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  • Pablo Embon

“The Melodic Minor Harmony, A Powerful Toolbox to know”

Introduction Melody Minor Harmony can be applied to improvise over music by using the different modes of the Melodic Minor Scale.. The idea behind this concept is: know the Melodic Minor scale and you will automatically know 7 useful types of scales with their associated diatonic chords. This is the reason why this Scale is so powerful, so if you only need to remember a few scales in your playing, this would definitely be one, along with the Major and Harmonic Minor Scales. This is very well known in Jazz music but can also be applied in other music genres to create interesting harmony and textures.

Melodic Minor Scale and Modes As suggested in the picture below – showing the C Melodic Minor Scale in guitar open strings arrangement – the Melodic Minor Scale is basically a Major Scale which uses a Minor 3rd instead of a Major 3rd.

——————— 1st Mode In the example above the 1st Mode would start in C, the root, and results in the Melodic Minor Scale itself. The associated diatonic chord for this mode would be the Cm Maj7 as we build it using the following notes: C (Root) – Eb(biii) – G(V) – B (VII). Applications: mMaj7 chords can preceed Maj 7 Chords or can replace Min7 chord to add a different Minor color (darker). Note that the melody in this case can not be on the bVII chord for this replacement to work properly.

2nd Mode In the example above the 2nd Mode would start in D, and results in: D – Eb – F – G – A – B – C and the interval sequence is: H – W – W – W – W – H And the notes degrees are: Root – b9 – biii – IV – V – VI – bvii By choosing the degrees in bolt above we notice that we can create a Sus7b9 chord which is a Dominant type of chord. In this case would be D Sus7b9 Applications: Sus7b9 chords are a dominant type of chords which replace the Dom7 Chord by adding a more ambiguous sound. You can try and replace a Dom7 chord by a Sus7b9 chord as long as the melody is not on the III of the chord. Also note that you can use the C Melodic Minor scale to improvise over the D Sus7b9.

3rd Mode In the example above the 3rd Mode would start in Eb, and results in: Eb – F – G – A – B – C – D and the interval sequence is: W – W – W – W – H – W And the notes degrees are: Root – 9 – III – #11 – #5 – VI – VII By choosing the degrees in bolt above we notice that we can create a Maj+7#11chord. In this case would be EbMaj+7#11 and the resulting scale would be Lydian Augmented. Applications: Augmented Major 7 chords can be used to replace Maj7 chords if the melody is NOT on the 5th of the chord. When using the #11, as in this case, and since the first 4 intervals of the scale are all whole, playing the first 5 notes of the scale will yield a whole tone type of scale which can be used to add some tension or special effect in the music. Also note that you can use the C Melodic Minor scale to improvise over this chord by starting on the 3rd degree.

4th Mode In the example above the 4th Mode would start in F, and results in: F – G – A – B – C – D – Eb and the interval sequence is: W – W – W – H – W – W And the notes degrees are: Root – 9 – III#11 – V – VI – bVII By choosing the degrees in bolt above we notice that we can create a Dom7#11chord. In this case would be F7#11 and the resulting scale is Lydian Dominant. Applications: Dom7#11 chords can replace Dom7 chords by adding #11 as the available tension. These chords are especially suited to be used when applying Tritone Substitution technique as they replace the 5th of the original V7 tritone substitution chord by the #11, which is diatonic to the original key . Also note that you can use the C Melodic Minor scale starting on the 4rd degree to play the relative Lydian Dominant Scale.

5th Mode In the example above the 5th Mode would start in G, and results in: G – A – B – C – D – Eb – F and the interval sequence is: W – W – H – W – H – W And the notes degrees are: Root – 9 – III – IV – V – b13bVII By choosing the degrees in bolt above we notice that we can create a Dom7b13 chord. In this case would be G7b13. Applications: Dom7b13 chord belongs to the category of Dominant altered 7 chords and can replace Dom7 chords by adding b13 as the available tension when typically the 5th is not played in the melody. Also note that you can use the C Melodic Minor scale starting on the 5rd degree to play over the G7b13 chord.

6th Mode In the example above the 6th Mode would start in A, and results in: A – B – C – D – Eb – F – G and the interval sequence is: W – H – W – H – W – W And the notes degrees are: Root – 9 – bIII – IV – bV – b13 – bVII By choosing the degrees in bolt above we notice that we can create a Min7b5 chord. In this case would be A Min7b5 and the resulting scale is Locrian Natural 9. Applications: Min7b5 chord belongs to the category of Minor7 chords also called Half Diminished Chords. These chords are typically used to precede Dom7 chords (usually b9) as the ii chord in a ii – v – I minor progression. This chord is also used to replace a Dom7 chord if built off the III of the chord or as a replacement of a Min7 chord to create additional tension. Note that the resulting Locrian scale off the 6th degree in the Melodic Minor scale uses a Natural 9 instead of a flat 9, so this is useful to create a different sound or to maintain the Natural 9 diatonic to the key center, which may sound more “inside the key”.

7th Mode In the example above the 7th Mode would start in B, and results in: B – C – D – Eb – F – G – A and the interval sequence is: H – W – H – W – W – W And the notes degrees are: Root – b9 – #9 – III – #11 – b13 – bVII By choosing any combination of the tensions above and the III and bVII we notice that we can create a Dom7Alt chord. In this case it would be B7Alt and the resulting scale is the Altered Scale. Applications: 7Alt chords are used to replace Dom7 Chords by adding different tensions. Also, in some cases a 7Alt chord would be more suitable to play than Dom7 chords to keep notes diatonic to the specific key center of the musical passage they are in as for example in the Progression iim7b5 – V7Alt – Min7, which would be more suitable than playing a Dom7 chord, since it includes the b9 and #9 which are diatonic to the key center. Example: Dm75b – G7Alt – Cmin7 (Playing G7Alt to use b9 and #9 – Ab and Bb – which are notes diatonic in the C Minor Scale, which is the key center).

Summary – How Do We Use All This Information By knowing the Melodic Minor scale, and knowing its 7 modes we can use the Melodic Minor scale to play over chords types reviewed in this article. This is a very easy approach by just visualizing the target scales and playing the Melodic Minor scale but starting on a different degree.

As an example if we see a D7#11 chord in a piece of music we can recognize first that we can play a Lydian Dominant Scale just by playing the A Melodic Minor Scale starting on the 4th Degree. In other words, play the Melodic Minor scale which root is the 5th (9-4) of the original D7 #11 chord.

The second important feature of this mechanism is that no matter from which degree we start playing the Melodic Minor scale or which combinations of scales notes we use to create a chord, it will all sound good as long as the chord type in the piece of music matches any of those applicable to the modes in the scale.

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