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mnemonic or other way of keeping minor scales straight

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by sleeplessknight, Mar 30, 2013.

  1. sleeplessknight

    sleeplessknight Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2002
    Hey all, so I've got a pretty good handle on how to spell the common minor scales (1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7, 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7, and 1 2 ♭3 4 5 6 7), but what I'm having an incredibly hard time doing is keeping the names attached to them ('natural', 'harmonic', 'melodic', etc) straight. Does anyone know of any tricks, like a mnemonic device or something, that I could use to help associate 'the spelling' with 'the names'?
  2. Groove Master

    Groove Master

    Apr 22, 2011
    Author of Groove 101, Slap 101 and Technique 101

    You only have 3 littles things to memorize. Seriously!

    But I'll give you some hints:

    The natural minor is called like that because it associated with the major scale.
    The harmonic minor is the most recognizable scale with its 1-1/2 tone between the 6 and 7.
    The melodic minor is like a major scale with a minor third.
  3. sleeplessknight

    sleeplessknight Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2002
    Yes yes, I know having 'only' three things to memorize is a silly thing to post a 'help me' thread on, but I was hoping there was an equally-silly way to help memorize it quickly. Kind of like how beginners can memorize open strings (of a guitar) with "Elephants And Dogs Go Bathroom Everywhere", and so on.
  4. Not a big deal.
    Natural minor is the major scale with the 3, 6 & 7 flatted
    Harmonic is the natural minor scale with the b7 sharped to a natural 7.
    Melodic is the major scale with a b3.

    Easy for me to say, because, that is the way I figured it out. Go make up your own way - then you will always remember it.
  5. sleeplessknight

    sleeplessknight Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2002
    Right, I know how to spell them. If someone came up to me and says "Sleepless, crank out the three minor scales!" I could rip each one no problem. If someone said "Sleepless, what was the name of that last minor scale you played?" I'd sit there with a dumb look on my face and have a 1:3 chance that whatever next blurted out of my pie-hole would be right
  6. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    Instead of trying to remember mnemonics, why not try to remember the sound of the scale. Pick one and play it continually for about three to five minutes, saying out loud the name of the scale. Incorporate this into your practice session. After a week of this scale, move onto the next one. Rinse and repeat. ;)

    This is much more beneficial than trying to remember mnemonics.
  7. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    Sorry, sleeplessknight, but fearceol is right.
    I can't think of how a mnemonic could work, because the three particular minor scales mentioned don't really work in a diatonic relationship pattern with each other, like say lines and spaces, or the order of accidentals, etc.

    There are minor mode names that you could maybe figure out a mnemonic for in diatonic series; ie: dorian > aeolian > phrygian > [locrian], but seems all that time & energy could be better spent just learning/memorizing the scales and their relationships. It's not that hard - the more you use them and think about them the more familiar they become - like anything.

    Or maybe I'm not understanding your original question. If you figure out something that works for your case, I'd be interested to hear it! :)
  8. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    euh you are all off with the melodic minor scale ...

    while ascending it is :
    1 2 b3 4 5 6 7

    while descending it is :
    1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

    take any good general theory book ( not one for bass player ... music theory is music theory ) and a melodic minor is like I said.
  9. Groove Master

    Groove Master

    Apr 22, 2011
    Author of Groove 101, Slap 101 and Technique 101
    Only in classical music.
    In Jazz music it is the ascending way like everybody says here. The reason for that is that every mode from the ascending form is very useful on specific chords.

    We actually call it for your info the melodic minor jazz :cool:
  10. +1 Ascending the 6th is also sharpened because of the large step from the sixth degree to the seventh in the harmonic minor scale. Descending it's like a natural minor scale.
    As Clef_de_fa has shown it.
  11. Bassist4Eris

    Bassist4Eris Frat-Pack Sympathizer

    Understanding the reasoning behind each scale will help you remember which is which.

    1. The natural minor is natural, because, as Groove Master pointed out, it is basically the same notes as the major scale, just starting and ending on the 6th degree. So C major has the same notes as A minor, G major has the same notes as E minor, etc.

    2. The harmonic minor comes from the way you get a strong resolution going from the V7 chord to the I chord. In C, this would be G7 to C7. But it works equally well in the relative minor, for example from E7 to Am, in the key of A minor. Now, when you do this, you end up putting a non-diatonic note into your music. In other words, in A minor, all of your notes are natural. But by putting an E7 in your progression, you have just introduced a G# (the third of the E7). Since the G is the seventh degree of the A minor scale, you have now just created a minor scale with a major seventh in place of the minor seventh, in order to better serve the HARMONY (i.e. chord progression). Hence the term HARMONIC minor.

    3. This raises a small problem MELODICALLY (see where I'm going here?), which is the fact that you now have a leap of three half-steps between the flatted 6th and major 7th, breaking up the neat pattern of whole and half steps that most western scales are made up of. To smooth this over, the sixth degree is raised, thus solving the MELODIC problem of the harmonic minor scale and giving us the MELODIC minor scale.

