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Thread: What's the difference between Natural and Melodic minor?

  1. #1
    Registered User urucoug's Avatar
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    Aug 2007

    What's the difference between Natural and Melodic minor?

    Hey guys,

    What's the difference between the two of those? I've read music theory about the two of them, but it never sticks in my brain, because I don't know how I'd use them.

    When I play minor scales type stuff over minor chords, I use the relative minor forms (start my scales a step and a half below the tonic on a major scale form). Which is that, natural or melodic? I was reading Malcolm's 'Jello' post, and figured it was time I can distinguish the two.


  2. #2
    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Feb 2004
    Deep East Texas Piney Woods
    Wait on Jon's reply. He and the Shadow know for sure. Jon I can talk to - the Shadow vanished along with all my old comic books.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 09-14-2010 at 03:37 PM.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    London, England
    Melodic Minor is like the Major Scale, but with a flat 3rd. It's used a lot in Jazz (inc. fusion), but rarely in other contemporary forms such as Rock or Blues.

    The scale you are describing is Natural minor. Ie like the Major scale, but the 3rd, 6th and 7th are all played flat.


  4. #4
    IbreatheMusic Author ChrisJ's Avatar
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    Jul 2003
    It might be easier to relate everything to the minor scale. The minor scale is spelled: 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7 or for the key of A: A-B-C-D-E-F-G.

    You could play it like this (but of course there are countless way to play it on the guitar):


    If you harmonize it (take every other note and make triads, in other words take the A, C and E note and stack them, you get an Amin chord. Next B, D and F, you get a Bdim chord, etc), you get these chords:


    So you could play the scale over a Amin-F-C-G progression or something else from the seven chords that you might like.

    Melodic minor is made by raising the 6th and 7th. So we get this:

    1-2-b3-4-5-6-7 (like crossroads said, it looks like a major scale with a b3). A MM looks like this: A-B-C-D-E-F#-G#.

    It is not useful for rock like natural minor. It is great for jazz. Here are the chords:

    Amin-Bmin-Caug-D-E-F#dim-G#dim. But we don't use it over progressions like we do natural minor. Its modes are more useful over individual chords.

    For example, play AMM over a D7 vamp.

    MM is a very interesting scale with countless applications. If I had more time I could write another thousand words on the subject.

  5. #5
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Dec 2002
    Twickenham, UK
    Natural minor = 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
    Harmonic minor = 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7
    Melodic minor = 1 2 b3 4 5 6 7

    It works as follows. The natural minor scale isn't very strong tonally. If you play in A minor, using all the notes and chords from C major, it's likely to sound more as if C ought to be the tonic - it has more "gravitational pull" on the other chords than Am does.
    We can fix this by raising the G to G#, and using an E or E7 chord instead of Em. Now Am sounds more secure as a tonal centre.
    This is known as "harmonic minor", because the use of E major improves the harmonic flow and strength of the key.
    A harmonic minor = A B C D E F G# A

    The trouble with that (at least according to classical convention) is that there is now an awkwardly large scale step between F and G#. It's tricky to sing that, so to fix it we raise the F to F#. Now - as Ian says - we have a scale that's just the A major scale at the top. It moves up to the tonic with that familiar "so-la-ti-do" sound (E F# G# A).

    NOW, the problem is that it's too damn close to major! (We're starting to lose our nice miserable minor key effect.) But - we only need those raised steps to resolve upwards to the tonic! So - when coming down from the tonic, we can revert to natural minor.
    A melodic minor = A B C D E F# G# A G F E D C B A.

    In classical convention, therefore, melodic minor is "ascending only". (Descending it's the same as natural minor.)

    This might seem a weird idea, but it's not uncommon in use, even in pop. You can hear it in the Beatles' "Yesterday".
    "All my troubles seemed so..." = D melodic minor ascending.
    "Now it looks as though they're..." = D natural minor (F major) descending

    However, in jazz, melodic minor is used in both directions (hence the term "jazz minor"), and for quite different reasons.
    In jazz improvisation, they like scales which have no "avoid notes" - scales where you can hold any note against the root chord without it clashing. This is not the case with most modes of major or harmonic minor.
    So, they will use melodic minor over a minor key tonic, because the extensions it gives (6th, maj7) sound better than those from natural or harmonic minor.
    And a couple of modes of melodic minor work really well over certain jazz "altered" chords - they have no "avoid notes".

    IOW, you could say that jazz musicians use melodic minor for its harmonic potential, not for its original classical melodic reasons.

  6. #6
    Registered User urucoug's Avatar
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    Aug 2007
    Wow, I just read back over, and realized I never thanked you for your explanations. I've reread this a few times, and it's been immensely helpful. Thanks for your comments

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