Minors - Natural, Harmonic, Melodic!?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Grayson C., Jul 27, 2009.

  1. Grayson C.

    Grayson C.

    Dec 21, 2008
    I've taught myself everything I've needed to know theory and bass wise and sometimes I wish I had a teacher to guide me. But since I don't, you all are the next best thing ;)

    I don't understand the minor composite. I know how and when to use scales based on chord progressions and which notes go where, but I really don't understand the concept of having more than 1 minor scale that work together to create the general minor feel.

    I don't know how much clearer I can be in what exactly about this I don't know, so if there is anything I can do to help you help me please ask.

    Thank you very much TB.
  2. totallybacan


    Mar 30, 2009
    I'm sure you meant to say natural, and not matural ;)

    One of the big reasons of having different minor scales would be to give you more notes. simple as that. in the minor scale, rather than having only 7 different chords to choose from as in the major scale, you have many more (13? it's been a while) The most important one is the leading tone, which obviously has the trongest tendency to go to I or i. For this very reason, the chords available in the melodic minor will give you more chances to use the leading tone than the natural minor scale.

    It's all about what sounds pleasing and most natural (pardon the pun) while at the same time providing you with the flexibility to decieve the ear keep things interesting.
  3. totallybacan


    Mar 30, 2009
    BTW, fill out your profile so we can get a better understanding of how to tailor the answers to you
  4. Rudreax


    Jun 14, 2008
    New York, NY
    Here's something I've saved from the past on the subject. It's quite a bit and has a lot of history, but it has a point:

    Explaining the Harmonic and Melodic Minor Scales

    The whole thing with minor scales is a complicated one, but here's a brief history/understanding of why both of you are right. It started back in the Renaissance when theories of harmony were first being developed out of polyphony using the modes. Composers found that the ionian mode (major scale) gave them the most options when creating pleasing harmonic progressions because of the leading tone, or natural (major) seventh degree of the scale. The V-I cadence that we all know and love came from this. They liked the sound of the natural seventh going up to the tonic so much that they started briefly changing notes of the other modes to reflect the natural seven going to one in something they called musica ficta, or a chromatic note. They weren't part of the scale, but they were used because they created a pleasing sound (the natural seventh resolving to the tonic). For whatever reason, as the years went by, the only mode that they kept using with the musica ficta was the aeolian mode, which you may know as the natural minor. However, once you made the lowered seventh a natural seventh, you have the harmonic minor.

    Get it? The natural seventh was raised for the pleasing harmonic cadence of V-I (V major, not V minor, which you would get with pure aeolian), so thats how you get harmonic minor. The reason for melodic minor comes from this lineage. If you raise the seventh degree of the minor scale, you get an odd interval between the lowered sixth and the seventh. For example, if I were to spell A harmonic minor....

    A B C D E F G# A

    ...the interval between F and G# is an augmented second. This is a very unusual and awkward interval for singing, and since most music was vocal at the time that these theories were being developed, the augmented second was heavily eschewed. Even though its enharmonic to a minor third, in context the sound of the augmented second has quite a different character. So, in order to keep the important natural seventh (G# in the key of A minor), you would raise the sixth degree to smooth out the linear melodic contour, and then you have melodic minor. In practice, composers used all three minors simultaneously in what theorists have called the "composite" minor.

    This is all well and good, and its a nice classical theory lesson for you, but how does it apply to playing contemporary music? Well, this is why you're both right. All music which is functionally tonal comes from the classical tradition. Functionally tonal means that the chords within a chord progression all tend to lead to a V to I cadence. This means if you're playing any music that has a V chord going to a I chord, it's tonal, and its functional. These are the circumstances where you would more likely than not find the melodic minor. Since the natural minor lacks the natural 7 that is so vital for the V chord, melodic minor shows up as a more "true" minor scale. However, if you're playing music which is not "functionally tonal", like music that just has one chord, or if you're playing music based upon a riff, or if you're playing music that has a chord progression, but no V-I cadence or any kind of V major chord in it, than natural minor is more of the "true" minor scale. What it comes down to is the V chord. If you're playing music with a V7 or V major, think melodic minor.

    Here, to make it clear, do this.

    Harmonize each scale. You do know what "harmonize" means, right? OK, if not, it means to stack thirds from the scale on top of each other to build four-note chords.

