The melodic scales

The melodic scale can be represented by these notes: c, d, eflat, f, g, a, b.

The melodic scale is proper, and, like the diatonic scale, it is smooth with only two sizes of second (major and minor second). This makes the scale particularly suitable for melodic purposes, including improvisation. The two tonal scales which can be derived from it are, however, amongst the least effective and convincing at providing a tonic of all the tonal scales.

Two of the other modes of this scale are very familiar in jazz circles as melodic modes used as the basis for improvisation (or indeed composition) over dominant seventh type chords. These two modes are usually called the lydian dominant scale and altered scale.

These two jazz modes and the two tonal harmonic scales are listed below. They are all taken from the same melodic scale (c, d, eflat, f, g, a, b) and the name of each scale is listed next to its home note. It should be stressed here that neither the lydian dominant scale nor the altered scale has a tonic triad on its home note, because that is the root of the (unstable) dominant chord over which it is used. The term "home note" is used only to indicate that this note is the most convenient reference point of the scale since it matches the root of the chord over which it is used.

Home note Name of mode
f f lydian dominant (or lydian flat 7)
c c (ascending) melodic minor
g g (descending) melodic major
b b altered

The melodic scale above has two triads which are capable of functioning as tonics: c minor and G major, so these are the tonics of the two tonally effective modes of the melodic scale - the (ascending) melodic minor scale and the (descending) melodic major scale.

Both of these scales can be understood to be melodic "improvements" of the harmonic minor and harmonic major scales respectively, although the strength of the tonic in both these melodic scales is weaker than in their harmonic counterparts.

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The melodic minor scale

The melodic minor scale is represented numerically (relative to the major scale):

1 2 flat3 4 5 6 7 Notes
i ii flatIII+ IV V vi0 vii0 Chords

So if the tonic is c, the notes and chords of this scale are:

c d eflat f g a b Hear these notes
c d Eflat+ F G a0 b0 Hear these chords

There are semitones (minor seconds) between the 2nd and 3rd degrees and between the 7th and 8th degrees, and wholetones (major seconds) between all the other adjacent degrees. Using this formula the melodic minor scale can be built on any note.

The scale is most frequently encountered as a temporary substitution for the harmonic minor scale in order to smooth the melodic line from the sixth to the seventh degree without disturbing the tonic function on i.

In common practice classical it is rarely used in isolation for any extended period of time. This is largely because its tonic is not so effective as that of the harmonic minor scale. Repeated use of ii or IV in a minor mode tend to make the tonic sound like a slightly artificial alteration of a major tonic.

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The melodic major scale

The melodic major scale is spelled (relative to the major scale):

1 2 3 4 5 flat6 flat7 Notes
I ii0 iii0 iv v flatVI+ flatVI Chords

If c is our tonic then the notes and chords in this scale are:

c d e f g aflat bflat Hear these notes
C d0 e0 f g Aflat+ Bflat Hear these chords

It is so named because it is a mirror of the (ascending) melodic minor scale. In the melodic minor scale the 6th and 7th degrees of the diatonic aeolian mode are sharpened, in the melodic major scale the 6th and 7th degrees of the diatonic major scale are flattened.

What a strange, wonderful and under-used scale this is ! It has a very usable (if a little unstable) tonic function on I. To me it evokes Eastern European folk melodies, with its yearning flattened sixth and its mellow and relaxed flattened seventh degree, but it has been mostly ignored by classical composers.

Perhaps this is a reflection of the incorrect theoretical belief that the dominant (V) chord has to be major, for the I (i) to have any tonic function. But the melodic major scale proves this to be nothing more than dogma. In this scale the leading tone is not the 7 (which resolves to 1), but the flat6 which resolves to fifth of the tonic triad. This leading tone is found in the subdominant (iv), so here the subdominant takes on the role that is usually taken on by the dominant in the major and minor scales. Certainly, alternating between v and I will displace the tonicity of the latter triad, but providing that iv is interposed between them, the minor dominant is fairly safe.

The piece of music below is set entirely within the scale of g melodic major.

The Dance (midi file).

It's chord progression is:

I x 9 | flatVII | iv | I |
I x 9 | flatVII | ii0 | v | iv | I | - |
I | - | ii0 | - | I | - | flatVII | - |
I | - | iv | v | flatVII | v | I | - |
I x 9 | flatVII | iv | I | - | ii0 (over 1) | - | I | - |

G x 9 | F | c | G |
G x 9 | F | a0 | d | c | G | - |
G | - | a0 | - | G | - | F | - |
G | - | c | d | F | d | G | - |
G x 9 | F | c | G | - | a0 (over g)| - | G | - |