Minor Scales: Harmonic and Melodic
Updated: May 1, 2019
So, you thought there was only major and minor, huh? Well, so did I. But apparently, the natural minor scale comes with a posse. Kinda like Regina George and her two other minions in Mean Girls.
"She's the queen bee. The Star. Those other two are just her little workers"
"She's totally rich because her dad invented Toaster Strudel"
"I hear her hair's insured for $10,000 dollars"
We can all agree that Regina George and her posse were either hated, envied or admired for one reason or another, reasons differing from one another, but they were all three still, nonetheless popular. Thats how I like to think of the minor scale and it's variations. All variations having very distinct qualities from each other, but for the most part, share the same minor feel.
Each variation of the minor scale follows a specific sequence of notes that are in order of specific pitch. Just like a major scale, each minor scale follows an interval pattern in between in each note in the scales.
Natural Minor (Aeolian)
This scale, also known as the aeolian mode starts on the sixth scale degree of its relative major scale. If you'd like to learn about modes, check out my previous blog post to get a quick understanding. The steps between each note are: whole-half-whole-whole-half-whole-whole Lets use C as an example.
Both the harmonic and melodic minor are variations of the natural minor scale, so once you're familiar with the natural form, it'll be much easier to remember and modify the scale into the two other variations. With the harmonic scale in particular, the only difference is with the seventh scale degree. We raise it by half a step. This changes the seventh scale degree by making it become a "leading tone." By definition, a leading tone is a "note or pitch which resolves, or "leads" to a note one semi-tone higher or lower." -Wikipedia. In words of my own, this basically means that a leading tone is always a half step away, whether it is lower or higher, from the leading tone. This creates tension and a feeling for resolve from the leading tone to the tonic. With the major scale, the seventh scale degree is a leading tone because of its interval between the seventh scale degree and the tonic, being only half a step away. In the C major scale, B is the seventh scale degree, being a half step away from the tonic, C. The natural minor scale does not have this tension or need of resolution from the seventh degree to the tonic, which is where the harmonic minor comes to an important use.
The melodic minor is super cool in the sense where it has two different forms based on whether you are going up or down the scale. When we go up the melodic minor scale, we only lower the third scale degree by a half step. Essentially, its almost a major scale with the exception of the lowered third. When we go down the scale, the scale goes back to being in the form of natural minor. In the jazz world, the melodic minor remains the same, whether the scale is ascending or descending.