    Using A natural minor you get:

    Amin7, Bmin7b5, Cmaj7, Dmin7, Emin7, Fmaj7, and G7. Don't take my word for it, build 'em yourself and check my work!

    That G7 pulls your hear to the Cmaj, not the Amin7. So, as haVIC5 says, another scale was made to fix that. If you raise the G to G#, you change every chord that has a G in it... Now you get

    Amin/Maj7, Bmin7b5, Caug, Dmin7, E7, Fmaj7, G#dim. The G7 is obliterated so it doesn't pull to the C chord. And the E7 sets up a strong pull to the Amin7. That makes the harmony work much better for most people's ears. That's why its called the "Harmonic Minor"- these names don't generally come out of nowhere! However, that scale sound weird (of course "weird" is relative- where would Richie Blackmore be without the Harmonic minor?!). The minor 3rd (technically augmented 2nd as HavIC5 explains very neatly) is weird, they made changes to the Harmonic minor.

    By raising the 6 (F) a half-step, you've smoothed out the melodic problems with the Hamronic minor. And since the problem with the meolody was generally associated with ascending, the classic melodic minor uses F# ascending and F natural descending.

    Melodic Minor != Jazz minor. Melodic minor in the classical sense has an altered 6th and 7th degree when ascending and a natural 6th and 7th when descending. A Jazz Melodic Minor has an altered 6th and 7th both ascending and descending.

    Harmonic Minor is the natural minor scale with a raised 7th scale degree.

    Natural Minor != Relative Minor. That right there is a perfect case of apples and oranges. C natural minor is not the relative key to C major.
  5. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    The names of the scale forms tell it all.

    The NATURAL is with no notes changed. Take a G major scale and change the key sig to the parallel minor (one sharp for G major, 2 flats for G minor) and then play the notes from G to G with the minor key sig.

    The HARMONIC minor needs to have a raised 7th step so you can use a major dominat chord (harmonically).

    The MELODIC scale uses a raised 6 and 7th step when leading to the tonic (root) and then back to the key sig when used otherwise. This scale uses more note and therefore is more useful melodically.

    PARALLEL compares two scales by seeing that they start on the same note... therefore they are parallel in pitch (even though one is major and the other is minor).

    RELATED compars two scales by the key sig. G minor and Bb major use the same key sig, even though they start on different pitchs. They are related by key sig.
  6. JTE

    JTE Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    :oops:Natural minor just flats the third of the major scale. A major is A B C# D E F# G# A. A Natural Minor is A B C D E F# G#. Only difference is the flatted third, and that flatted third gives it the minor tonality.:oops:

    That's just wrong and I don't know why I typed it... NATURAL MINOR is based on the relative major scale's Aeolian mode so A Natural Minor is A B C D E F G.

    However, once you harmonize the natural minor, you run into a couple of big problems. The chords that are native to A Natural Minor (Amin7, Bmin7b5, Cmaj7, Dmin7, Emin7, Fmay7, and G7) don't work well for A. That's because there's no strong harmonic pull to the Amin7 chord, and the G7 pulls you to the Cmaj chord. So, for harmonic reasons, the 7 fo the scale is raised a half-step (G becomes G#). Now the chords are Amin/maj7, Bmin7b5, Caug, Dmin7, E7, Fmaj7, and the G7 becomes G#dim. That obliterates the pull from the G7 to the C, and gives you an E7 that pulls your ear to the Amin7.

    But as Rudreax says, that gives you a scale that has an awkward augmented 2nd (F natural to G#) because all the rest of your scale tones are nice polite whole-steps and half-steps. So for MELODIC reasons they also raised the 6th (F to F#).

  7. EADG mx

    EADG mx

    Jul 4, 2005
    That would be the Melodic Minor (Asc.)
  8. JTE

    JTE Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA

    DOH!!!! I feel pretty stupid now... I knew that, and typed the wrong things there anyway...

    I'll correct it in case it gets quoted anywhere eles...


  9. EADG mx

    EADG mx

    Jul 4, 2005
    G#dim7 also pulls to Am. (viio7-i).

    E7 and G#dim7 are actually almost the same chord:

    E G# B D
    G# B D F

    N.B. the Melodic Minor is rarely (if ever) used throughout a piece, but usually only to alleviate awkward leaps in scalular passages. For this reason pieces with a minor tonality often switch between the Natural, Harmonic, and Melodic minor throughout, depending on the circumstances at any given point. This is what Schoenberg referred to as the COMPOSITE minor.
  10. Grayson C.

