What Makes the Melodic Minor Scale So … Melodic?

Find out why this pattern favored by metal shredders and jazz gurus is one of the most accurately named modes.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Advanced
Lesson Overview:
• Learn about the entire harmonic universe of the melodic minor scale.
• Understand how to match the different modes to the appropriate chords.
• Develop a deeper understanding of altered dominants.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

It's interesting how scales develop their names. In particular, what makes Super Locrian super? I'm sure there are a whole host of reasons/theories surrounding that one, but let's save that for another time. Today I want to focus on a different scale that somehow has earned the most admirable of adjectives—the melodic minor scale. The name might lead one to believe that this particular group of notes is the only way to be “melodic" on your instrument. Can we all agree that isn't the case? Cool. Let's move on.

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Jazz super-trio HBC—Scott Henderson, Dennis Chambers, and Jeff Berlin— at a gig in Israel.

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Photo by Frank Okenfels III

When it comes to bands who’ve altered the course of musical history with mind-blowing creativity and yet somehow never really gotten their due, Bad Brains is right up there with Spirit, the Velvet Underground, Moby Grape, and the Stooges. Despite these bands’ stylistic differences, each shares the distinction of dragging modern music kicking and screaming in a fresh new direction and heavily influencing countless bands that went on to greater fame and fortune.

To be fair, in the case of Bad Brains, the fault wasn’t entirely that of fate or a fickle music industry. The band’s lack of mainstream success has had at least as much to do with their two-edged eclecticism and the unpredictability and substance-abuse issues of lead singer Paul “H.R.” Hudson—a savant who, in his heyday, could seamlessly channel the most alluring elements of Curtis Mayfield, Bob Marley, Johnny Rotten, and a rabid old-school hip-hop emcee.

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