Modes Explained 7: Introducing the Melodic Minor Modes

The Melodic Minor scale gives us a whole new range of modal possibilities.


The origins of the Melodic Minor scale are beyond the scope of a series on modes, but for the sake of this article we can assume a Melodic Minor scale to be a major scale with a minor third. This means that where the major scale formula is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, the Melodic Minor formula will be 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, 7. In the case of a scale built on C, a C major scale would be C, D, E, F, G, A, B while a C Melodic Minor scale would be C, D, Eb, F, G, A, B.

Like the major scale, we can form modes from the Melodic Minor scale, by changing which note is regarded as the root. For instance, by taking the notes of C Melodic Minor but starting on F we will have the F Lydian Dominant scale: F, G, A, B, C, D, Eb, F.

The First Mode of the Melodic Minor Scale

The first mode of the Melodic Minor scale is the Melodic Minor scale. Unlike the major scale which has the modal name Ionian, there is no alternative modal name for the Melodic Minor scale.

As we know, the formula for Melodic Minor is 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, 7 so a C Melodic Minor scale would contain the notes C, D, Eb, F, G, A, B, C. If we take a fretboard diagram and mark a dot at each of these notes everywhere on the fretboard, we arrive at a fretboard map that looks like the diagram below (if you need help finding the notes on the fretboard, you may find my ‘Finding the Notes’ series helpful).

To make this giant fretboard map more digestable and user-friendly we can divide it up into five CAGED shapes.

The Dorian Flat 2 Scale

The mode starting on the second degree of the Melodic Minor scale is the Dorian b2 scale. Taking C Melodic Minor as our parent scale, but starting on the second note, we get the D Dorian b2 scale.

C Melodic Minor C D Eb F G A B
D Dorian Flat 2 D Eb F G A B C

Of course, since D Dorian b2 and C Melodic Minor contain the same notes, but with different roots, the fretboard maps are identical but with the root notes in different places.

To understand why this scale is called Dorian b2, its useful to compare the D Dorian, and D Dorian b2 scales side-by-side.

D Dorian D E F G A B C
D Dorian Flat 2 D Eb F G A B C

As you can see, the two scales are identical except the Dorian b2 has its second notes lowered – hence the name Dorian b2. As we know from part 2 of this series, the Dorian scale formula is 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7. This means that the scale formula for Dorian b2 will be 1, b2, b3, 4, 5, 6, b7.

Lydian Augmented

The third mode of the Melodic Minor scale is the Lydian Augmented scale, and is formed by taking the notes of the Melodic Minor scale, but defining the third note as the root. If we use the C Melodic Minor scale as the parent scale, the related Lydian Augmented scale will be Eb Lydian Augmented.

C Melodic Minor C D Eb F G A B
Eb Lydian Augmented Eb F G A B C D

As with D Dorian b2, Eb Lydian Augmented shares the same fingering patterns as C Melodic Minor however it is important to remember that the position of the roots will be different.

Comparing the Eb Lydian Augmented scale with the regular Eb Lydian, shows us what is meant by the term Lydian Augmented.

Eb Lydian Eb F G A Bb C D
Eb Lydian Augmented Eb F G A B C D

As you can see the only difference between these two scales is that Lydian Augmented has its fifth note raised by a semitone, from Bb to B. The term Augmented is borrowed from the Augmented chord, where the word is used to denote chords which have had their fifth note raised. Where the regular Lydian scale formula is 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7, the Lydian Augmented scale formula must have a #5 and is therefore 1, 2, 3, #4, #5, 6, 7.

Lydian Dominant

Taking the fourth note of the Melodic Minor scale as the root gives us the Lydian Dominant scale. Taking the C Melodic Minor scale, but begining on the fourth note we arrive at the F Lydian Dominant scale.

C Melodic Minor C D Eb F G A B
F Lydian Dominant F G A B C D Eb

Once again, because C Melodic Minor and F Lydian Dominant are relatives of each other (that is they share the same notes), this also means that the fingering patterns will be the same. Of course, the important difference is that the position of the roots are not the same.

The table below shows the regular F Lydian scale, compared with the F Lydian Dominant scale. As you can see the only difference between these two scales is that the Lydian Dominant scale has its seventh note flattened by a semitone. The term Dominant has been borrowed from chord terminology, where the term is used to denote chords with a major third and a minor seventh, which is the case with the Lydian Dominant scale.

F Lydian F G A B C D E
F Lydian Dominant F G A B C D Eb

The scale formula for the regular Lydian mode is 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7. Adding a b7 gives us the Lydian Dominant formula 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7.

Mixolydian Flat 6

The fifth mode of the Melodic Minor scale is Mixolydian b6, also known as the Hindu scale. Using the notes of C Melodic Minor but regarding the fifth note, G, as the tonal centre we have the G Mixolydian b6 scale.

