Every scale has its importance, and the importance of harmonic and melodic scales is not often recognized. So, this article focuses on introducing you to the importance, the uses, and the creation of harmonic and melodic scales.
Importance and Uses
In general, harmonic and melodic scales stray from the solid, cheerful tones of the major and minor scales. To the ear, these scales are darker and more melodramatic. They are used less in rock and are more popular for jazz and funk guitar solos. One significant distinction to keep in mind is that harmonic minor scales sound somewhat Persian, or foreign. The melodic minor scale is less dark – in fact it sounds like a normal scale. These scales are for the more advanced guitarist, so if you are just starting out, you might want to focus on learning the basic scales first (for example, the minor, major, and pentatonic scales). For prerequisite reading that will make these scales easier to read, check out the following article on beginner scales (Beginner Guitar Lessons Part 5 – Beginner Guitar Scales)
Harmonic Minor Scale
Played out using the formula 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7 1; the harmonic minor scale creates a gloomy, “minor” presence in a song, whether or not the scale you are playing is minor. In fact, this formula applies to both minor and major harmonic scales. By using a flat third and sixth instead of just a flat third, (as in a traditional minor scale), the “gloomy” aspect of the song is strengthened. If you were to play this scale in the A major key, you would write down the following notes for the harmonic minor scale steps: A B C D E F G# A.
Bear in mind that when creating chords around the harmonic minor scale, you can only use minor chords. Otherwise, the chord tones will clash and some of the notes will not work correctly within the chord.
Melodic Minor Scale
The melodic minor scale has two parts – ascending and descending. This is an odd feature to become accustomed to, but in time, it will be second nature. The ascending section is very similar to the major scale, minus the flat 3rd (1 2 b3 4 5 6 7 1). Since this scale is similar to the major scale, you can practically use it in place of any chord (minor, m6, m/maj7) or scale (major, major pentatonic, etc.). The only exceptions are due to the natural 7th and flat 3rd in the melodic minor scale.
The second part of the melodic scale is the descending component. The descending formula is rather different than the ascending section of the scale. However, the formula is the same as the natural minor scale (1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7 1). So, in order to play this part of the melodic minor scale, all you must do is translate the notes over the entire formula, and you are ready to begin.