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Modes of the Melodic Minor Scale - The Altered Mode

Published March 3rd, 2003. © Chris Juergensen/chrisjuergensen.com. All Rights Reserved.

This lesson has been revised and published in THE INFINITE GUITAR. Info >>>


The modes from the melodic minor scale - Knowledge of the melodic minor scale and it's modes are a necessity if you want to play serious jazz or fusion. Just like the modes of the major scale, each mode of the melodic minor scale has a distinct personality.

 
To be able to use and understand the melodic minor scale modes, it is important to know all five of the scale patterns. If you are not familiar with all five patterns, get going on them...roots in black. Oh yeah, I need to warn you about something here; this scale is going to sound wrong to you. I realised this when I first got into jazz at about twenty-two and I could not get this scale to work for me. No matter how I played it, it sounded awfull to my virgin ears. Don't give up, take my word for it, when you get it together, it will become one of the most, if not the most important scale you will know. You might want to get your ear going ahead of time by buying a John Scofield CD like; "Still Warm" or something.
 
Melodic minor scale patterns:
Pattern 1
Pattern 2
Pattern 3
Pattern 4
Pattern 5

History Lesson - The melodic minor scale is built by raising the 6th and 7th degrees of the natural minor scale (the aolian mode). In the old days the rule of this scale was that while ascending you raised the 6th and 7th scale degrees but when descending you lowered them back to the natural pitches. Why do you think they did this? I have heard different theories, one being that the scale is simply easier to sing that way, but I tend to believe that it just created more chords to chose from that way. You see, about a two-hundred and fifty years ago, the composers didn't like the way the minor v chord sounded (from the natural minor scale) so they just added a G sharp (raised 7th) note to the A minor scale and everyone was happy cause they all of a sudden got a dominant V chord. That's how the harmonic minor scale came in to existence. After a while they wanted more chord choices than the harmonic minor scale could give so they and added the raised 6th to match the already raised 7th. By raising the 6th and 7th on the way up and then lowering them again on the way down they got double choices for chords when they harmonized the scale, Ex: in the key of A minor, the raised G note while ascending will make a nice E7 as a V chord, while the descending natural G creates an Emin chord. (try to remember that the descending melodic minor scale is really just the natural minor scale) Look at all the chord (triad) choices you get (A melodic minor):
 
  Ascending Triads Descending Triads
1 Amin Amin
2 Bmin Bdim
3 C#5 C
4 D Dmin
5 E Emin
6 F#dim F
7 G#dim G
 
Don't let this acsending decsending thing confuse you, nobody plays it like that anymore. Nowadays, musicians are more interested in the upper chord extensions we get from the melodic minor scale. Check out all the interesting 7th chords we get:
 
  7th chords
1 Amin/maj7
2 Bmin7
3 Cmaj7#5
4 D7
5 E7
6 F#min7b5
7 G#min7b5*
 
* This chord usually gets treated as an altered dominant: 7(#5,b5,#9,b9) the minor 3rd gets treated like a raised 9th.
 
Some classically trained guys will still try to tell you that you have to play the scale ascending with the raised 6th and 7th and descending with the natural 6th and 7th, but it's the farthest thing from the truth, just play it up and down the same way. If somebody tells you anything like that, be sure to tell them they are living in the dark ages and then give 'em a kick in the ass.
 
Take a look at the A melodic minor scale below:

Now we can go on to the modes of the melodic minor scale. Memorize the names and order. This is the basic formula; if we take a melodic minor scale (let's say an A melodic minor scale) and write it from the root to the root, we will get the melodic minor scale. Write it from the 2nd degree, B to B in this case, we'll get the B dorian b2 mode. C to C, the lydian augmented mode. D to D, the lydian dominant mode. E to E, the mixolydian b6 mode. F# to F#, the locrian #2 mode. And last but not least, G# to G# will give you the altered mode (sometimes refered to as the super locrian mode). I used the A melodic minor scale as an example but it works the same for all the melodic minor scales.
1. Melodic Minor
2. Dorian b2 mode
3. Lydian Augmented mode
4. Lydian Dominant mode
5. Mixolydian b6 mode
6. Locrian #2 mode
7. Altered mode (sometimes called the Super Locrian mode)
 
The order of the modes will never change even when the key does. Examine the chart below. By checking the very bottom row of the chart you can find out what chord the mode works for. Ex: the D altered mode is the same as the Eb melodic minor scale and works over a D altered dominant chord.
 
melodic minor
dorian b2
lydian augmented
lydian dominant
mixolydian b6
locrain #2
altered
Ab
Bb
Cb
Db
Eb
F
G
Eb
F
Gb
Ab
Bb
C
D
Bb
C
Db
Eb
F
G
A
F
G
Ab
Bb
C
D
E
C
D
Eb
F
G
A
B
G
A
Bb
C
D
E
F#
D
E
F
G
A
B
C#
min/maj7
min7
maj7#5
7
7
min7b5
7(alt)

The altered mode
Let's start with one of the most popular modes of the melodic minor scale, the altered mode. The altered mode is based on seventh degree of the melodic minor scale and is dominant by nature. If we compare the altered mode below to the mixolydian mode we can see that the altered mode contains both the altered 5ths and altered 9ths. If you stack all the notes in thirds to make chords you will find quite a wide variety of altered dominant chords.
 
Chords from the altered dominant mode: 7b5, 7#5, 7b9, 7#9, 7(b5,b9), 7(b5,#9), 7(#5,b9), 7(#5,#9), or any other combination of altered 5ths or 9ths you may even run across a 7(#9,b9) chord from time to time.
 
Compare the mixolydian scale to the altered scale below and check out the differences.
 
D mixolydian scale
 
D altered scale
 
Anytime you run into an altered dominant chord; any dominant chord with an altered 5th and/or 9th, use the altered mode. Remember the altered mode rule: altered mode = melodic minor scale up a min2nd. What does that mean? Just play the melodic minor scale that is up one fret.
 
Test time. Get out your pencil and paper and then check your answers down at the bottom.
Test
1. A altered = ? mm 6. B altered = ? mm
2. E altered = ? mm 7. D altered = ? mm
3. G altered = ? mm 8. C# altered = ? mm
4. C altered = ? mm 9. D# altered = ? mm
5. F# altered = mm 10. A# altered = ? mm
 
Before you get going on the chord progression below, you might want to start by just improvising over the E altered chord for a while to get used to the sound of the melodic minor scale. When you are ready, just play the appropriate dorian scales over the minor chords and play an E altered scale for the E altered chord. All you have to do is play the melodic minor scale that is a minor 2nd (one fret) above E. If you don't know how to play an E altered chord. check out my past lesson on domiant chords, and if you need to review the dorian mode go to that lesson.
 

Test Answers
1. Bb mm 6. C mm
2. F mm 7. Eb mm
3. Ab mm 8. Dmm
4. Db (C#) mm 9. E mm
5. G mm 10. B mm

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