So, last time in Bop 'n' Roll we took a look at the (half whole) diminished scale. We were using this as a way of creating tension which can then be resolved by moving to chord one of the key (or chord one of a new key). This practice of tension and resolution is common in bebop; but what if you want to create a little bit of spice over a chord that isn't resolving? What if you want to just get a little bit out to twist the listeners ears? For that we will start by taking a look at the melodic minor scale.
The melodic minor scale has the intervalic structure of Root, 2nd, b3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th. Although it looks like the major scale but with a minor third, for our improvising purposes you need to think of it as a Dorian scale with a major 7th.
The melodic minor scale is one of three parental scales the west have used for hundreds of years. In a classical sense the melodic minor scale is played melodic (minor) when ascending and natural (minor) when descending. This makes perfect sense when you think about it, if you play the scale from the root up you hit that minor note straight away and it doesn't differ from the natural minor tonality at all until you reach the 6th. When descending the scale is identical to the major scale until you reach the third so action was taken to make sure it sounded minor right away! In a modern context we play what's called the "fixed" melodic minor (or the "jazz" minor) and that's melodic both ascending and descending.
Above I've written out the scale in position 1, and position 4. I use the CAGED system exclusively here as it allows me to play AROUND the chord more tightly. This does mean 4 notes on a string from time to time which I execute with a 1st finger shift. You can, of course, re-finger these positions to fit within the three note per string system. I just find these a little harder to phrase with.
So now we need to look at a quick bit of theory to find out the correct place for this scale. If we extract a chord from this scale we get - Root, b3rd, 5th, 7th - a min(maj)7. This is a very uncommon chord with a unique sound, and doesn't appear very often. We'll play this scale over a standard minor 7 chord, so Instead of playing all the right notes over an unusual chord we're going to play all the unusual notes over a very normal chord.
This is one of my favourite sounds to use as it's a very quick and easy way to sound a little bit jazz but in a rock, blues or fusion context. It's also such an easy sound to use as our important note (the major 7) is just a fret below the root. So we can actually use this as an added colour tone to our standard pentatonic scale. This is the way I introduce playing outside when I deliver masterclasses and its great to see a 13 year old getting up and playing a little out.
Now let's just take a quick look at where you can hear this. In short - it's everywhere. It's a really common sound you can hear from guys like Wayne Krantz, Scott Henderson and John Scofield. When I was learning about soloing over the ii-V-I progression I was told that over the ii chord "play dorian and melodic minor" which told me the two were virtually interchangeable. This made a lot of sense when I actually did it, and suddenly I could really get what Charlie Parker was doing.
The Incredible Wayne Krantz
When using the scale for extended periods (rather than to create tension) you can easily get some Tribal Tech vibes going on. Take some time to listen to some of the guys mentioned and see if you can pinch any of their licks.
This is really just a sound that you need to throw yourself into and get used to the sound of. For more on the subject check out Scott Henderson's DVD "Jazz Rock Mastery" where you will learn all you could want to know about phrasing at the same time.
Below I have written out today's lick. Hopefully you can see that we start out up in position one with a phrase i'm particularly fond of. We then move down to position four for a descending triadic idea that I can't seem to stop myself playing at the moment. As usual I'm economy picking, but you can use whatever picking pattern comes more naturally to you.
Above is the melodic minor scale played over our backing track then the lick played slowly.
Here we have the lick at full speed in context.
Lastly we have our the backing track for you to practice over. It's just a static Em9 chord with an F9 stab played every 4 bars.
As usual, this should be used as a springboard for your own ideas - so keep listening and keep learning.