Major, melodic and harmonic minor modes explained.

Hi everyone, and welcome back to our new theory lesson. Modes revolve around the idea that a “root scale”  will serve as a starting point to build other scales from each of its degrees, resulting in a series of new scales, each one with its specific tone intervals. More specifically, in our music system three scales are used as the starting point for modes, the major scale being the most important one.  

C major scale

I have to point out that, while the major scale has all the attention in the current music education, we forget sometimes that other non major related scale modes deserve our attention too, like the melodic and harmonic minor.  

C minor melodic scale

C minor harmonic scale

If we consider the major as the model scale, we can infer that a melodic minor is simply a major scale with the minor third, while the harmonic has the third and the sixth degrees lowered a half tone. In classical music theory both scales are derived from the relative minor, or submediant 6th degree of the major scale. In other words, taken the Aeolian as a reference scale, the melodic minor has a raised 6th and 7th, while in the harmonic only the 7th is raised. 

C Aeolian, or minor natural scale

C minor melodic: the 6th and 7th degrees are raised half a step

C minor harmonic: the 7th degree is raised half a step

Now that you have a better understanding of the major, minor melodic and harmonic scales, it’s time to build new scales, i.e. modes, from each degree of the previously mentioned three scales. Remember that, since the new scales use the same notes as the Ionian while starting from one of its seven degrees, every new mode will carry new specific distances among its degrees. The Arab numerals at the bottom designate the relation of the new root with each scale degree.

Major scale modes in C

The minor melodic and harmonic modes, following here, have been renamed after the major scale modes, and adding their specific alterations.

Minor melodic scale modes

Minor harmonic scale modes

Start practicing on the previous scales, with a particular focus on the major scale modes, and then create your own exercises by playing in thirds, fourths and so on. In the next lesson we will extract from the previous modes their related chords and arpeggios.


Thank you for reading, happy practice and stay tuned for the next one!

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