Minor scales

This article uses Fretspace to explore minor scales. Minor-scale harmony is based around minor chords instead of major chords. The tonic, subdominant, and dominant chords are all minor in Aeolian harmony (i iv v instead of I IV V), and the tonic and dominant chords are also minor in Dorian harmony. However, the minor dominant chord is sometimes replaced by a major dominant chord. In the key of A minor, the tonic, subdominant, and dominant chords are Am, Dm, and Em (Aeolian) or Am, D, and Em (Dorian)—but the minor dominant chord (Em or Em7) is often replaced by a major dominant chord (E or E7) in cases where it precedes the tonic chord (Am). This happens because there is a tendency for the root note of a key to be approached via a leading note that is one semitone below the root. The third degree of E and E7 is G#, one semitone below A.

This causes complications when we are looking for a scale to use over the E(7) chord. If we are using the A Aeolian scale to solo over chords in the key of A Minor, we will find that the seventh note of this scale (G) clashes with the major third (G#) of E7. If we try using E Mixolydian as an alternative, considering that this is the scale that is normally associated with dominant seventh chords, we will find that the sixth degree of this scale (C#) sounds wrong, since it suggests we are in the key of A major rather than A minor. The second degree of the scale (F#) may also sound wrong if we have been playing Dm chords.

Harmonic and Melodic Minor

The simplest thing that we can do in this situation is to sharpen the seventh degree of the scale that we are using with tonic chords. Sharpening the seventh note of the Aeolian scale creates a scale that is known as the Harmonic Minor scale, and sharpening the seventh note of the Dorian scale creates a scale that is known as the Melodic Minor scale. Here are first-position shapes for the Harmonic and Melodic Minor scales, along with corresponding shapes from the Aeolian and Dorian scales:

A Harmonic Minor (first position)A Aeolian (first position)A Melodic Minor (first position)A Dorian (first position)

The fifth mode of the Harmonic Minor scale is known as the Phrygian Dominant scale, since it resembles a Phrygian scale in which the minor third degree has been replaced by the major third degree that is found in dominant seventh chords (such as E7). The fifth mode of the Melodic Minor scale resembles a Mixolydian scale in which the sixth note has been flattened.

E Phrygian Dominant (first position)E Mixolydian b6 (first position)

Either of these scales sounds fine with E7 in a minor key, but you might want to use the second scale for lines that ascend to the tonic root note (A) because this avoids the three-semitone gap between F and G#.

In classical music, the Melodic Minor scale is the preferred scale for melodies  that ascend to the root note, while the three-semitone interval that occurs in the Harmonic Minor scale (and its modes) is considered to be awkward melodically. It’s also interesting that classical music generally prefers to use the Natural Minor scale for lines that descend from the root note: because we are moving away from the root rather than moving towards it, we don’t need a leading note and the natural minor seventh and sixth notes are preferred.

Melodic Minor Harmony

Jazz music generally uses a different scale for dominant seventh chords that are followed by minor chords. This is known as the Altered scale. It is derived from the seventh (rather than the fifth) mode of the Melodic Minor scale. The seventh note of a Melodic Minor is one semitone below the root note, so an Altered scale can be derived from a Melodic Minor scale whose root is one semitone higher than the root of the Altered scale. Going back to our E7 Am example, an E Altered scale is the same as an F Melodic Minor scale. This might seem surprising, but it works. The minor third of F Melodic Minor (Ab) is the same note as the major third of E Altered (G#). Here are some shapes for F Melodic Minor and E Altered:

F Melodic Minor (first position)E Altered (first position)

The E Altered scale contains the following degrees: R b2 #2 3 #4 #5 b7 (b2 and #2 are the same as b9 and #9, while #4 is the same as #11).

E Altered (first position)

The Altered scale can be used with any dominant seventh chord that contains (or implies) an altered note. The following notes are considered to be altered notes:  b5, #5, b9, and #9, i.e. any flattened or sharpened fifth (or synonym such as #11 = b5 and b13 = #5) and any flattened or sharpened ninth. E7b5, E7#5, E7b9, E7#9, and E7b5#9 are just a few examples. Jazz music tends to consider any of these chords to be an E alt chord: you can play whichever you prefer, and it will fit with the E Altered scale. The Altered scale is less commonly used outside of jazz, but you can use it with dominant sevenths that are followed by a minor chord that is a fifth lower (such as E7 followed by Am): the third note of Am (C) is a #5 (or b13) note in E7.

