How to Play the Melodic Minor Scale on Guitar

The melodic minor scale is the darkest and most exotic of all jazz minor scales. I like to think of this scale as a dorian scale with a major 7th. This note is very colorful and gives this scale huge harmonic and melodic potential.

The cool thing about any mode of the melodic minor scale is they have no avoid notes. Awesome right? This also means all modes and chords in melodic minor harmony are interchangeable.

Learn one = learn them all.

Use this lesson to:

  • Learn basic modal theory.
  • Tune your ears to this mode’s unique sound.
  • Know how to improvise with it musically.
  • Have fun while you learn!

Melodic Minor Example

melodic minor mode
Can you see how the scale is like C dorian, but with a major 7th instead of a b7?

Fingering

Here is how to play this scale on the guitar, in two positions. Numbers indicate fingers. The white circle is the root note of the scale.

melodic minor mode melodic minor mode
Once again, see how it has a similar shape to the dorian mode? Can you see that there is just the one note different? (You could also think of it as a major scale with a b3 if you prefer.)

When to Use the Melodic Minor Scale

  • tonic minor chords
  • min-maj7
  • min7
  • IVm chords in a major key.

Wait, I can play a min-maj7 scale on a min7 chord?

You can substitute any minor 7 chord for a min-maj7 chord and play the melodic minor scale.

Why?

To add flavour.

And jazz is all about flavour. (Use your ears though, this works only in some situations – usually on tonic minor chords).

How to Use the Melodic Minor Scale

So this scale is used mainly on min-maj7 chords. Your color notes (over a minor chord) are the 9th, 11th, 13th, and 7th (really tasty).

Follow these 3 steps to get your ears around this scale:

  1. Play it a few times, up and down.
  2. Record a min-maj7 chord. Play over the scale and listen to how each note sounds.
  3. Check out my lesson IV IVm to apply this scale.

Here is little summary of this scale:

Melodic Minor Scale Summary

ScaleMelodic Minor
ChordMinor-major 7, min-maj9, min6
NotesR, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, 7
C exampleC, D, Eb, F, G, A , B
Chord/ Guide Tonesb3rd and 7th
Color Tones9th, 11th, 13th,, 7th
Avoid Notesnone!
Sam's TipThe possibilities are endless with melodic minor harmony. I recommend you explore this scale and it's modes well - you won't regret it!

Keep Learning

To get your fingers around the melodic minor scale, I recommend you check out How to Practice Jazz Guitar Scales. Apply the patterns I use in that lesson to get your muscle memory happening.

Remember – melodic minor scale modes are interchangeable. Spending some quality time on this scale will be VERY beneficial to you later down the road. Play around with it, and most importantly – have fun!

More Free Melodic Minor Mode Lessons

Thanks for checking out this lesson, please feel free to leave a comment below with any suggestions or questions you may have.

~ Sam Blakelock | pickupjazz.com

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