Minor Scale

Musical Scales – Why change the Minor Scale?

Surely one minor scale is enough! It would certainly make things easier, but     in a lot of cases it would not sound as easy on the ear. OK, so we need to     use the notes of the major scale in a way that makes the whole thing sound     sad or haunting.

Playing the major scale pitches downwards starting on the 6th degree for an     octave (the natural or relative minor) does produce a sad sound but has two     serious drawbacks. Firstly, the same scale doesn’t sound quite right when     going upwards. The reason for this is our second drawback – the scale does     not have a leading-note. This is the note that makes all the difference to     the chords at the end of a section or piece (the cadence), when the     harmonies move pleasantly to the home or tonic chord by using the familiar     sounding 7th note going up a semitone to the 8th note. Since all harmonies     (chords) are built using the notes of the scale, without the leading note     the cadences just don’t seem to do their job, sounding more like just two     unrelated chords. It was decided that this just wasn’t good enough, and the     scale must be given a leading note by raising its 7th degree by a semitone,     and because we could use this scale going up or down and we built all the     harmonies from it, it became known as the Harmonic Minor scale.

So far, so good, but now it was the turn of the vocalists to complain! Singers found it     difficult to pitch the gap between the 6th note and the now raised 7th note     of the Harmonic Minor scale, this gap now being 3 semitones or a tone and a     half. It was decided therefore to adjust the Minor scale so that it was     easier to sing but still pleasing to the ear whilst retaining its sad     quality. It was also decided that in order to best achieve this, the scale     would be made slightly different according to whether the notes were rising     or falling. This was the birth of our Melodic Minor scale, named because it     was derived from the melody sung, which, compared to the Major scale     starting on its 6th degree, had a raised 6th and 7th when ascending but     lowered these notes again when falling to revert back to the natural minor     scale.