The melodic minor scale is a scale that you’ve probably learned early on in your musical development, but it can take on a whole new life when applied to jazz. This scale is a very useful and versatile scale for improvisers to know and not just for soloing over minor chords or tonalities. The melodic minor presents some nice harmonic options when you are looking to get away from just playing diatonically over common chord progressions in your solos.
You can utilize the melodic minor scale over major, minor and dominant chords equally well, so there are many applications from learning just this one scale. Here are four ways (in C minor) to use the melodic minor scale over different chords in your solos:
1. Over Minor Chords
Obviously the first way to use the melodic minor scale is over a minor chord. Rather than playing the Dorian mode over a minor chord, try the melodic minor scale which includes the major seventh.
2. Dominant Chords (V7 #11)
Playing from the fourth note of a melodic minor scale you can create a V7 #11 or lydian dominant sound. This is a really unique sound using the melodic minor scale and because V7 chords are everywhere, there are endless opportunities to use this sound.
Another way to imply this tonality using the same scale is to play the triad a whole step up from the tonic, in this case G over F7, emphasizing the upper structures of the chord:
3. Altered Dominant Chords
Dominant chords are a great place to create tension and forward motion in a solo and using the melodic minor can achieve this. Jazz musicians often use the altered scale over dominant chords, which is just a melodic minor scale starting on the seventh note. On a dominant chord this scale includes the flat 9, #9 , #11 and flat 13, really every altered note possible.
4. Major Chords (Major 7 #5)
Finally, over major chords you can create a major 7#5 sound using the melodic minor scale. By approaching the scale from the third note, you can imply a #11 and #5 over major tonality.
Remember just like other scales, you want to practice the melodic minor in all possible variations and directions. Work on arpeggiating the scales and playing them in thirds, fourths and other intervals to create new sonorities. With just this one scale, there are a lot of interesting harmonic possibilities to explore. In your practice, see what variations of your own you can come up with.