    Hope this helps.
  12. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    The Jazz Minor Scale is is the same as the Melodic Minor Ascending; played the same ascending and descending 1 2 b3 4 5 6 7
  13. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    I don't think about the melodic minor scale as an ascending and descending form. When we say melodic minor, we are always referring to the "ascending" version, because the "descending" version is the natural minor. Why would you say "descending melodic minor" when it's the exact same thing as "natural minor", which we already have a name for? I got it, it marks the melodic tendency of the scale, but it seems like extraneous information that hardly represents the reality to me.

    Secondly, the melodic minor (understood as 1 2 ♭3 4 5 6 7) is used in jazz and classical music in the same way: if the harmony is calling for the 6 and 7 of the melodic minor, then you'd best use 6 and 7. Bach does it all the time. Rifling through the pages of the Well Tempered Clavier (book 1), I see melodic minor being used as a descending scale in the third measure of the second fugue.

    Awful, lifeless recording, but it has a score so you can see what I'm talking about:

    Thinking of three distinct minor scales is kind of a hassle, because that's not really how it's used. Minor is 1 2 ♭3 4 5 [♭6/6] [♭7/7], wherein the sixth and seventh scale degrees are flexible depending on the application. If you have a leading tone (7), then you'd be wise to use the raised sixth, as well. The point is to avoid the augmented second between ♭6 and 7, because somewhere in Western civilization's past, the augmented second was associated with the Muslim world (as it is today), and Christianity wouldn't have that in their music, so we got a bunch of rules made for the sake of avoiding the 'brown sound'. Obviously, things are a bit different now, and the augmented second is cool, especially in death metal and the ilk, but we learn these things because that's how the music evolved.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that if you're always using ♭6 and ♭7, it's real easy for the music to slip into the relative major key. If you're going for minor, that might put a damper on your plans. So, "7" is really good, because it keeps the tonality where it needs to be. "♭6" is good, too, because it's tense. You want some of that. Use it in this kind of situation: 1 ♭6 5 (But 1 7 ♭6 5 is a no-go, according to the Pope.), ♭6 5 7 1 (notice that ♭6 approaches 5, and never approaches or immediately follows 7). "6" is used when you have something going on like this: 5 6 7 1, or 1 7 6 5. Coming from or going to 7. "♭7" is for non-leading tone harmonies (i7, III). Always think in terms of the chord, resolve leading tones, don't do augmented seconds, and nobody will have any complaints about your melodies. Wanna break the rules? Fine. But learn them first.
  14. sleeplessknight

    sleeplessknight Supporting Member

    Mar 8, 2002
    I did not mean to start a new (old?) music-nerd Jihad... may the mods forgive me, I was looking for rhymes and silly games to help my ailing memory.

    Vi and Emacs. Vi and Emacs. Vi and Emacs!
  15. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    I think the point stands: there's not much to memorize. You can find your way around four notes.
  16. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    You are aware there is a branch of Jazz theory based on the Jazz Minor (Ascending Minor) Scale and it's modes?
    Through the 80s and 90s pretty thoroughly explored and well written about in Mark Levine's Jazz Theory Book. "Extraneous" and "hardly represents the reality" to some; others find it interesting. ymmv :cool:
  17. eddododo

    eddododo Supporting Member

    Apr 7, 2010
    Find a book called the 'bass grimoire'
    its got ALOT of scales that are essentially every possible combination of notes

    this won't help your issue, but it helps to remind you that the BEST way to remember something is the SOUND of it..

    absolutely KNOWING the SOUND of harmonic minor, for example, will give you both solid ground and a means to 'check your answer'
  18. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    I think you're unwittingly supporting my statement. Mark Levine does not reference "ascending and descending melodic minor", he says melodic minor is 1 2 ♭3 4 5 6 7, not "Oh, yeah, and when you're descending, melodic minor is a different scale that is the same scale as another scale that we already have, but with a different name. But only in classical music!"

    So, the "ascending/descending" thing is, indeed, extraneous information until you can prove otherwise.
  19. Groove Master

    Groove Master

    Apr 22, 2011
    Author of Groove 101, Slap 101 and Technique 101
    Going up and down in different ways is exactly how the melodic minor is taught and practiced in classical music!

    In Jazz harmony we refer AND use the Melodic minor Jazz scale which means going up and down 1-2-b3-4-5-6-7!

    The modes created from those scale degrees are extremely useful and wouldn't be possible with a scale that changes when going down.

    Of course it is how it is used:

    They fit different colors for the I degree in a minor tonality!

    The natural minor scale will fit a xmin7 chord;

    The harmonic minor scale will fit either a xmin or a xminMaj7. Plus it is the base scale to harmonize the specific chord progression that define the minor keys: IImin7(b5)-V7(b9)-I min,

    The melodic minor scale will fit either the xmin6 or minMaj7 chord.

    You have to know these things in Pop and Jazz music.
  20. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    gee whiz: Reality Proof

    ascending Melodic Minor Scale = R M2 m3 P4 P5 M6 M7 PO

    descending Melodic Minor Scale = PO m7 m6 P5 P4 m3 M2 R
    descending Melodic Minor Scale in Jazz = PO M7 M6 P5 P4 m3 M2 R

    please note the difference. Thank you. :atoz:

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