Natural minor - Harmonic minor - Melodic minor

Martin Cohen
A free video tutorial from Martin Cohen
Teacher, musician and composer
4.6 instructor rating • 6 courses • 19,819 students

Learn more from the full course

The Complete Jazz Theory Course - Jazz Chords/Scales & More

Better jazz improvisation by understanding jazz chords & scales - All the jazz theory every jazz musician should know

03:26:30 of on-demand video • Updated August 2020

  • You will know how jazz chords are formed
  • You will know what notes/scales to use for your improvisation/solo
  • You will understand the relationship between chords and scales
  • You will learn reharmonization techniques
English There exists only 1 major scale, but there are 3 different minor scales: 1. The natural minor scale, which is the same as the 6th, or aeolian mode of major scale harmony. 2. The harmonic minor scale. 3. The melodic minor scale. In this lesson, I will briefly discuss the 3 different minor scales, and I will start with the natural minor scale. The easiest natural minor scale is A natural minor. Since it is the 6th, or aeolian mode of the C major scale, it contains the same notes as the C major scale, it only starts on A and continues to the A an octave higher. We also say: A minor is the relative minor of C major, or: C major is the relative major of A minor. If I want to find the C natural minor scale, I have to find the relative major of C minor to see to which major scale C natural minor belongs. Since the natural minor scale is the same as the 6th, or aeolian scale, I have to go down a 6th to find to which major scale it belongs. Instead of going down a major 6th, I can also go up a minor 3rd, since a minor 3rd is the inverse of a major 6th. A minor 3rd up from C takes us to Eb. So, C natural minor has the same notes as Eb major. C minor is the relative minor of Eb major. So, C natural minor consists of the notes: C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb and C. Now, why only just the natural minor scale is not enough? Why do we need the harmonic and the melodic minor scales? To understand this, you have to look at the leading tone (also called leading note). A leading tone is a note that resolves to another note a semitone up (or down). In our case, the leading tone resolves to the root of the scale we’re in. Let me illustrate this with the C major scale. I will play the C major scale starting on C and go up till I reach the 7th note, the B. When you end your line on the B, it sounds as if something is missing, as if it’s not finished. You can solve this ‘problem’ by playing the next note a semitone higher than the B, which is the C (the root of our C major scale). What you did is resolving the B by playing the next note a semitone higher, the C. The B is called a leading tone; it’s a semitone away from our resolution, the C, the root of our scale. In all major scales, the 7th note is a semitone away from the root. So in a major scale, the 7th note is a leading tone. Now, the natural minor scale doesn’t have a leading tone since the 7th note of a natural minor scale is a whole tone away from the root; see for example the C natural minor scale: The 7th note is a Bb, a whole tone away from the root C. Since the natural minor scale has no leading tone, the harmonic minor scale was introduced. The harmonic minor scale is almost equal to the natural minor scale. The only difference is the 7th note, which is raised by a half tone. In that way, the ‘leading tone-problem’ is solved. Let me illustrate this again with the C minor scale. As we saw, C natural minor is: C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C Now, just raise the 7th note (the Bb) by a semitone to obtain C harmonic minor: C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, B, C It’s as easy as that! When you want to know a harmonic minor scale: just take the natural minor scale and raise the 7th note by a half tone, and you’re done! Notice the special interval between the 6th and 7th note of the harmonic minor scale: 3 semitones, which you probably recognized as a minor 3rd interval. This is quite special, because till now we’ve seen only half tone and whole tone intervals between 2 consecutive notes of a scale. By the way: the 3 semitone-interval is in this case technically spoken NOT a minor 3rd interval, but an augmented 2nd interval, since we’re going from Ab to B (in C harmonic minor) and not from G# to B. This interval of 3 semitones gives the harmonic minor scale a very nice sounding effect. I would even say: an exotic effect. Listen to the C harmonic minor scale to hear this effect: The exotic sounding augmented 2nd interval in the harmonic minor scale is however not always the wanted effect. And this is where the melodic minor scale comes into play. In order to have a minor scale with a leading tone, but without an augmented 2nd interval between 2 consecutive scale notes, just take the harmonic minor scale, and raise the 6th note of the harmonic minor scale by a semitone. The scale obtained in this way is called the melodic minor scale. Let me illustrate this again with C minor. Take the C harmonic minor scale: C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab, B, C Now raise the 6th note (the Ab) by a half tone to obtain the C melodic minor scale: C, D, Eb, F, G, A, B, C You see that the melodic minor scale has a leading tone, but doesn’t have an augmented 2nd interval between 2 consecutive notes of the scale. To find a melodic minor scale, you have 3 options: 1. Take the harmonic minor scale and raise the 6th note by a half step. 2. Take the natural minor scale and raise the 6th and the 7th note both by a half step. 3. Take the major scale and replace the major 3rd by a minor 3rd. Note that in classical theory the descending melodic minor scale is not the same as the ascending melodic minor scale: the ascending scale is the one you just learned; the descending scale is simply the natural minor scale. In jazz, the ascending and descending melodic minor scale are the same. Now, when are the harmonic and melodic minor scales used? Let me first show you how the harmonic minor scale could be used in a melody or in a solo. Imagine playing a piece in the key of C minor. Now, let’s assume that the piece contains a G7 chord. The G7 chord consists of the notes G, B, D and F. When you would play in C natural minor over the G7 chord, the Bb in C natural minor could conflict with the B in the G7. So that’s where you could play C harmonic minor instead of C natural minor. There are plenty of similar cases of when to use the harmonic minor scale; this is just one example. So, what about the melodic minor scale? The melodic minor scale forms the basis of melodic minor harmony on which are based a lot of scales often used in jazz (like the altered scale, half diminished scale and more). So when a jazz musician improvises over a scale derived from melodic minor harmony, he will play notes from the melodic minor scale.