    Grayson C.

    Dec 21, 2008
    Thanks you guys, It doesn't all make sense yet, but it's defintely getting there. Aright here's what I understand so far, please correct me if I'm wrong:

    The harmonic minor is done to fix the lack of resolution from G7 to Amin7 and uses G#dim7 instead. The melodic minor fixes the awkward leap from a minor 6th to a major 7th.

    Alright so I understand what these ARE and sort of how they are used. But I still don't understand how one would know when to play a harmonic minor instead of a melodic minor. Everything you've all posted so far seems to suggest that the harmonic minor is awkward because of the large gap between the 6th and 7th notes, so why not just ONLY use melodic minor?

    I was watching HaVIC5's blue bossa video ( http://talkbass.com/forum/showthread.php?t=546308 ) and he seems to suggest that, depending on chord changes, you move from one minor scale to another - I don't see how one knows how to do this.

    Please help, you all have been absolutely amazing so far.
  11. JTE

    JTE Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    Why not just use Melodic minor? Because that wonderful augmented second to a half-step in the Harmonic Minor is great!!!:hyper: Listen to Richie Blackmore who'd be DEAD without a Harmonic minor (well, not really, but maybe his more annoying protege, YJM would be :bag: ).

    The bottom line is that it's the SOUND that counts, and all three of these scales have distinct sounds. In the same way that just playing a descending pentatonic major instantly sounds "country", ripping a harmonic minor as fast as you can with "A Marshall 11" tone instanty speaks metal, you need to know the sound of the scales and that'll help you figure out when, where, and why.

  12. HaVIC5


    Aug 22, 2003
    Brooklyn, NYC
    You have to look at context, and the characteristics of every individual tone used in the scale. Too often people just assume that once they know the shape of the scale and the degrees involved they have mastered that scale and know everything about it. Maybe if you're shredding on a symmetrical synthetic scale in a 1-chord vamp situation, but definitely not in functional dominant-related harmony. Every note in the scale has a fundamental meaning in relationship to the tonic and the other notes in the scale. Understanding this "meaning" in context will help unlock some pretty startling revelations in hearing music. It's a difficult concept to understand, especially over internet forum posts, but its important nonetheless.

    Part of the "meaning" of the minor mode is instilled in the scale degree b6. The voice leading of le to sol (b6 to 5) is the same as fa to mi in the relative major (4 to 3). Any time there a half step interval in relationship to a tone in the tonic triad, there becomes a strong tendency for it to resolve to a note in that triad. That half step interval gives the key its "minorness" because of the very strong implications that structures built with that unstable tone in them have for the key. Harmonies like the II-7(b5), IV-7, V7(b9), VImaj7 and VIIdim7 wouldn't exist without that lowered sixth, and they are all imperative to creating the harmonic universe or the minor key (hence harmonic minor). If you got rid of the lowered sixth by using melodic minor, the harmonies would be II-7, IV7, V7(9), VI-7(b5) and VII-7(b5). With the exception of the VI-7(b5) and possibly IV7 (in a bluesier context) these chords are not very useable in context.

    Remember, in minor key harmony all minor scales are used together, and if you take away the characteristics of one scale, something is lost and you are no longer left with minor key harmony in the traditional sense.
  13. HaVIC5


    Aug 22, 2003
    Brooklyn, NYC
    Tell that to late period John Coltrane, haha. Blanket melodic minor tonality on a lot of tunes. But that's not quite what we're talking about. We're talking functional harmony, and thats why it doesn't really apply.
  14. EADG mx

    EADG mx

    Jul 4, 2005
    Not saying you can't base an entire piece's tonality off the Natural minor, Harmonic minor, Melodic (Jazz) minor, or any of their modes. This is always an option and it has been done.

    It's just that it is more common to switch between the three (maybe the most common?) necessitated by the harmony and the sound you're going for at any given time.

    Of course, there are conventions per whatever genre you're working in as well.
  15. EADG mx

    EADG mx

    Jul 4, 2005
    Basically this, just don't forget that you have to know how and when to use each one. But that comes later.
  16. BahamaBass


    Nov 15, 2008
    different scales produce different sounds and also different sounding chords. you got basically more sound options.

    The melodic minor is a good example. just by flattening the 3rd all the modes in the scale change slightly and sound totally different and a whole bunch of new chords are available then.