A Jazz Guitar Lesson
The melodic minor scale is commonly used by jazz musicians. There is only one note (the third) different from the major scale. It has also been used a lot in traditional and classical music. Please refer to the minor scale article in Wikipedia if needed.
In jazz music, the melodic minor can be heard (in harmony) on tonic minor chords: having a major seventh and a natural sixth. Melodic minor can also be used on the minor II-V-I cadence. Surprisingly, the modes of the melodic minor scale are pretty much all very useable in playing contexts… (but I digress)
On the guitar it can be played in using open strings:
Or it can be played using only one string at a time: (horizontal approach)
I believe the most important aspect for all jazzers is to really hear the sound of this scale. Understanding the theory is optional in the beginning. I suggest you play and learn this scale from an aural perspective at first. Also, it is highly common for jazz guitarists to sing along to their playing. Try it! It helps to reinforce the link between your fingers (what you play) and your ears (what you hear inside).
The theoretical side of the melodic minor scale is easy to grasp. It is built of seven notes that are laid out using intervals. The half-step interval is one fret away while the whole step is two frets away.
So the formula for the construction is:
W H W W W W H
(W stands for whole-step and H for half-step)
The numeric formula is: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 7
(it means that in comparison to the major scale, it has a b3)
To me, the melodic minor should be learned immediately after the major scale. They have six notes in common! Think about it … the C major scale is C D E F G A B, and the C melodic minor scale is C D Eb F G A B. This is as simple a minor scale as you can get! 🙂
Please see the “Jazz Theory” section of this website for more theoretical details. (Chord construction and chord progressions, and much more…)
Finally, guitar-wise the melodic minor scale can also be played “in position” (one finger to a fret). This is usually what is taught in guitar methods. It is a very good way to “compartmentalize” the neck. You will get familiar with the whole instrument dealing with it chunk by chunk.
Get the feel and sound of this scale into you ears and fingers. Then make sure you check out the major scale (very important, as it is our foundation) and then the harmonic minor scale (a little brother of melodic minor).
Furthermore, advanced theory:
- a very typical chord that stems for the melodic minor scale (the dominant b13)
- and here’s another typical melodic minor based chord (the dominant #11)
- and here’s another one (the “altered” dominant, #9 b9 #5 b5, aka Super Locrian)
Also see how to construct modes for major, harmonic minor and melodic minor here… As mentioned earlier, virtually all the seven modes in melodic minor are useable (good-sounding scales for improv).
Also, feel free to check out the “How to Improvise on the Minor II-V-I Progression” mini-guide here.
Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.