There are seven modes of the Melodic Minor scale:

A Melodic Minor (first position)B Phrygian #6 (first position)C Lydian Augmented (first position)D Lydian Dominant (first position)E Mixolydian b6 (first position)F# Locrian #2 (first position)G# Altered (first position)

These are mostly used in the following ways:

  1. The first mode is used with mMaj7 chords. It contains a minor third along with a major seventh.
  2. The second mode resembles the Phrygian mode of the Major scale with a sharpened sixth degree. Jazz musicians use Phrygian and Phrygian #6 scales with 7susb9 chords.
  3. The Lydian Augmented scale resembles the Lydian mode of the Major scale, but contains an augmented fifth. It is used with augmented major chords.
  4. The Lydian Dominant scale resembles the Lydian and Mixolydian modes of the Major scale. It contains an augmented fourth (like the Lydian scale) and a minor seventh (like the Mixolydian scale). It is used with 7#11 chords.
  5. The fifth mode of the Melodic minor scale can be used with 7b13 chords, but jazz musicians prefer to use the Altered scale.
  6. The Locrian #2 scale is used with m7b5 chords. It is an alternative to the standard Locrian scale, and is often preferred by jazz musicians.
  7. The Altered scale is used with altered chords. These are dominant chords that contain one or more altered notes: b5 (= #11), #5 (= b13), b9, and #9.

If you want to explore jazz harmony in more detail, a good book is The Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine.

Reference charts

Let’s add some Minor charts to our collection of reference charts. Open the Guitar Scales document that you should already have—if you don’t, go back and create it, following steps in the Pentatonic Scales and Major Scale articles.

Melodic Minor chart

Select the Major chart in the Charts area on the left of the window and drag it to the bottom of the list while holding down the Option key. This will create a copy of the Major chart. Rename this copy to Melodic Minor.

Melodic Minor shapes

  1. Delete all the shapes except for the Dorian shapes: select all of them (⌘A) then Command-click on the Dorian shapes (and the line break at the end of the line) to deselect these; press Backspace to delete the other shapes.
  2. Select the first Dorian shape, and use the Notes section of the Inspector panel to change Minor Seventh into Major Seventh. This converts it into a Melodic Minor shape.
  3. Do the same with the other Dorian shapes. If you want to tidy the boxes so that they have the same number of frets, you can use Set Number of Frets in the Box menu to do this.

D Melodic Minor (first position)D Melodic Minor (second position)D Melodic Minor (third position)D Melodic Minor (fourth position)D Melodic Minor (fifth position)

Phrygian #6 shapes

  1. Select the line of Melodic Minor shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them (⌘C), and paste them back (⌘V), so you have a second line of Melodic Minor shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to E Phrygian #6 using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel (click on the down-arrow and choose E Phrygian #6 from the list).
  3. Drag the first shape to the end of the line, so that the first-position shape (which starts with the colored root note) is first.

E Phrygian #6 (first position)E Phrygian #6 (second position)E Phrygian #6 (third position)E Phrygian #6 (fourth position)E Phrygian #6 (fifth position)

Lydian Augmented shapes

  1. Select the line of Phrygian #6 shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them (⌘C), and paste them back (⌘V), so you have a second line of Phrygian #6 shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to F Lydian Augmented using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. There’s no need to drag the first shape to the end of the line: a first-position Lydian Augmented shape is the same as a first-position Phrygian #6 shape.

F Lydian Augmented (first position)F Lydian Augmented (second position)F Lydian Augmented (third position)F Lydian Augmented (fourth position)F Lydian Augmented (fifth position)

Lydian Dominant shapes

  1. Select the line of Lydian Augmented shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them and paste them back, so you have a second line of Lydian Augmented shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to G Lydian Dominant using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. Drag the first shape to the end of the line, so that the first-position shape (which starts with the colored root note) is first.

G Lydian Dominant (first position)G Lydian Dominant (second position)G Lydian Dominant (third position)G Lydian Dominant (fourth position)G Lydian Dominant (fifth position)

Mixolydian b6 shapes

  1. Select the line of Lydian Dominant shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them and paste them back, so you have a second line of Lydian Dominant shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to A Mixolydian b6 using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. Drag the first shape to the end of the line, so that the first-position shape (which starts with the colored root note) is first.

