This week we’re looking at a scale that players have often heard of but have no idea how to integrate it in their bass lines.
The scale I’m talking about is the Melodic Minor Scale. In this lesson, we’ll look at its common use as a substitute scale over the dominant 7 chord and how we can use triads and other resources within the scale to create those funky, ‘hip’ sounds in your bass licks!!

What Is The Melodic Minor Scale?

The melodic minor scale is very similar to the natural minor scale. It contains a flattened 3rd just as the minor scale does, but the 6th and 7th are major instead of minor.

Melodic Minor – C D Eb F G A B – 1 2 b3 4 5 6 7

Natural Minor – C D Eb F G Ab Bb – 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7

You can also think of it as a major scale with a flattened 3rd.

Major Scale – C D E F G A B – 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

As we are playing this scale the same in ascent and descent, its technical name is the jazz melodic minor.

Using The Melodic Minor As A Substitution For Dominant 7 Chords

The melodic minor is most commonly used as a substitution over dominant 7 chords.

The dominant 7 is the 5th chord in a major key and is made up of the scale degrees 1 3 5 and b7. To practice this, we are going to learn a groove using the notes in E7.

E7 E G# B D 

E7 Arpeggio

To apply the melodic minor over this chord, we need to play the scale a semitone up from the root. So for an E7 chord, we would use the F melodic minor scale.

F Melodic Minor Scale 

The E7 chord works here because its arpeggio is taken from the 7th mode of the melodic minor scale.

This mode goes by many names – the superlocrian mode, the altered scale and the diminished scale. We will call it the altered scale for now as the name is appropriate when we apply it to the dominant 7 chord.

E Altered Scale

Practice this scale to the E7 backing track below. Although you are technically playing the F melodic minor scale, it is centred around E so it doesn’t sound out of place.

Benefits Of Seeing Things From A Melodic Minor Perspective

  • You get away from the ‘root centric‘ way of playing. (You don’t have to start and finish everything with the root note).
  • You can look at the melodic minor as a basis for a whole set of other chords to use as a substitute over a dominant 7.

Chords Of The Melodic Minor – Triads 

  1. Minor
  2. Minor
  3. Augmented
  4. Major
  5. Major
  6. Diminished
  7. Diminished

Chords Of The Melodic Minor – Extensions

  1. Minor (Maj7)
  2. Minor 7
  3. Major 7#5
  4. Dominant 7
  5. Dominant 7
  6. Minor 7b5
  7. Minor 7b5

Now, if we base this sequence on our F melodic minor scale, we get the following set of chords:

Chords Of The F Melodic Minor Scale

  1. Fm or Fm(Maj7)
  2. Gm or Gm7
  3. Ab Aug or Ab Maj7#5
  4. Bb or Bb7
  5. C or C7
  6. D Dim or Dm7b5
  7. E Dim or Em7b5

All of these arpeggios can be used over the E7 chord to get the melodic minor effect.

As an exercise, work through all of these arpeggios in turn to the E7 backing track below. Try not to isolate each one – instead, resolve them by moving back to the tonic straight after. This will train your ear by letting you hear the tension between the tonic and each chord.

Applying The Melodic Minor Scale

Now, we are going to learn a riff based around the E7 chord that uses the F melodic minor scale as a basis for the fill at the end of the progression.

E7 Bass Riff 

Try playing this groove to the drum track included with the lesson. 

Melodic Minor Licks

Here are three licks that use the melodic minor scale to jazz up what could have been just basic fills. Try to isolate the notes that make the runs interesting and involve them in your own bass parts.

Melodic Minor Lick #1 

Melodic Minor Lick #2 

Melodic Minor Lick #3

Backing Tracks

E7

Melodic Minor Licks

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