C Melodic Minor C D Eb F G A B
G Mixolydian Flat 6 G A B C D Eb F

As with the previous examples the fingering patterns for the G Mixolydian b6 scale and the C Melodic Minor scale are the same, however the position of the roots are different.

The name Mixolydian b6 implies that it is the same as a regular Mixolydian scale but with the sixth note lowered. This can be confirmed by comparing Mixolydian b6 and regular Mixolydian with each other. Accordingly we can find the Mixolydian b6 scale formula by begining with the formula for the regular Mixolydian mode (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7) and then lowering the sixth, which gives us 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, b6, b7.

G Mixolydian G A B C D E F
G Mixolydian Flat 6 G A B C D Eb F

Half-diminished Scale

The Half-diminished scale is the sixth mode of the Melodic Minor. Taking C Melodic Minor as the parent scale but starting on the sixth note, gives us the A Half-Diminished scale. As always, since C Melodic Minor and A Half-diminished share the same notes, they will also share the same fingering patterns, just make sure that you are aware of which note is considered to be the root.

A half-diminished chord is a chord with a b5 and a b7. The notes in an A Half-diminished chord are A, B, C, D, Eb, F, G. The interval between the root and the fifth is a diminished fifth (i.e. b5) and the interval between the root and the seventh is a minor seventh (i.e. b7). The half-diminished scale gets its name from the fact that, like the half-diminished chord, its characteristic notes are the b5 and b7.

While the term Half-diminished is my prefered term for this scale, other standard terms include Locrian #2 or Aeolian b5. Comparing this scale with a regular Locrian scale reveals that it is the same but with the second note sharpened (i.e. #2).

A Locrian A Bb C D E F G
A Half-diminished/Locrian Sharp 2 A B C D Eb F G

Comparing this same scale with the Aeolian mode reveals why it may also be called the Aeolian b5 scale. The table shows that the Aeolian b5 is the same as the regular Aeolian scale but with the fifth flattened.

A Aeolian A B C D E F G
A Half-diminished/Aeolian Flat 5 A B C D Eb F G

The scale formula is for the Half-diminished scale is the same as the formula for the Aeolian scale but with the fifth note flattened. Therefore, where the Aeolian scale formula is 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7, the Half-diminished scale formula will be 1, 2, b3, 4, b5, b6, b7.

Superlocrian

Superlocrian is the seventh and last mode of the Melodic Minor scale. If we take C Melodic Minor to be the parent scale and take the seventh note as the root, we will have the B Superlocrian scale. As with every example in this artcle, the fingering maps are the same, however the key difference is that the roots are not the same.

Comparing Superlocrian with the regular Locrian scale shows the Superlocrian to be the same as a Locrian scale but with a ‘flattened fourth’.

B Locrian B C D E F G A
B Superlocrian B C D Eb F G A

Where as the formula for Locrian is 1, b2, b3, 4 b5, b6, b7, the formula for Superlocrian must be 1, b2, b3, b4, b5, b6, b7. In reality the Superlocrian scale is rarely considered viable – since the ear will always hear/interpret a flat fourth as its enharmonic equivalent, a major third. However, enharmonically re-spelling the notes of the formula as 1, b2, #2, 3, b5, #5, b7, gives us what is known as the Altered scale.

While this means that the Altered scale and Superlocrian will both contain the same pitches, conceptualising the scale in this way makes it far easier to understand how the scale is applied. This is a source of great confusion for some students so I will investigate the Altered scale and its uses thoroghly in a later installment of this series.

Summary

This table shows each of the Melodic Minor scales and their respective formulae covered in this post. I have also included some common alternate names used for the modes, and written out the Tone-Semitone formula of each mode for those who are interested.

  Alternative Name Formula Interval Formula
Melodic Minor Jazz Minor 1 2 b3 4 5 6 7 Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semitone
Dorian b2 Phrygian Natural 6, Phrygian Sharp 6 1 b2 b3 4 5 6 b7 Semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone
Lydian Augmented   1 2 3 #4 #5 6 7 Tone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Semitone
Lydian Dominant   1 2 3 #4 5 6 b7 Tone, Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Semitone, Tone
Mixolydian b6 Aeolian Natural 3, Hindu scale 1 2 3 4 5 b6 b7 Tone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone
Half-diminished Scale Locrian Sharp 2, Locrian Natural 2, Aeolian b5 1 2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7 Tone, Semitone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone
Superlocrian Diminished-wholetone, Altered Scale 1 b2 b3 b4 b5 b6 bb7 Semitone, Tone, Semitone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Tone

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One Comment

  1. david levene says:

    would help to practice with some chord progressions, chords combinations for each mode
    thank you very much
    \best regards
    David Levene

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