Piano Power: Melodic Minor Scales
Note: The following is an interactive article requiring the use of Finale 2002 or Finale Notepad. Finale Notepad may be downloaded for free from CodaMusic at: www.codamusic.com/coda/np.asp. For further instructions about downloading and viewing files in this article, see: "Reprinted Cadences and a Free Finale Notepad Download."
To form a melodic minor scale, take any natural minor scale and raise both the six and seventh steps one half-step when ascending through the scale. In the descending portion of the scale, revert to the natural minor by lowering the sixth and seventh steps to their original position. (See Example 1).
Here are a few of questions that may come to mind after viewing and listening to Example 1:
1. When is the melodic minor scale used in a piece?
2. Why does it revert to the natural minor when descending?
3. How is it different from the harmonic minor scale?
A valid answer to question #1 and #2 originates from my own personal experience. During a gig, while improvising on the changes to "My Funny Valentine" in C minor, my ear directed my fingers to use A natural and B natural (of the ascending melodic minor scale) as the melodic line ascended. Interestingly, when the melody descended, my ear reinstated the natural minor scale. I don’t remember what chords I was playing over at the time or where I was in the tune. However, whatever I played at that point was not planned or contrived and worked very well melodically. Very often, theory is developed in this manner…the actual experience of a player anticipates, and leads to the development and creation of a theoretical rule.
In answer to question #3…The melodic minor scale does not contain the awkward leap of an augmented 2nd between the 6th and 7th steps in the top half of the scale while ascending or descending. Instead, the augmented 2nd is replaced with a major 2nd making the melodic motion in the top half of the scale a lot more fluid. (See Example 2).
As an assignment,
* Listen to the scales in Example 3.
* Print out the file and practice playing them in all keys until it is easy to do.
* Rewrite all of the scales on a sheet of manuscript paper. As with languages, the writing of music will enhance your ability to read it more easily.