman numerals change between major and minor keys):

D natural minor scale harmonized in 7th chords

The chords are:

  • VII: C7
  • VI: Bbmaj7
  • v: A-7
  • vi: G-7
  • III: Fmaj7
  • iiø: E-7b5
  • i: D-7

Here is a D melodic minor scale harmonized in seventh chords. Notice how the raised sixth and seventh scale degrees change the characteristics of the seventh chords in the chord scale.

D melodic minor scale harmonizd in seventh chords.
  • viiø: C#-7b5
  • viø: B-7b5
  • V: A7
  • IV: G7
  • III: Fmaj7#5
  • ii: E-7
  • i: D-(maj7)

Ways To Apply The Melodic Minor Scale Over Tunes

The melodic minor sound is really useful over altered dominant chords. In the following exercise, we’ll play a melodic minor lick over different pitch environments from real jazz standards.

In the list below, you’ll find backing tracks where you can use this melodic minor lick in other contexts and over different chord progressions.

Melodic Minor Lick
  1. Solar: Try this lick over the C-(maj7) chord in Solar to hear the Melodic Minor Scale.
  2. Caravan: To hear Dorian Flat 2, transpose this lick to Bb melodic minor (whole step down), then try it over Caravan.
  3. Dolphin Dance: To hear Lydian Augmented, transpose this lick up a perfect fourth to F melodic minor, then try it over the Abmaj7(#5) chord in Dolphin Dance.
  4. Stella by Starlight: To hear Lydian Dominant, transpose this to Eb melodic minor and use it over the Ab7(#11) chord in Stella By Starlight.
  5. Stella By Starlight: To hear Mixolydian b6, bring this lick back to C melodic minor and play it over the G7(b13) at the beginning of the bridge.
  6. I Love You: To hear Locrian Flat 2, keep the lick in C melodic minor and play it over the A-7(b5) chord.
  7. My One and Only Love: To hear the Altered Scale, use this lick over any B7(alt.) chord.

For a melodic minor scale summary and a deeper look at the modes of the melodic minor scale, check out Four Modes of the Melodic Minor Scale To Take Your Jazz Playing To The Next Level.

The Harmonic Minor Scale: The Other Minor Scale You Need To Check Out

You already know the natural minor scale, and now you know the melodic minor scale. However, there is another minor scale you need to check out next on your journey toward jazz mastery: the harmonic minor scale.

The harmonic minor scale keeps the major seventh scale degree found in melodic minor scales but has the minor sixth degree also found in natural minor scales. This creates a wider interval between the 6th and 7th degrees than found in other minor scales.

Here is an E natural minor scale compared with its melodic and harmonic minor counterparts:

E natural minor scale

The melodic minor scale has the raised sixth and seventh degrees:

E melodic minor scale

However, the harmonic minor scale has a minor 6th interval which creates a minor third between the 6th and 7th scale degrees:

E harmonic minor scale

Like the melodic minor scale, the harmonic minor scale has its own modes and special applications. To learn more about harmonic minor scales, check out how to use them over ii-V-i chord progressions.

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For play-alongs and eBooks:

Because these are digital downloads, and not returnable, we have a strict no refund policy. All purchases are final and cannot be reversed. Please be sure that you fully understand the product you are purchasing and what is and what is not included. Of course, if you ever have any questions about a product feel free to contact usor visit our FAQ page.

For 30 Days to Better Jazz Playing eCourse

Please make sure you completely understand the product you are buying before purchasing.

14 Day 100% Money Back Guarantee

  • This guarantee lasts 14 days, which completely covers almost half of the course, enough for you to observe its’ effectiveness.
  • We can’t guarantee you will be Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, or John Coltrane in 2 weeks. We’d be suspicious of anyone who could promise that. Becoming a better jazz musician is a process and it requires work.
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  5. No Class Actions. YOU AND Learn Jazz Standards AGREE THAT EACH MAY BRING CLAIMS AGAINST THE OTHER ONLY IN AN INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AND NOT AS A PLAINTIFF OR CLASS MEMBER IN ANY PURPORTED CLASS OR REPRESENTATIVE PROCEEDING. Further, unless both you and Learn Jazz Standards agree otherwise in a signed writing, the arbitrator may not consolidate more than one person’s claims, and may not otherwise preside over any form of a representative or class proceeding.
  6. Modifications to this Arbitration Provision. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in these Messaging Terms, if Learn Jazz Standards makes any future change to this arbitration provision, you may reject the change by sending us written notice within 30 days of the change to Learn Jazz Standards’s contact information provided in the “Contact Us” section below, in which case this arbitration provision, as in effect immediately prior to the changes you rejected, will continue to govern any disputes between you and Learn Jazz Standards.
  7. Enforceability. If any provision of these Messaging Terms is found to be unenforceable, the applicable provision shall be deemed stricken and the remainder of these Messaging Terms shall remain in full force and effect.

Changes to the Messaging Terms

We reserve the right to change these Messaging Terms or cancel the messaging program at any time. By using and accepting messages from Learn Jazz Standards after we make changes to the Messaging Terms, you are accepting the Messaging Terms with those changes. Please check these Messaging Terms regularly.

Entire Agreement/Severability

These Messaging Terms, together with any amendments and any additional agreements you may enter into with us in connection herewith, will constitute the entire agreement between you and Learn Jazz Standards concerning the Messaging Program.

Contact

Please contact us with any inquiries or concerns at [email protected]

OUR PROVEN PROCESS FOR LEARNING JAZZ STANDARDS LIKE A PRO

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OUR PROVEN PROCESS FOR IMPROVISING JAZZ SOLOS LIKE A PRO

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OUR PROVEN PROCESS FOR LEARNING JAZZ THEORY LIKE A PRO

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DOWNLOAD THIS CHORD CHART

Get our FREE "The Melodic Minor Scale: Supercharge Your Jazz Improv With Melodic Minor Modes" chord chart and our entire library of 200+ jazz standards!

Chord Chart

DOWNLOAD THIS CHORD CHART

Get our FREE "The Melodic Minor Scale: Supercharge Your Jazz Improv With Melodic Minor Modes" chord chart and our entire library of 200+ jazz standards!

Chord Chart

DOWNLOAD THIS CHORD CHART

Get our FREE "The Melodic Minor Scale: Supercharge Your Jazz Improv With Melodic Minor Modes" chord chart and our entire library of 200+ jazz standards!

Chord Chart