A Mixolydian b6 (first position)A Mixolydian b6 (second position)A Mixolydian b6 (third position)A Mixolydian b6 (fourth position)A Mixolydian b6 (fifth position)

Locrian #2 shapes

  1. Select the line of Mixolydian b6 shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them and paste them back, so you have a second line of Mixolydian b6 shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to B Locrian #2 using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. Drag the first shape to the end of the line, so that the first-position shape (which starts with the colored root note) is first.

B Locrian #2 (first position)B Locrian #2 (second position)B Locrian #2 (third position)B Locrian #2 (fourth position)B Locrian #2 (fifth position)

Altered shapes

  1. Select the line of Locrian #2 shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them and paste them back, so you have a second line of Locrian #2 shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to C# Altered using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. There’s no need to drag the first shape to the end of the line: a first-position Altered shape is the same as a first-position Locrian #2 shape.

C# Altered (first position)C# Altered (second position)C# Altered (third position)C# Altered (fourth position)C# Altered (first position)

Melodic Minor 2 chart

There is a second set of shapes that can be used to play the Melodic Minor scale. The Melodic Minor, as we’ve seen, is equivalent to a Dorian scale with a sharpened (major) seventh note. But it’s also equivalent to a Major scale with a flattened (minor) third note. So another way to create a Melodic Minor shape is to take a major shape and flatten the third note. This gives us a different set of shapes. Personally, I suggest you learn the previous set of shapes to begin with, but you could also learn this second set at a later date.

Select the Major chart in the Charts area on the left of the window and drag it to the bottom of the list while holding down the Option key. This will create a copy of the Major chart. Rename this copy to Melodic Minor 2.

Melodic Minor shapes

  1. Delete all the shapes except for the Major shapes: select all of them (⌘A) then Command-click on the Major shapes (and the line break at the end of the line) to deselect them; press Backspace to delete the other shapes.
  2. Select the first Major shape, and use the Notes section of the Inspector panel to change Major Third into Minor Third. This converts it into a Melodic Minor shape.
  3. Do the same with the other Major shapes. If you want to tidy the boxes so that they have the same number of frets, you can use Set Number of Frets in the Box menu to do this.

C Melodic Minor (first position)C Melodic Minor (second position)C Melodic Minor (third position)C Melodic Minor (fourth position)C Melodic Minor (fifth position)

Phrygian #6 shapes

  1. Select the line of Melodic Minor shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them (⌘C), and paste them back (⌘V), so you have a second line of Melodic Minor shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to D Phrygian #6 using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel (click on the down-arrow and choose D Phrygian #6 from the list).
  3. Drag the first shape to the end of the line, so that the first-position shape (which starts with the colored root note) is first.

D Phrygian #6 (first position)D Phrygian #6 (second position)D Phrygian #6 (third position)D Phrygian #6 (fourth position)D Phrygian #6 (fifth position)

Lydian Augmented shapes

  1. Select the line of Phrygian #6 shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them and paste them back, so you have a second line of Phrygian #6 shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to Eb Lydian Augmented using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. Drag the first shape to the end of the line, so that the first-position shape (which starts with the colored root note) is first.

Eb Lydian Augmented (first position)Eb Lydian Augmented (second position)Eb Lydian Augmented (third position)Eb Lydian Augmented (fourth position)Eb Lydian Augmented (fifth position)

Lydian Dominant shapes

  1. Select the line of Lydian Augmented shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them and paste them back, so you have a second line of Lydian Augmented shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to F Lydian Dominant using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. There’s no need to drag the first shape to the end of the line: a first-position Lydian Dominant shape is the same as a first-position Lydian Augmented shape.

F Lydian Dominant (first position)F Lydian Dominant (second position)F Lydian Dominant (third position)F Lydian Dominant (fourth position)F Lydian Dominant (fifth position)

Mixolydian b6 shapes

  1. Select the line of Lydian Dominant shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them and paste them back, so you have a second line of Lydian Dominant shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to G Mixolydian b6 using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. Drag the first shape to the end of the line, so that the first-position shape (which starts with the colored root note) is first.

G Mixolydian b6 (first position)G Mixolydian b6 (second position)G Mixolydian b6 (third position)G Mixolydian b6 (fourth position)G Mixolydian b6 (fifth position)

Locrian #2 shapes

  1. Select the line of Mixolydian b6 shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them and paste them back, so you have a second line of Mixolydian b6 shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to A Locrian #2 using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. Drag the first shape to the end of the line, so that the first-position shape (which starts with the colored root note) is first.

