Melodic minor scales are a bit more complicated than other scales, because they have one pattern on the way up, but another on the way down.

On the way up (ascending), the pattern is:

T – S – T – T- T – T – S 

but on the way down the pattern is:

T – T – S – T – T – S – T 

As you can see, the descending scale is not just a back-to-front ascending scale, (as it was in the harmonic scale).

The top end of the melodic scale uses a completely different pattern. The very top note will always be the tonic (keynote) of the scale, but the two notes just below it are the ones which change, depending on which direction you’re going in. 

Here’s A minor melodic, ascending and descending. Click the play button and concentrate on the notes in red- they’re the ones which change on the way down.

A minor melodic

Let’s see how E minor melodic and D minor melodic look:

E Minor Melodic:

E minor melodic

D Minor Melodic:

D minor melodic

Degrees of Minor Melodic Scales

Minor melodic scales are different on the way down. So what happens to the degrees of the scale? Let’s take a look.

We’ll look more closely at one of our new scales, E minor melodic. First we’ll write out the ascending scale, then add the degrees of the scale under each note:

E minor melodic ascending with scale degrees

Look at the top end of the scale: C# is the 6th and D# is the 7th degree of the scale.

Now we’ll write out the descending form of E melodic minor, also known as “E natural minor”, and add in the numbers:

E melodic minor descending with scale degrees

In E minor melodic, there is no D#, only D natural, and no C#, only C natural.

This doesn’t make any difference to the degree of the scale.

So, we can say that the 6th degree of the scale of E minor melodic is C natural or C sharp.

Did you know?

Just in case you were wondering, in music theory the words “harmonic” and “melodic” can be used to describe intervals as well as scales– but when we use them to talk about intervals they have a different meaning.

The notes from the harmonic minor scales are the ones we most often use for making harmony (chords), whereas the notes from the melodic minor scales are the ones we most often use for making melody (tunes). Pieces of music in a minor key normally use the notes from both scales.

It’s correct to say “melodic minor scale” and “minor melodic scale”. It doesn’t matter which way round! The same goes for harmonic scales.