The modes of the melodic minor scale are usually paid less attention, from teachers and players alike, than the modes of the major scale, though their role and application in popular and art music is just as important. With four dominant modes (2, 4, 5, 7), a major mode (3), a minor mode (1) and a half-diminished mode (6), the melodic minor scale provides a vast palette of tonal colors that can be used to spice up any improvised solo, composition or arrangement. It is important to note that for jazz and popular music, only the ascending form of the melodic minor scale is used, and this article follows that convention.
The following article provides an intervalic and chordal break-down of each mode of the melodic minor scale, and provides an explanation of how to apply each mode to a performance situation. For a similar break-down of the major scale modes please visit this article.
W = Whole-Step
H = Half-Step
R = Root of the Mode
Interval Structure = The make-up of each mode from the key of C, with each interval, either Whole-Step or Half-Step, listed beside the notes in the mode.
Chord Structure = The mode as it is found when stacked in thirds, providing a seven-note chord. The chord symbol next to each chord structure is the chord in its most detail, including all appropriate upper extensions.
Since there are no names for each mode of the melodic minor scale that are commonly agreed upon, such as the Greek names used for the major scale modes, this article will label each mode by the order in which it appears in the scale, Mode 1, Mode 2 etc. The names found next to each mode come from books written by Ron Miller and Gary Keller, who are two music educators that are trying to bring these melodic minor mode names into the common vernacular of jazz educators and musicians.
Mode 1 - Melodic Minor Scale (Ionian b3 or Dorian Nat 7)
The first mode of the Melodic Minor scale is very similar to the major scale, though it contains one crucial adjustment, the flatted third. When stacked in thirds the melodic minor scale forms a minor/major 7thÂ chord, which is commonly used as the tonic minor chord in a iim7b5-V7alt-imMaj7 progression. Jazz musicians will often use this scale to improvise over a mMaj7 chord, as in the previous progression, while Bebop musicians such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie also used this scale to improvise over the iim7 chord in a iim7-V7-Imaj7 chord progression.
C D Eb F G A B C - W H W W W W H
Chord Structure - CmMaj7 (9, 11, 13)
C Eb G B D F A - R b3 5 7 9 11 13
Mode 2 - Phrygian Nat 6 or Dorian b2
The second mode of the melodic minor scale is closely related to the Dorian mode from the major scale, though it has a b9 (b2) interval instead. When stacked in thirds, this mode builds a 7susb9 or m7b9 chord. Because this scale can be used to improvise or compose a melody over both major and minor based chords, it is a very versatile mode that is often heard in modern jazz and modal jazz. The b9 (b2) interval provides a level of tension that is not found in the Dorian mode, and can be thought of as the "characteristic" note of this particular mode, similar to how the b9 is treated in the Phrygian mode of the major scale.
D Eb F G A B C D - H W W W W H W
Chord Structure - Cm7 (b9), C7sus (b9, #9, 13)
D F A C Eb G B - R b3 5 b7 b9 11 13
Mode 3 - Lydian #5
The third mode of the melodic minor scale is closely related to the Lydian mode, though it contains a raised fifth interval, with all other notes being the same. When stacked in thirds, this mode forms a maj7 (#11,#5) which can be used as the Imaj7 chord in a iim7-V7-Imaj7 chord progression. In this instance the raised fifth provides an added level of tension that prevents the progression from sounding fully resolved. This can be an effective improvising or comping tool when playing over a Imaj7 chord that is not the tonic chord of the song, as it will help to give this new key its own character and distinguish it from the tonic Imaj7 chord.
Eb F G A B C D Eb - W W W W H W H
Chord Structure - Cmaj7 (#11, #5, 13)
Eb G B D F A C - R 3 #5 7 9 #11 13
Mode 4 - Lydian Dominant Scale (Lydian b7 or Mixolydian #4)
The fourth mode of the melodic minor scale closely resembles the Mixolydian mode, though it contains a raised 11thÂ (4th) that differentiates it from the related major mode. When stacked in thirds, the fourth mode of the melodic minor scale spells a 7(#11) chord that can be used in a number of different tonal situations. Players such as Emily Remler believe that this chord, 7 (#11), should only be used over a 7thÂ chord that does not resolve down a fifth to a I chord of any type.
For example, in the opening bars of Ladybird, Remler would use it over the Bb7 chord in bar four,Â Â Â Â Â Â Cmaj7/Cmaj7/Fm7/Bb7 (#11)/Cmaj7, since it resolves up a tone to the tonic Cmaj7 chord, and not down a fifth to Ebmaj7. Other players, such as Jake Langley and Pat Martino, commonly use this mode over any dominant 7thÂ chord, especially in the context of a iim7-V7 (#11)-Imaj7 progression. For a great example of this chord being used in a compositional context refer to Sonny Rollins' composition Blue Seven which makes use of this mode for a majority of the chords and melody during the song.
F G A B C D Eb F - W W W H W H W
Chord Structure - C7 (9, #11, 13)
F A C Eb G B D - R 3 5 b7 9 #11 13
Mode 5 - Mixolydian b6 or Aeolian Nat 3
The fifth mode of the melodic minor scale is again similar, as was the fourth mode, to the Mixolydian scale, with the one note difference being the b13 (b6) interval. When stacked in thirds, this mode produces a 7 (b13) chord that is used in a similar fashion to the 7 (#11) chord found in the fourth mode of melodic minor. This mode can be used to improvise over non-resolving dominant 7thÂ chords, such as the Bb7 chord in Ladybird, or over the V7 chord in a iim7-V7 (b13)-Imaj7 progression. The flatted thirteenth note, Eb on a G7 chord in the key of C, adds an extra half-step to the V7-Imaj7 resolution that can create a new sense of tension and release that is not found when using the traditional Mixolydian mode in this context.