A Locrian #2 (first position)A Locrian #2 (second position)A Locrian #2 (third position)A Locrian #2 (fourth position)A Locrian #2 (fifth position)

Altered shapes

  1. Select the line of Locrian #2 shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them and paste them back, so you have a second line of Locrian #2 shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to B Altered using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. Drag the first shape to the end of the line, so that the first-position shape (which starts with the colored root note) is first.

B Altered (first position)B Altered (second position)B Altered (third position)B Altered (fourth position)B Altered (fifth position)

Harmonic Minor chart

Select the Major chart in the Charts area on the left of the window and drag it to the bottom of the list while holding down the Option key. This will create a copy of the Major chart. Rename this copy to Harmonic Minor.

Harmonic Minor shapes

  1. Delete all the shapes except for the Aeolian shapes: select all of them (⌘A) then Command-click on the Aeolian shapes (and the line break at the end of the line) to deselect these; press Backspace to delete the other shapes.
  2. Select the first Aeolian shape, and use the Notes section of the Inspector panel to change Minor Seventh into Major Seventh. This converts it into a Harmonic Minor shape.
  3. Do the same with the other Aeolian shapes. If you want to tidy the boxes so that they have the same number of frets, you can use Set Number of Frets in the Box menu to do this.

A Harmonic Minor (first position)A Harmonic Minor (second position)A Harmonic Minor (third position)A Harmonic Minor (fourth position)A Harmonic Minor (fifth position)

Locrian #6 shapes

  1. Select the line of Harmonic Minor shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them (⌘C), and paste them back (⌘V), so you have a second line of Harmonic Minor shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to B Locrian #6 using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel (click on the down-arrow and choose B Locrian #6 from the list).
  3. Drag the first shape to the end of the line, so that the first-position shape (which starts with the colored root note) is first.

B Locrian #6 (first position)B Locrian #6 (second position)B Locrian #6 (third position)B Locrian #6 (fourth position)B Locrian #6 (fifth position)

Ionian #5 shapes

  1. Select the line of Locrian #6 shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them and paste them back, so you have a second line of Locrian #6 shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to C Ionian #5 using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. There’s no need to drag the first shape to the end of the line: a first-position Ionian #5 shape is the same as a first-position Locrian #6 shape.

C Ionian #5 (first position)C Ionian #5 (first position)C Ionian #5 (third position)C Ionian #5 (fourth position)C Ionian #5 (fifth position)

Dorian #4 shapes

  1. Select the line of Ionian #5 shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them and paste them back, so you have a second line of Ionian #5 shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to D Dorian #4 using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. Drag the first shape to the end of the line, so that the first-position shape (which starts with the colored root note) is first.

D Dorian #4 (first position)D Dorian #4 (second position)D Dorian #4 (third position)D Dorian #4 (fourth position)D Dorian #4 (fifth position)

Phrygian Dominant shapes

  1. Select the line of Dorian #4 shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them and paste them back, so you have a second line of Dorian #4 shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to E Phrygian Dominant using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. Drag the first shape to the end of the line, so that the first-position shape (which starts with the colored root note) is first.

E Phrygian Dominant (first position)E Phrygian Dominant (second position)E Phrygian Dominant (first position)E Phrygian Dominant (fourth position)E Phrygian Dominant (fifth position)

Lydian #2 shapes

  1. Select the line of Phrygian Dominant shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them and paste them back, so you have a second line of Phrygian Dominant shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to F Lydian #2 using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. There’s no need to drag the first shape to the end of the line: a first-position Lydian #2 shape is the same as a first-position Phrygian Dominant shape.

F Lydian #2 (first position)F Lydian #2 (second position)F Lydian #2 (third position)F Lydian #2 (fourth position)F Lydian #2 (fifth position)

Ultralocrian shapes

  1. Select the line of Lydian #2 shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them and paste them back, so you have a second line of Lydian #2 shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to G# Ultralocrian using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. Drag the first shape to the end of the line, so that the first-position shape (which starts with the colored root note) is first.

