Tag Archives: melodic minor

how to practice major and minor scales and arpeggios on the piano

🇫🇷 → comment pratiquer les gammes et arpèges majeurs et mineurs au piano


Tempo

As recommended in the Japanese edition of the Hanon (listed under the references section below), the scales are to be practiced between 60 and 120 BPM. Start at 60 and increase incrementally (no more than 2 BPM by 2 BPM). If you get to a certain BPM on a specific day, begin your practice 4 to 10 BPM slower on the next day.

Fingerings

The proper fingerings, provided by Alphonse Schotte (who revised and expanded the original edition of the Hanon), are listed under exercise 39 for major and (harmonic) minor scales and arpeggios, and exercise 43 for melodic minor scales in the French/Belgian edition. In the Japanese edition, major and all types of minor scales are grouped together under exercise 39, while fingerings for the arpeggios can be found under exercise 41.

The scales are listed in order following the circle of fifths in both editions. Interestingly however, the different keys ascend through the cycle (C, G, D, A…) in the French edition, whereas they descend (C, F, Bb, Eb…) in the Japanese edition.

Note that minor scales usually have the same fingerings in their harmonic and melodic versions. The only notable exceptions are in the keys of C# and F# minor. When practicing melodic minor scales, make sure to play melodic minor ascending and natural minor descending, as indicated in the Hanon. For a review of the theory behind harmonic, melodic, and natural minor scales, see this post.

Routine

All scales and arpeggios should be practiced hands separate first (right hand and left hand on their own) and then hands together, going through the following steps without interruption:

  • up and down the scale over one octave in quarter notes
  • up and down the scale over two octaves in eighth notes
  • up and down the scale over three octaves in triplets (preferably twice to build strength)
  • up and down the scale over four octaves in sixteenth notes (preferably twice to build strength)

Finally, after performing these steps, all scales can be followed with these simple harmonic progressions also provided in the Hanon: IV6-I/5-V7-I for major scales and IVmi6-Imi/5-V7-Imi for minor scales.


References

Hanon, Charles-Louis. Le pianiste virtuose en 60 exercices. Bruxelles, Paris : Schott Frères, 1923-1929.

Hanon. The Virtuoso Pianist. Tokyo: ZEN-ON Music Co., Ltd. 1955.

the three kinds of minor scales in Western tonal harmony

🇫🇷 → les trois types de gammes mineures dans l’harmonie tonale occidentale


Natural minor

The natural minor scale corresponds to mode VI of the major scale, also known as Aeolian (for a comprehensive review on modes, see this post). In other words, it has the exact same notes as the major scale, but it begins and ends on the 6th scale degree of the major scale.

For example, the A major scale has the following notes: A B C# D E F# G# A. The sixth scale degree here is the note F#. F# natural minor is thus: F# G# A B C# D E F# (the same as the F# Aeolian mode).

Another way to look at this is to think that the tonic in any given natural minor scale is to be found a minor third below the tonic of its relative major scale.

For example, the relative minor scale of C major (C D E F G A B C) is A minor (A B C D E F G A). Indeed, there is an interval of a descending minor third between the two tonics, C and A (for a comprehensive review of intervals, see this PDF).

Harmonic minor

Most music students know that harmonic minor is “natural minor with a raised seventh.” But why do we call it harmonic minor? What exactly is harmonic about it?

Consider this: the chord built on the fifth scale degree in natural minor is a minor seventh chord (Emi7 in the key of A minor). To get a dominant-tonic relationship akin to the one we have in major keys (G7 to C for instance, with the tritone F & B resolving to the notes E & C), that minor third in the V chord needs to be raised by a half step. Vmi7 now becomes V7: a dominant chord with a major third (which is called the leading tone because it resolves up a half step to the tonic). With the scale reflecting this change in the V chord, we now have harmonic minor. That is: A B C D E F G# A in the key of A (here, the G# is both the leading tone of the A harmonic minor scale and the major third of its fifth degree, the E7 chord). Does that make sense? I hope so! And if it does, we can now move on to melodic minor…

Melodic minor / jazz minor

In the harmonic minor scale, the raised seventh creates an interval of an augmented second, a melodic “gap” so to speak, between the sixth and seventh scale degrees (some might say this results in an “exotic” or “Middle-Eastern” feel). This “gap” can be somewhat discomforting, particularly to a Western ear that expects a series of major and minor seconds, i.e. whole steps and half steps (as is the case in the major and natural minor scales).

