Introduction to the Modes of the Melodic Minor Scale
Most guitarists spend a considerable amount of time studying, playing and experimenting with modes. As you probably know, modes are derived from scales; if you play the notes of a C major scale (all the white notes on a piano) starting from a D, you'd be playing a Dorian mode, or if you play the scale starting from an F note, you would get a Lydian mode. All notes of the major scale produce a mode, even the major scale itself (which is known as the Ionian mode)- and each mode posesses a different color. I will assume that you, as a guitar player, are well aware how modes are constructed and how they are played on the guitar. If not, you should probaby check them out (there are plenty of great lessons on modes here on Myguitarworkshop) and return to this lesson later.
Now, the modes mentioned before all belong to the major scale, but what about other scales? If you think about it, any scale is susceptible to produce a series of modes (one for each note of the scale). In jazz and film music, the modes of the harmonic and melodic scales are widely used. In this lesson, we will focus on the modes of the melodic minor scale, which are commonly used in jazz imporivations and film scoring, since they posess different (and more complex) qualities than the regular modes.
Learning these modes can seem like a lot of work, but if you are already familiar with the modes of the major scale you should not worry; you just have to simply change a note from the modes of the major scale in order to learn the seven modes of the harmonic minor. I will also provide some chords compatible to each mode
Let's start with the first mode: the Melodic Minor scale itself.
1.-Melodic Minor Scale or Jazz Minor Scale
To play a melodic minor scale, you only need to alter the third degree of the scale a semitone down (if you are in C, that would mean lowering the E to an Eb. Here is the interval comparison between the two scales (altered note in bold):
Melodic Minor: 1-2-b3-4-5-6-7
Easy, right? You have to keep in mind that if you harmonize the entire scale in thirds, your first chord would be a minor chord with a major seventh, written as a imaj7.
Chords: m6, m7, mmaj7
2.- Dorian b2 or Phrygian # 6
As you probably guessed , to play the second mode of the melodic scale, play a dorian mode but with a flattened second. You can also think of it as a Phrygian ( because of the flattened second) with a natural sixth.
Dorian b2: 1-b2-3-4-5-6-b7
Chords: 7th, 13susb9, 7b9, 13
3.- Phrygian b1, or Lydian augmented
This scale is commonly known as the Lydian augmented scale, but in order to facilitate fingering on the guitar, you could also look at it as a Phrygian b1 (lowering the root may seem counterintuitive, but believe me, its easier to learn it this way)
Phrigyan b1: b1-b2-b3-4-5-b6-b7
Chords: maj7, maj7 # 5
4.- Lydian Dominant or Overtone scale
To play this scale, you only need to flatten the seventh of a Lydian Mode.
Lydian: 1- 2- 3- # 4- 5- 6- 7
Lydian Dominant: 1- 2- 3- # 4- 5- 6- b7
Chords: 7th, 7 (# 11)
5.- Mixolydian b6
The fifth mode the melodic minor scale is the result of flattening the sixth of a Mixolydian mode. It brings a colorful b13 sound to any dominant chord.
Mixolydian b6: 1-2-3-4-5-b6-b7
Chords: 7th, 9, 13th
6.- Locrian 2
You can get this mode by both flattening the fifth of an Aeolian mode, or raising the second of a Locrian mode.
Aeolian: 1 -2- b3- 4- 5- b6- b7
Locrian 2: 1- 2- b3- 4- b5- b6- b7
7.- Altered scale
The seventh mode of the melodic minor scale is known as the altered scale, and it is probably the most extensively used scale to play over dominant chords in jazz.
Locrian: 1- b2- b3- 4 -b5- b6- b7
Locrian b4: 1- b2- b3- b4- b5- b5- b7
Chords: 7, 7b9, 7b9,b13, 7b13, 7(# 11) and on any dominant chord.
In order to learn the modes of the melodic minor effectively, you have to practice them on different fingerings all over the fretboard, to play them over different chords and experiment with their sounds, and finally and perhaps most importantly: to actively listen to jazz classics, in order to understand how the greatest players employed them (Coltrane, Parker, Davies, Monk, Mingus, etc.). You can get a lot of melodic ideas and licks out of their solos; in fact, you can find a lot of the transcriptions online or in books like the Miles Davies or Charlie Parker Omnibooks.
I hope you found this lesson useful! Please rate and comment
I will be uploading more lessons on jazz guitar for guitarists who are not that familiar with the language (like all of us at some point :p), covering topics like scales, licks, chords, technique, improvisation and more.