19. Harmonic and Melodic Minor Scales

The Harmonic Minor Scale 

In the previous chapter we learned about the natural minor scale. In this chapter we are going to look at the other two forms of minor scales and they are: the harmonic minor scale and melodic minor scale. Let’s start with the harmonic minor scale and compare it with natural minor scale.

“A natural minor” scale 

(Chapter 19 – Audio Sample 1)

“A harmonic minor” scale

(Chapter 19 – Audio Sample 2)

As you can see in the preceding diagrams, there is only one difference between the natural minor scale and the harmonic minor scale. The 7th pitch of the harmonic minor scale is raised one half step. Because of this, the order of whole steps and half steps is different. In fact, the distance between the 6th and 7th pitches of the scale (F to G sharp) is neither a whole step nor a half step; it is three half steps. This makes the harmonic minor scale the only scale that is not made up entirely of single whole steps and half steps.  

Important: the pitches of the scale must be neighbour letters of the musical alphabet. For example, G sharp was used above rather than its enharmonic equivalent, A flat, to avoid have two “A’s” in a row (A, B, C, D, E, F, A flat, A) Using “A flat” would be an incorrect spelling of the scale.  

Out of the three forms of minor scales, the harmonic minor scale is the most commonly used by composers and songwriters. One of the reasons for this is the raised 7th. The raised 7th produces a larger distance between the 6th and the 7th pitches of the scale and a smaller distance between the 7th & 8th pitches. This creates a stronger “pull” towards the key’s tonal center “A”. In other words, hearing the root “A” becomes even more satisfying, and the sense of being at rest on the “home note” is even stronger.  

The Melodic Minor Scale 

The third and final form of minor scale is the melodic minor scale.

“A Natural Minor” Scale

(Chapter 19 – Audio Sample 3)

“A Melodic Minor” Scale 

(Chapter 19 – Audio Sample 4)

As you can see in the preceding diagrams, there are only two differences between the natural minor scale and the melodic minor scale. The 6th and 7th pitches of the melodic minor scale are raised one half step. Because of this, the order of whole steps and half steps is different.  

It is important to note that the melodic minor scale is played one way when ascending and another way when descending. It is only the ascending version that contains the raised 6th and 7th pitches; the descending version is played exactly like a descending “natural” minor scale (without the raised 6th and 7th pitches). 

The ascending melodic minor scale also has a similarity to the major scale. The sequence of whole steps and half steps formed by the last four pitches are the same in each scale (Whole – whole – half).  

Ascending “A melodic minor” scale 

(Chapter 19 – Audio Sample 5)

“A Major” scale 

(Chapter 19 – Audio Sample 6)

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