G A B C D Eb F G - W W H W H W W
Chord Structure - C7 (9, 11, b13)
G B D F A C Eb - R 3 5 b7 9 11 b13
Mode 6 - Locrian Nat 2 or Aeolian b5
The sixth mode of the melodic minor scale shares six similar notes to the Locrian mode, from the major scale, with the only difference being the raised, or natural, ninth interval. When stacked in thirds, this chord spells a m7b5 (Nat 2 or 9) chord that can be used over the iim7b5 chord in a iim7b5-V7alt-im7 chord progression. The tricky part to using this mode over the iim7b5 chord in this context is that the raised ninth, E in the key of C minor, is the major third of the tonic minor chord that appears later in the progressions. Because of the implied major tonality that this note provides, it needs to be handled with caution when first experimenting with the sixth mode of melodic minor in this context.
A B C D Eb F G A - W H W H W W W
Chord Structure - Cm7b5 (9, 11, b13)
A C Eb G B D F - R b3 b5 b7 9 11 b13
Mode 7 - Altered Scale (Locrian b4)
The seventh mode of the melodic minor scale is one of the most commonly used melodic minor modes as it provides all of the possible alterations that can be used over a dominant 7thÂ chord. Because of this, it is often referred to as simply the "altered" scale. When stacked in thirds this mode can be somewhat deceiving as it spells a m7b5 chord, B D F A in the key of C. Despite this fact, when the fourth note (Eb) is treated enharmonically as a major third interval (D#) and the sixth note (G) is treated enharmonically as a raised fifth interval (FX), the chord then becomes B7(#5), B D# FX A, not Bm7b5. (Note: X in this paragraph refers to a double-sharp.)
When looked at as a 7thÂ chord, this scale contains both the b9 (C) and #9 (D) intervals, as well as the b5 (F) and #5 (G) intervals, which are all four of the possible alterations that can be applied to a dominant seventh chord. This scale is most often used to improvise over the V7alt chord in a iim7b5-V7alt-im7 chord progression, though some modern players will also use this chord over any instance of a dominant 7 chord, even over any/all 7thÂ chords found in the 12 bar blues.
B C D Eb F G A B - H W H W W W W
Chord Structure - C7 (b9, #9, b5, #5) or C7 (b9, #9, #11, #5)
B D#(Eb) FX (G) A C D F - R 3 #5 b7 b9 #9 #11
Melodic Minor Mode Chart 1 - Comparison to Melodic Minor
The following chart lists all of the modes of the melodic minor scale in the key of C, which allows us to easily compare them to all of the other modes from the same root. The intervals found within the parentheses are the notes in that particular mode that are different than the melodic minor scale. For example, next to the second mode are the intervals b9 and b7, by adding these alterations to any melodic minor scale we can make it a second mode melodic minor. If we add these intervals to an A melodic minor scale, A B C D E F# G#, we get A second mode melodic minor, A Bb C D E F# G, the same can be done for any mode in the chart.
Mode 1 - C D Eb F G A B C
Mode 2 - C Db Eb F G A Bb C (b9, b7)
Mode 3 - C D E F# G# A B C (Nat 3, #11, #5)
Mode 4 - C D E F# G A Bb C (Nat 3, b7, #11)
Mode 5 - C D E F G Ab Bb C (Nat 3, b7, b13)
Mode 6 - C D Eb F Gb Ab Bb C (b5, b7, b13)
Mode 7 - C Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb C (b7, b9, #9, b5, b13)
Melodic Minor Mode Chart 2 - Arranged from Brightest to Darkest Sounding
The following chart shows each mode of the melodic minor scale arranged in order of the "brightest" to "darkest" sounding modes. The term bright in this sense means that it has the least amount of flatted intervals within the mode, and the term dark means that it has the most flatted intervals within the mode. Notice how the first four modes, the "bright" modes, are all "major" based modes as they contain the major 3rd interval, while the other three modes, the "dark" modes, are all minor based modes as they all contain both the b3 and b7 intervals. Also, notice that the 2ndÂ mode has a minor 3rd interval, though it is often treated as a sus7b9 chord, where the minor 3rd functions as a #9 instead. As well, the 7thÂ mode is similar as it contains both the major and minor 3rdÂ intervals, though when the major 3rdÂ interval is used to form a 7alt chord, the minor third again functions as a #9, not as a minor 3rd.
Mode 3 - C D E F# G# A B C (2 sharps)
Mode 4 - C D E F# G A Bb C (1 sharp, 1 flat)
Mode 1 - C D Eb F G A B C (1 flat)
Mode 5 - C D E F G Ab Bb C (2 flats)
Mode 2 - C Db Eb F G A Bb C (3 flats)
Mode 6 - C D Eb F Gb Ab Bb C (4 flats)
Mode 7 - C Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb C (6 flats)
Melodic Minor Mode Chart 3 - Common Chord Symbols
Mode 1 - CmMaj7, CmMaj9, CmMaj6, C-Maj7, C-M11
Mode 2 - Cm11 (b9), Cm7 (b9), C7sus (alt)
Mode 3 - Cmaj7 (#5), CaugMaj7, C+Maj7
Mode 4 - C7#11, C9#11, C13#11
Mode 5 - C7 (b13), C9 (b13), C7sus (b13), C9sus (b13)
Mode 6 - Cm7b5 (Nat 9), Cm7b5 (Nat 2)
Mode 7 - C7alt, C7 (b9, b13), C7 (b9, b5), C7 (#9, b13), C7 (#9, b5)