G# Ultralocrian (first position)G# Ultralocrian (second position)G# Ultralocrian (third position)G# Ultralocrian (fourth position)G# Ultralocrian (fifth position)

Harmonic Minor 2 chart

There is also a second set of shapes that can be used to play the Harmonic Minor scale. The Harmonic Minor, as we’ve seen, is equivalent to an Aeolian scale with a sharpened (major) seventh note. But it’s also equivalent to a Major scale with flattened (minor) third and sixth notes. So another way to create a Harmonic Minor shape is to take a major shape and flatten the third and sixth note. This gives us a different set of shapes. Personally, I suggest you learn the previous set of shapes to begin with, but you could also learn this second set at a later date.

Select the Major chart in the Charts area on the left of the window and drag it to the bottom of the list while holding down the Option key. This will create a copy of the Major chart. Rename this copy to Harmonic Minor 2.

Harmonic Minor shapes

  1. Delete all the shapes except for the Major shapes: select all of them (⌘A) then Command-click on the Major shapes (and the line break at the end of the line) to deselect them; press Backspace to delete the other shapes.
  2. Select the first Major shape, and use the Notes section of the Inspector panel to change Major Third into Minor Third, and Major Sixth into Minor Sixth. This converts it into a Harmonic Minor shape.
  3. Do the same with the other Major shapes. If you want to tidy the boxes so that they have the same number of frets, you can use Set Number of Frets in the Box menu to do this.

C Harmonic Minor (first position)C Harmonic Minor (second position)C Harmonic Minor (third position)C Harmonic Minor (fourth position)C Harmonic Minor (fifth position)

Locrian #6 shapes

  1. Select the line of Harmonic Minor shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them (⌘C), and paste them back (⌘V), so you have a second line of Harmonic Minor shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to D Locrian #6 using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel (click on the down-arrow and choose D Locrian #6 from the list).
  3. Drag the first shape to the end of the line, so that the first-position shape (which starts with the colored root note) is first.

D Locrian #6 (first position)D Locrian #6 (second position)D Locrian #6 (third position)D Locrian #6 (fourth position)D Locrian #6 (fifth position)

Ionian #5 shapes

  1. Select the line of Locrian #6 shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them and paste them back, so you have a second line of Locrian #6 shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to Eb Ionian #5 using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. Drag the first shape to the end of the line, so that the first-position shape (which starts with the colored root note) is first.

Eb Ionian #5 (first position)Eb Ionian #5 (second position)Eb Ionian #5 (third position)Eb Ionian #5 (fourth position)Eb Ionian #5 (fifth position)

Dorian #4 shapes

  1. Select the line of Ionian #5 shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them and paste them back, so you have a second line of Ionian #5 shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to F Dorian #4 using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. There’s no need to drag the first shape to the end of the line: a first-position Dorian #4 shape is the same as a first-position Ionian #5 shape.

F Dorian #4 (first position)F Dorian #4 (second position)F Dorian #4 (third position)F Dorian #4 (fourth position)F Dorian #4 (fifth position)

Phrygian Dominant shapes

  1. Select the line of Dorian #4 shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them and paste them back, so you have a second line of Dorian #4 shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to G Phrygian Dominant using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. Drag the first shape to the end of the line, so that the first-position shape (which starts with the colored root note) is first.

G Phrygian Dominant (first position)G Phrygian Dominant (second position)G Phrygian Dominant (third position)G Phrygian Dominant (fourth position)G Phrygian Dominant (fifth position)

Lydian #2 shapes

  1. Select the line of Phrygian Dominant shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them and paste them back, so you have a second line of Phrygian Dominant shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to Ab Lydian #2 using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. Drag the first shape to the end of the line, so that the first-position shape (which starts with the colored root note) is first.

Ab Lydian #2 (first position)Ab Lydian #2 (second position)Ab Lydian #2 (third position)Ab Lydian #2 (fourth position)Ab Lydian #2 (fifth position)

Ultralocrian shapes

  1. Select the line of Lydian #2 shapes (including the line break at the end), copy them and paste them back, so you have a second line of Lydian #2 shapes.
  2. Select each shape in turn and change its name to B Ultralocrian using the Name drop-down list in the Inspector panel.
  3. Drag the first shape to the end of the line, so that the first-position shape (which starts with the colored root note) is first.

B Ultralocrian (first position)B Ultralocrian (second position)B Ultralocrian (third position)B Ultralocrian (fourth position)B Ultralocrian (fifth position)

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