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Learn to play the Pentatonic Scales of the Melodic Minor Scale

In my previous lesson, I spoke about the modes of the melodic minor scale. If you're a jazz player, you should be already familiar with this scale, since it is also known as the jazz minor scale. It's construction is simple; you can think of it as a major scale with a minor third instead of the usual major third (Eb instead of E, if we are in the key of C), or as a minor tetrachord and a major tetrachord separated by a whole tone.

Melodic Minor Scale

Formula: R-1-2-b3-4-5-6-7

As I explained in my previous lesson, 'Introduction to The Modes of the Melodic Minor Scale', all scales produce a set of modes-each mode belonging to a degree of the scale.The melodic minor scale is so popular is jazz because its seventh mode-The Altered Scale or Super locrian Scale, contains all the altered notes-perfect to add tension to a dominant chord. In this lesson I'll talk about pentatonic scales derived from the melodic minor scale, the Major Pentatonic b6 scale and the Minor Pentatonic b5 Scale. They are very similar to a regular pentatonic scale, (just differing by one note) But they produce a very different, mysterious sound. They also provide new, interesting melodic possibilities when playing 'altered' over a dominant chord.Let's see how they work, using A as the root note in the examples.

A Major Pentatonic b6 Scale

Formula: R-2-3-5-b6-R


This pentatonic scale is derived from the 5th mode of the melodic minor scale, the Mixolydian b6. It simply is a major pentatonic scale with a flattened 6th (F instead of F# in A major pentatonic)It will work on any of the chords of D melodic minor; D-maj7, E-7sus4b9, Fmaj7 # 5, G7b5, A7b6, B-9b5 and C# altered. It sounds great and really jazzy, especially when you play it over the G7b5 chord; you are hitting the 9th,the 3rd, the # 11, the 13th and the flat seventh. When playing over altered chords, you can play the scale starting from the b6 of the altered chord, for example, if you have a G7 altered chord, you play the Major Pentatonic scale starting from Eb (the b6th degree),getting the # 5, b7, root, # 9 and major 3rd.

A Minor Pentatonic b5 Scale

Formula: R-b3-4-b5-b7-R


This pentatonic scale is derived from the 6th degree of the melodic minor scale, the Locrian M2 (or Aeolian b5).This scale works perfectly over altered chords. Just like the Major Pentatonic b6 Scale,it will work over any of the chords of the melodic minor scale it is derived from. It sounds great when played starting from a whole tone below the root of the altered chord, for example, A minor pentatonic b5over B7 altered (B7# 5# 9).

The best thing about this pentatonic scales is that they can be played just like the usual pentatonic scales, and using the same patterns you already know. It's important to learn them in the five positions. The key is to practice them in different interval patterns (not only going up and down the scale), and in an actual musical context. A good idea is to check out some jazz standards and practice soloing over altered dominant chords in the tunes. And listen to a lot of jazz. This way you'll also know how to use them in your phrasing and resolving them properly. Hope this lesson was useful! Please rate and comment :)

Stay tuned for more lessons!

@fredguitar   11 months ago
Thanks for the lesson . Ill have to try it out over a chord backing to really get the feel I guess but I get where you are coming from .
@pauljones   11 months ago
You're welcome! I've always found jazz standards backing tracks on YouTube quite useful. Or there are some other backing tracks that just plays two chords, let's say an altered chord and its resolution. But I think the best way is to jam with another guitar player or a piano player, so that they play the harmony and then you can try out the scale. Glad you found the lesson useful!
@ddaneskovic   11 months ago
Great lesson...It will take some time to put this pentatonic scales in five different positions but it will be worth to try.
I now definitely understood enharmonic of #11 and b12 (b5 in first octave) that I mention in comments of Your previous lesson. This enharmonic in building a chord G7b5 or G7#11 is not familiar in classical music theory because of functions in tonality. But in jazz theory it seems that it is not matter if we are talking about ton b5 (Db) or #11 (C#) from G7 chord root because (as You mention in previous comment) dissonance is not always important to release. In classical music theory C# releases upward in D, and Db releases downward in C so this differences are very important for correct releases of dissonance. Finally can we speak that this chords G7b5 and G7#11 are the same, and what are differences if there are any. Thanks in advanced Pauljones...
@pauljones   11 months ago
Thanks! Yes, the resolutions in classical music are quite important for stylistic reasons. But in jazz, the approach is different-it's more about outlining the color of the chord by playing the most important tones,for example the seventh and chord extensions of an altered chord in your melody, and resolving at some point. The main difference with classical music, is (as you said) that you don't necessarily need to resolve those extensions per se; as long as you resolve the melody in a logical way, you can do it from any chord tone. Regarding the difference between a b5 and a # 11: a # 11 chord implies that there is a 9th in the chord as well. Also, in a more broad context, there are some melodic implications of a b5 vs a # 11: a b5 construction would allow you to play a scale with a natural fourth, while a # 4 (or # 11) chord requires a natural fifth. And melodically speaking, the # 11 tends to resolve upward to the 5th, while the b5 is more commonly resolved to the natural 4th (the root of the iv for example). But in this specific context (degree of the melodic minor scale), the difference is not terribly important,you just need to get to keep some of the melodic implications in mind when improvising, and decide what sounds best. Thanks for your comments!
@ddaneskovic   10 months ago
Thanks again...I appreciate your lessons and answers...This theory will definitely help me and other visitors of this site to be more practical in music...
@pauljones   10 months ago
You're welcome! I'm glad you found the lesson useful.
@ddaneskovic   10 months ago
Hi...I will try to make backing track for Major pentatonic b6 and for minor pentatonic b5 scale if I get the right chords progression. Also I try to make improvisations from that backing tracks...Thanks in advanced Pauljones...(P.S. It will be good that You write sometime one lesson about harmonic minor modes like You did for melodic minor)
@pauljones   10 months ago
Hi @ddaneskovic. You're welcome! Those backing tracks will be very useful, and I'd certainly like to see your improvisations using them. The only way I've been able to practice these scales so far is by playing them while another guitarist plays the chords. And I will do the lesson on the modes of the harmonic minor too-in fact, I've already figured out a pentatonic scale derived from the Mixolydian b9 b13 mode. It's basically like a pentatonic b6 scale but with a flat 2: R-b2-3-5-b6-R. I'm not sure how it works in context yet but I guess the rules are similar to the ones of the Pentatonic b6 scale. I'm going to have to do some research!
Savo Kostic
@savo-kostic   10 months ago
Great lesson Paul, these audio files you have posted are really helpful. I am not that good with tab reading, but I can hear that its something wrong with my ear. Look forward to new lessons!
@pauljones   9 months ago
Thanks for your comment! I'm glad the audio files were helpful. You can check out my new lesson here:

I hope you find this lesson helpful as well- this time I used a guitar fingering chart instead of the tabs ;)
Savo Kostic
@savo-kostic   9 months ago
Thank you, I will do it right now! Take care.