Raising the sixth a half step (from F to F# in the key of A) makes the augmented interval disappear and “smooths out” the scale from an intervallic point of view. The result is what we call melodic or jazz minor. In A, we have: A B C D E F# G# A.

Looking at the scale from a different angle, one might notice that a given melodic minor scale would feature all the same notes as its parallel major counterpart, except for the third, which, of course, has to be minor (lowered by a half step when going from the parallel major scale to the melodic minor scale).

Summary

NameExample (in A)Remarks
Natural minorA B C D E F G AEquivalent to the Aeolian mode. Relative of C major (both scales share all of the same notes).
Harmonic minorA B C D E F G# APresence of the leading tone (raised seventh), which creates harmonic tension and yields the V7-Imi progression.
Melodic minorA B C D E F# G# AEquivalent to playing the parallel A major scale with a lowered third (minor instead of major).

These three different types of minor scales are commonly found in the Western tonal system. There are, however, myriad other minor sounding modes (Dorian, Phrygian, Aeolian, and Locrian for example) and scales (such as the Hungarian minor scale or the minor pentatonic).

pentatonic possibilities 1: major and minor pentatonics

Pentatonics are 5-note scales. Technically, any ordered sequence of 5 notes can be called a pentatonic. But the most common and widely used pentatonic is without doubt the one obtained by reordering a series of 5 notes stacked on top of each other in fifths (for example, the series “C G D A E” gives us “C D E G A” once reordered). This particular pentatonic comes in its “major” form (C D E G A), and its relative “minor” form (A C D E G).

So, what do I mean by “pentatonic possibilities?” Well, pentatonics tend to break up the diatonic quality of 7-note major and minor scales because of their intervallic content. So, to create fresh melodic shapes and give a more edgy feel to your lines while improvising over changes, you might ask yourself: what pentatonic scales can I use over these chords? Chords derive from modes, and modes from harmony types, so the question may be rephrased as: what pentatonic scales can be extracted from the various harmony types?

For the purpose of this particular post, I will limit myself to what I call the “common” or “global” pentatonic scale (the one discussed in the first paragraph). Let’s have a look at major harmony first. The pentatonics listed in the first and last column of the table shown below are extracted from the key of C major (C D E F G A B). Their “major” forms are listed in the left-hand side of the table along with their relative “minor” forms on the right-hand side, and the roman numerals represent the scale degrees for each pentatonic:

major harmony pentatonic possibilities
C D E G A I Maj. pent. <=> VI min. pent. A C D E G
F G A C D IV Maj. pent. <=> II min. pent. D F G A C
G A B D E V Maj. pent. <=> III min. pent. E G A B D

Natural minor harmony is equivalent to the Aeolian mode. Therefore, the pentatonic possibilities in natural minor are the same as in major harmony (the roman numerals indicating the scale degrees, however, would have to change due to the shift to relative minor).

Now, let’s have a look at melodic minor harmony. It turns out only one pentatonic scale can be extracted from this harmony type. It is shown in the table below in the key of C melodic minor (C D Eb F G A B):

melodic minor harmony pentatonic possibilities
F G A C D IV Maj. pent. <=> II min. pent. D F G A C

Finally, neither harmonic minor nor harmonic major harmony bear common pentatonic possibilities, due to a flatted 6th scale degree in both instances. However, some interesting “exotic” pentatonics can be derived from those harmony types…


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getting into the altered sound

Let’s take a look at a few things that can be done when an altered dominant chord presents itself in a tune (e.g. Eb7alt). The first thing to know is that the altered chord derives from the altered mode, otherwise known as mode VII of melodic minor. But to break out of the diatonic sound of the scale and gain a little freedom with it, here are a few tricks…

There are 5 different triads that can be used as numerators (the denominator being the basic chord sound, i.e. combinations of chord tones 1, 3, and b7) to get a solid sounding upper structure triad voicing for an altered chord:

  • bIImi
  • bIIImi
  • bV
  • bVI

getting-into-the-altered-sound_screenshot-1

You can then combine both minor triadic upper structures and both major triadic upper structures to form two hexatonic scales, which can be used as interesting melodic devices:

  • bIImi / bIIImi
  • bV / bVI

getting-into-the-altered-sound_screenshot-2

Now, if you take a closer look at both these hexatonics, you’ll notice that they have five notes in common. These notes make up a pentatonic scale (bV major pentatonic, a.k.a. bIII minor pentatonic), which can also be used as an even more angular melodic device.

getting-into-the-altered-sound_screenshot-3

Click “Download File” below to hear the midi examples notated above. The full PDF document is also available here. Enjoy!


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