Songwriting basics and tips 21: Mix in Some Melodic Minor

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Bob Leslie is an Independent Scottish Songwriter, Singer, and Recording Artist

Flatten that third …

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The simplest way of creating a melodic minor scale is to take a major scale and flatten the third note. If we do that to A major, it’ll look like this:

 

  • A major:
    A  B  C#  D  E  F#  G#  A
  • A Melodic Minor: 
    A  B  C  D  E  F#  G#  A

Simple, eh?

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The old three-chord trick …

Doing our usual thing, looking at the chords based on the 1st4th, and 5th notes of the scale (because, between them, they contain every note in that scale), we get these:

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  • A  C  E – A Minor
  • D  F#  A – D Major
  • E  G# B – E Major

 

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Putting it to work …

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Jazz players use it a lot to give them extra notes to play in tunes using a minor tonality. But that’s not to say you can’t fit it into a folk-style or pop/rock-type song structure.

Probably your best bet for using the Melodic Minor is to mix it up with other keys or modes to give you more material to work with.

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Juggling the changes …

juggle.gifOne approach you can take is to flip between the usual minor key – aka the harmonic minor – and its melodic variant. Try this progression:

  • Am  E  Am  D  Dm  Am  F  E7

The first half is in A Melodic Minor and the second half is in standard A Minor. This is probably the most common “mix’n’match” and is frequently tied into a pattern where you use the melodic version when the tune is going up, and the harmonic version when it’s going down!

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You also have the choice of just modulating to the relative major key – in this case C Major. You could just slip into C Major directly, use a chord from the standard A Minor key as a passing chord – Dm or F would work, or just cycle through the fourths by moving through D7 to G7 to C. Then just reverse the process to get back to A Melodic Minor.

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Something you could try (don’t ask me why this works, but it does) is to use the 4th chord – in A Melodic Minor that’s D Major – as the Dominant 7th of the key one tone (that’s 2 frets on the guitar) below, and move to that key.

Here’s an example of a chord progression to show you what I mean:

  • Am  F  D7  G  Em  C  Am  E7

For simplicity’s sake, just assume you’re playing one bar per chord (you can play around with the exact durations later). Play those chords, then finish back on an Am.

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The first 3 chords are in A Melodic Minor, but the third one – the D7 – is common to both keys. That lets you shift to the key of G Major

The next 4 chords are in G Major, but the fourth one – the Am – is common to both keys, so then you can slip back to A Melodic Minor via the E7 chord.

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There’s also the choice of moving to a modal scale – A Melodic Minor fits well with A Aeolian. Even better, possibly, would be playing around with G Mixolydian – try these changes:

  •  Am  E  Am  D  G  F  C  G  Am  G  F  E

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So, whodunnit? …detect.gif

As I’ve indicated, the Melodic Minor is more often an element used as part of a song rather than the whole of a song – most frequently flipping back and forth with its Harmonic Minor or Aeolian cousins. That said, here are a few songs where it’s a major (if you’ll excuse the term) part of the structure:

Where Did You Sleep Last Night?  by Nirvana

Incense and Peppermints by Strawberry Alarm Clock

The Four Horsemen by Metallica

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Next time, we’ll look at a few little tricks to help you construct your song’s melody. See you then!

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Bob Leslie – Scottish – Traditional – Songwriter

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