Hey Jazz Guy, April 2011

Hey Jazz Guy, I’ve got the major scale down, but I keep hearing about melodic minor.
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Hey Jazz Guy,
I’ve got the major scale down, but I keep hearing about melodic minor. Can you give me some tips on how it works? –Major in Minneapolis

Dear Major,
The mysterious melodic minor’s many magical modes have always presented myriad possibilities. The sound is unmistakable, and some of the modes are particularly useful. Melodic minor can be thought of as a major scale with a b3 or a minor scale with a natural 6th and 7th [Ex. 1]. The chordal realization of the scale is almost its own book, but the minmaj7 chord is one of the main tonic sounds. In Ex. 2, we use A melodic minor to construct a line that ultimately resolves to A, but hits all the chord tones. It’s important to remember that since the 6 and 7 are what distinguish the melodic minor from other parallel sounds, those notes are crucial. Melodic minor has a unique system of modes, some more common than others. The fourth mode from the 4th degree of the scale is called Lydian b7. Ex. 3 shows F Lydian b7 (4th degree of C melodic minor) in a line with a repeating shape—sequential techniques can highlight the sound of more exotic scales. In the final example we showcase another sound derived from melodic minor, the altered scale (the chord is shown as E7#5b9, but the line includes #9 and b5). This comes from the seventh mode, so in this case F melodic minor becomes E alt. Ex. 4 features some unorthodox intervals that come from that sound. Melodic minor is a very deep study but it will add some very cool things to your playing. So shed hard, and major malaise will mutate into melodic minor mastery.

Jake Hertzog is the jazz ambassador to the non-jazz world. Send your questions to guitplyr@musicplayer.com. Jake’s latest release is Patterns [Buckyball].