Melodic minor is used to solo over minor chords when you want to bring a jazz sound to your lines, as it creates a mMaj7 sound in your solos.
The melodic minor scale is also known as the jazz minor scale among jazz musicians and educators.
Though mostly used by jazz musicians, fusion and rock guitarists also use melodic minor when looking to spice up minor chords in their solos.
In this lesson you’ll learn how to build melodic minor, apply it to your solos, study one and two-octave fingerings, scale patterns and licks in the style of Pat Martino and others.
Melodic Minor Quick Facts
What is Melodic Minor Used For? Melodic minor is used to create riffs, licks, melodies, and solos over minor family and related chords.
What is the Difference Between Melodic and Harmonic Minor Scales? Melodic minor has a raised 6th interval, harmonic minor has a b6.
What Notes are Raised in a Melodic Minor Scale? The 6 and 7 are raised in melodic minor compared to natural minor.
What Mode is Melodic Minor? Melodic minor is not a mode; it’s a parent scale. That means it creates modes.
What Are Melodic Minor Modes? The melodic minor modes are melodic minor, Dorian b2, Lydian Augmented, Lydian Dominant, Mixolydian b13, Locrian Natural 9, and the Altered Scale.
Melodic Minor Scale Construction
The melodic minor scale contains seven notes and has one accidental when written in the key of C melodic minor.
This means that if you play C melodic minor on the piano, you only play the white keys, with the E lowered to Eb, on the keyboard.
These seven notes can be written a number of ways such as intervals:
Or you can think of them as specific intervals such as:
In this case, the legend for each symbol would be:
- P = Perfect Interval
- M = Major Interval
- m = Minor Interval
While these intervals are commonly used, you can also think of the upper notes as chord extensions.
This means that you think of the melodic minor scale with this pattern:
I prefer this way of thinking as it allows you to visualize the upper colors over any chord you’re soloing over.
Here’s how the C melodic minor scale looks on the fretboard with both notes and intervals.
Notice that melodic minor has a major 7, which is the characteristic note of the scale and distinguishes it from the minor modes from the major scale.
When soloing over minor chords, highlighting the major 7 brings out the melodic minor sound, which you’ll hear in the licks below.
Melodic Minor Scale Application
Now that you know how to build melodic minor, take a look at how you apply this scale to a guitar soloing situation.
Melodic minor is used to solo over any chord in the minor family.
These chords include:
Notice that there are a number of chords in the minor family that have a b7, but you can use melodic minor over these chords, even though it has a major 7 interval.
When using melodic minor over m7 based chords, you create tension that needs to resolve properly, to prevent the major 7 from sounding like a mistake.
Check out this solo by Grant Green over for an example of how you use melodic minor over m7 chords.
Here’s an example of a melodic minor fingering and three chords from that fingering to see how the two relate on the fretboard.
To begin using this theory knowledge, put on a m7, m6, mMaj7, etc., backing track and solo with any fingering in this lesson.
You can also apply Melodic Minor to the Im7 in a minor ii-V-I, and finally, you can use melodic minor over the iim7 chord in a major ii V I.
When doing so, you highlight the major 7, creating tension that you resolve over the same iim7 chord, or over the V7 chord.
Using melodic minor in this way brings out a Charlie Parker vibe to you lines as he, and other beboppers, loved melodic minor scale over iim7 chords.
To help you practice the material in this lesson, here’s a D melodic minor backing track that you can jam over.
Melodic Minor Chords
Here are 8 different melodic minor chords that you can practice and add to your chord solos, comping, and chord melody playing.
Start by working these four 6-string root chords in different keys on the guitar.
The next group of melodic minor chords has the root note on the 5th string. Again, work these in Cm and then in other keys around the fretboard.
Melodic Minor Scale One Octave Fingerings
Before digging into melodic minor on guitar, there’s a shortcut you can take to quickly get these scales under your fingers.
As well as thinking of the interval pattern, you can also think of melodic minor as being a major scale with a flattened 3rd.
This allows you to take any major scale fingering you know and lower the 3rd note by one fret in to create melodic minor fingerings.
Here’s how that looks as you compare the one-note difference between C major and C melodic minor.
Now that you know how these two scales are similar, here are one-octave melodic minor shapes that you can work on in your practice routine.
These one-octave shapes come in handy when soloing over fast moving chord changes or at fast tempos in a jam situation.
There are three main fingerings for one-octave melodic minor shapes, starting your index finger on the first note of the scale.
When learning these shapes, work them in 12 keys and solo over various minor chords using these shapes in your lines.
This ensures that you work melodic minor from both a technical and improvisational standpoint.
Here are those one-octave scales to check out in your woodshedding.
You can also practice and learn these scales with your middle finger on the first note.
Once you have these four shapes under your fingers, move between the first four and these four in your practice routine.
Lastly, here are four scale shapes that begin with your pinky finger on the first note.
Again, work these shapes in all keys and solo over backing tracks in order to be creative with these scales in the woodshed.
Melodic Minor Two Octave Fingerings
You’ll now take these patterns a step further by learning two-octave shapes in 12 keys on the fretboard.
Two-octave scale shapes come in handy when soloing over longer chord changes or tunes that don’t change keys very often.
There are a number of ways that you can build two-octave melodic minor shapes, here are four of my favorites to get you started.
Melodic Minor Scale Patterns
You’ll now check out guitar scale patterns over any or all of the shapes that you’ve learned up to this point in the lesson.
To begin, here’s an ascending pattern that expands your fretboard technique.
The pattern is built by playing a triad from the root of the scale, repeating this pattern from each note, in this case ascending.
This means that you play 135, 246, 357, etc. as you work your way up the scale.
Go slow with this pattern, work it through one and two-octave shapes, and in different keys as you take it around the fretboard.
Click to hear melodic minor scales 1
You can also work this pattern descending any scale pattern.
Again, you play a triad from each note to create the pattern, which builds the intervals 864, 753, 642, etc.
Click to hear melodic minor scales 2
Once you have one or both of these patterns under your fingers, put on a backing track and add this pattern to your solos.
You don’t have to play them in every phrase, but adding these patterns here and there spices up your improvised phrases.
3 Melodic Minor Scale Licks
You can also study common licks and phrases to expand your vocabulary and build your understanding of this scale in a soloing context.
This first lick comes from the Pat Martino repertoire and features a descending CmMa7 arpeggio at the end of the line.
Click to hear melodic minor scales 3
This line is inspired by Grant Green’s solo on “So What,” where he uses C melodic minor to create tension over the Cm7 chord.
Click to hear melodic minor scales 4
The final lick is a John Coltrane type phrase that uses the major 7 interval as a lower neighbour over the Cm7 chord.
Click to hear melodic minor scales 5
Once you have these licks down, write out 3 melodic minor licks of your own as you build your soloing vocabulary with this important scale.