4 Melodic Minor Modes You Can Use On V Chords (For Solos)

February 17, 2024
Melodic Minor Modes - Image of Abstract Technology

Jazz musicians often use melodic minor modes to alter their dominant chord in order to create a strong resolution to the tonic.

So, if you want a jazzier or more modern sound to your solos, then check out the modes of the melodic minor scale.

In this in-depth guide you’ll learn:

  • The difference between the classic melodic minor scale and the jazz melodic minor scale
  • All the melodic minor modes
  • How to use these modes to alter your V7 chords
  • Lots more

So if you’re ready to go “all in” with the modes of the melodic minor scale, this guide is for you.

Let’s dive right in.

TL:DR

If you’re short on time, watch my video “4 Melodic Minor Modes for Dominant V Chords Resolving to a Tonic” and start effortlessly altering your dominant chords over any jazz standard. There are a lot of scales in jazz, but the melodic minor scale is one that’ll get you that authentic jazz sound you’re going after.

YouTube video
4 Melodic Minor Modes for Dominant V Chords Resolving to a Tonic

What Is A Melodic Minor Scale?

The classic melodic minor scale is a unique scale compared to other scales, because it uses different notes depending on whether it’s ascending or descending.

Ascending Classic Melodic Minor Scale

The ascending notes of a classic melodic minor scale, are: 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

You’ll notice that all the notes are the same as a major (Ionian) scale, except for the third. For the ascending melodic minor scale, the third is flatted (minor third), in order to give it a minor sound.

Descending Classic Melodic Minor Scale

When descending, the classic melodic minor scale has these scale notes: 8 (same as 1 but an octave higher), b7, b6, 5, 4, b3, 2, 1.

The shape of the descending melodic minor scale becomes the same shape as a natural minor scale (also known as the Aeolian scale, which is one of the modes of the major scale).

This exotic scale is played a little differently in jazz, which gives it a unique flavor. We’ll take a look at that next.

Ascending and Descending Classic Melodic Minor Scale
Ascending and Descending Classic Melodic Minor Scale

What Is The Jazz Melodic Minor Scale?

When playing jazz, the melodic minor scale is different from when playing classical music.

Jazz musicians typically play the ascending version of the scale regardless of ascending or descending.

In other words, there’s no “descending” version.

The scale is almost always 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, 7. The 6 is almost always played as a natural 6. And the 7 is almost always played as a natural 7.

This allows the scale to be a versatile tool for jazz musicians to use as a substitute for chords, particularly the V7 chord.

Much of the modern jazz sound is created from the melodic minor modes, which we’ll learn about next.

Ascending and Descending Jazz Melodic Minor Scale
Ascending and Descending Jazz Melodic Minor Scale

Melodic Minor Modes

When you understand the melodic minor scale and its modes (just seven modes), you’ll realize how much modern jazz harmony you can cover with this single scale.

This is why it’s an essential scale to learn if you want to play jazz.

To find each mode, simply play the notes of the melodic minor scale starting on a different note each time.

Here are all the melodic minor modes and their numeric formulas:

  1. Melodic minor scale (jazz minor scale): 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, 6, 7
  2. Dorian b2 scale: 1, b2, #2, 4, 5, 6, b7
  3. Lydian Augmented scale: 1, 2, 3, #4, #5, 6, 7
  4. Lydian dominant scale: 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7
  5. Mixolydian b6 scale: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, b6, b7
  6. Locrian Natural 2 scale: 1, 2, b3, 4, b5, b6, b7
  7. Altered scale (Diminished Whole-Tone) scale: 1, b2, #2, 3, b5, b6, b7

Dominant Chord Sounds

You can see that the 4, 5, and 7 modes of a melodic minor scale create some sort of Dominant chord type sound.

So, these modes are good options for your V7 chords. Each option will create a different flavor or amount of tension that you simply will not get with a plain mixolydian scale.

But there’s also one more mode that actually works well to. That’s the 2nd mode of the melodic minor scale.

The notes of the 2nd mode emphasize the b2 and #2 of a dominant chord, which are notes that are often used to created a strong resolution to the tonic chord. This option is a common scale used in jazz, and I enjoy this sound a lot.

How To Use Melodic Minor Modes On V Chords

​​​​In total, there are 4 melodic minor modes that can be used over a dominant chord that’s functioning as a V chord resolving to the tonic chord.

Each mode will introduce a different amount of tension.

The amount of tension you want will determine which mode you’ll use.

Let’s start with the mode that introduces the least amount of tension.

To keep our examples simple, we’ll use a C7 chord to spell out the notes.

C7 + G Melodic Minor (Lydian Dominant sound)

The fourth mode of a G melodic minor scale, creates these notes: C, D, E, F#, G, A, Bb.

The #4 (F#) is the only tension that is introduced with this mode.

