Melodic Minor Scale Question

Question by David

Dear Marc-Andre,

Congratulations to your website. It has been very useful and sparked my interest in playing jazz music.

I have heard that the melodic minor scale is played differently ascending and descending. I think when it is played ascending the third note is lowered (b3) but when it is played descending the tones of the natural minor scale are used.

Is this true, and if yes, would you recommend to practice arpeggios (for instance 1-3-5) in two ways?

M-A’s Answer:

Hello David,

Thank you for the nice words.

Yes, you are right about the two different versions (ascending and descending) of the melodic minor scale. This is the way it is perceived and used in a “classical sense”, more or less.

Throughout my website, and in jazz in general, we think of melodic minor as the ascending version only (1 2 b3 4 5 6 7). It’s often called “jazz minor” or “tonic minor” I would recommend that you practice arpeggios only in one way at first and learn the jazz minor as is. Then it would be good to re-do the same process in harmonic minor and in natural minor.

Doing so, you will encounter all the different functions of what is sometimes called the “mixed minor” …

… for example: the IV chord can be either dominant 7th (melodic minor) or a minor 7th (harmonic and natural minor).

You will find a few different II chords, a few different VI chords, and so on. It’s great to be aware of the different possibilities and be able to hear/use them in context.

That would be a great topic for an entire book! I recommend “Modern Harmonic Technique” by Gordon Delamont. The author really dissects (and then puts back together) all the components of chords and how they work in progressions.

I hope this helps,
Marc-Andre Seguin

Soooo… in general: keep the same version of arpeggios your are practicing when ascending and descending. (-:

2 thoughts on “Melodic Minor Scale Question

  1. Hi Marc! I also wanted to say that I have been very inspired by your teachings! My question is, could you elaborate on this: … for example: the IV chord can be either dominant 7th (melodic minor) or a minor 7th (harmonic and natural minor).
    Could you give example chord changes of when the IV chord would be dominant 7th melodic minor and when it would be minor 7th harmonic and natural? Thanks in advance!

    • Miki: that’s a great question! For a dom7 IV chord, a great example is the second chord in the tune “On a Clear Day”. In the key of G major, the chord is thus C7. On the chart I have hear (New Real Book, on Sher publishing), the chord is spelled C13(#11), which is congruent with being the fourth mode of melodic minor.

      For the minor type of IV chords, I’m thinking of the B section on “Softly as a Morning Sunrise”, there’s an Fm7 lasting one bar. And the song is in C minor. Also, there’s the song “I fall in Love Too Easily” which hovers around the IV minor chord for a few bars, also the Fm7 chord, in the context of a tune in C minor.

      Hope this makes sense! Please let me know if you have further questions. Thanks! 🙂

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