These notes resolve nicely to a F6 chord.

This scale is a great option wether C7 or its tritone substitution F#7 is being played.

Lydian Dominant Sound
Lydian Dominant Sound

C7 + F Melodic Minor (Mixolydian b6 sound)

The fifth mode of the melodic minor scale, creates these notes: C, D, E, F, G, Ab, Bb.

The b6 (Ab) is the only tension that is created when you use this mode. And, it’s also what makes these notes resolve well to a Fmin6 chord.

So, basically for a C7 chord moving to a Fmin6 chord, you can use the melodic minor scale based of the tonic chord (Fmin6) and it will still sound good. If you’re in the key of Cmin, you can use a C melodic minor scale for both G7 and Cmin6.

Mixolydian b6 Sound
Mixolydian b6 Sound

C7 + Bb Melodic Minor (Dorian b2 sound)

The second mode of a Bb melodic minor scale, creates these notes: C, Db, D#, F, G, A, Bb. Notice that the 13th (A) for the C7 chord is also the major third for F6.

More tension is now brought in using this particular mode. The b2 (Db) and the #2 (D#) give the dominant chord a Jimi Hendrix chord sound. And, this sound resolves very nicely to a F6 chord.

Dorian b2 Sound
Dorian b2 Sound

C7 + Db Melodic Minor (Altered sound, or Diminished Whole-Tone sound)

Here’s where the most amount of tension can be introduced and can take your jazz playing to the next level.

The seventh mode of a Db melodic minor scale, creates these notes: C, Db, D#, E, Gb, Ab, Bb.

Four tensions are created:

  1. b2 (Db)
  2. #2 (D#)
  3. b5 (Gb)
  4. b6 (Ab)

These tensions create a strong resolution to a Fmin6 chord.

Altered Sound, or Diminished Whole-Tone Sound
Altered Sound, or Diminished Whole-Tone Sound

How To Practice These Modes

​Here’s a simple and methodical approach to practicing applying the 4 melodic minor modes in major and minor keys.

Remember, 2 of the modes (mode 4 and mode 2) resolve to a Major 6 chord. And, the other 2 modes (mode 5 and mode 7) resolve to a Minor 6 chord. An easy way I like to think about melodic minor scale modes is that the even modes resolve smoothly to a major key and the odd modes to a minor key.

So, for practicing, we’ll use two different chord progressions.

The first chord progression will be a ii, V, I in a Major key.

  • Gmin7, C7, F6, F6

And the second chord progression will be a ii, V, i, in a Minor key.

  • Gmin7b5, Calt7, Fmin6, Fmin6

All you’re going to do is play a melodic line for the V chord and resolve the line to a chord tone from the Tonic.

Practice your Major chord progression first. This will get you comfortable applying the 2nd and 4th modes of the melodic minor scale.

Then practice your Minor chord progression. This will familiarize your ear with hearing more tensions, by using the 5th and 7th modes of the melodic minor scale.

Explore and pay close attention to when certain tensions sound good to your ear and when they don’t.

Now It’s Your Turn

If you want to start building your jazz vocabulary and get that modern sound, you need to start using melodic minor modes.

The more you use this scale, the more it’ll become second nature, like the Major scale. And you’ll soon start improvising confidently over jazz standards.

At first, your ear may not be used to the tensions that are created.

But, trust the process. Over time your ear will start to hear when to play these tensions.

Level up on your jazz theory, here.

Frequently Asked Questions

What modes are played in melodic minor?

Of the seven modes of the melodic minor scale, the altered scale (mode 7), Lydian dominant scale (mode 4), Mixolydian b6 scale (mode 5), and Locrian #2 scale (mode 2), are commonly used in jazz.

What chords to use melodic minor scale?

The melodic minor scale can be used over a variety chords, but it’s particularly effective over dominant (V) chords, where it can provide tension and color to your solos.

Which is the V chord in a minor harmonic form?

In the context of the harmonic minor scale, the V chord is typically a dominant chord built on the fifth scale degree. So, for example, in the key of F minor, the V chord would be C7.

What is the fifth mode of the melodic minor?

The fifth mode (mode 5) of the melodic minor scale is known as the Mixolydian b6 scale. It features a lowered sixth scale degree, giving it a bluesy and soulful quality.

PosidoVega

Hi! I’m Posido Vega, a multi-passionate creative. I’m an artist, bass player, jazz theory enthusiast, children’s book author and illustrator, and SEO 😅.

Keep Learning

Bass Guitar Tone - Image of Guitar Picks

Bass Guitar Tone: Misconceptions & Practical Bass Tone Tips

Welcome to my guide on dialing your ideal bass guitar
Numbers image by Kirk Lai

Number System in Music (Simple Explanation for Beginners)

A few years ago, a student of mine asked what’s