I used to ask this question all the time and stumped my music teachers. I mean, sure, the scale is different, and I see how it's different, but why? Turns out, they didn't really have an answer for me that made sense either besides "that's just how it is".
I'm here to tell you that they were actually right, even though they just pulled that answer out of thin air.
I've done so much research, and so many people have given roundabout answers that all lead to pretty much the same answer, "that's just how it is". But let's talk about a few reasons why that's how it is!
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I'm sure you already know the scale if the title of this blog caught your attention, so I won't bore you with a long music theory lesson.
Let's just run over the basics quickly. The most common minor scale is the natural minor scale, which is the same ascending and descending.
A minor is the easiest way to view the minor scale on a piano, and using solfege is a great way to understand notes, so let's take a look at an example with the natural minor scale for both.
A B C D E F G A
La Ti Do Re Mi Fa Sol La
The other forms of this scale are the harmonic minor and melodic minor scales. The harmonic minor raises the 7th of the scales on the ascending and descending parts.
On the other hand, the melodic scale raises the 6th and the 7th on the ascending part of the scale and then lowers the 6th and 7th back in the descending part of the scale.
So the melodic minor scale looks like these, both ascending and descending:
A B C D E F# G# A G F E D C B A
La Ti Do Re Mi Fi Si La Sol Fa Mi Re Do Ti La
We use this in our modern music theory and music training courses because that's how things have been taught for hundreds of years, and it works.
While this may be a scale that was made up and doesn't make any deep sense, it doesn't hurt how young and old musicians understand the theory of music as they go through their studies.
Learning about natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor has always been a part of the curriculum. Popular Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg said that melodic minor helps relieve the tension of the leading tone.
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This ascending/descending distinction is mainly seen in classical compositions and not so much in other genres. To other musicians, like jazz musicians, 'melodic minor' simply refers to the ascending form of the melodic minor scale.
But even still, the Melodic Minor scale is often implemented in popular classical music works from legendary composers as well.
When ascending and descending, there are many examples of this in the compositions of creators, including Bach, Vivaldi, and Beethoven.
The common forms of harmony in chords are all about dominant-tonic relationships.
Many minor chords that are the dominant chord in a scale sound really great with the leading note, the seventh degree of the scale, a half-step below the tonic.
Combined with the fourth degree of the scale, it makes the tritone interval that powers the dominant 7th chord that wants to lead to the root chord.
This is why we have the 'sharpened 7th' in the Harmonic Minor scale.
But although commonly practiced chord structure loves the augmented 4th of the tritone, it complains that the augmented 2nd between the 6th and 7th degrees of the harmonic minor scale can sound a bit less melodic. This is why we have the melodic scale!
Like my teachers told me, that's just how it goes. You have to remember that music theory, at the end of the day, is just that, theory.
Sometimes the theory doesn't need to be backed by math in order to be a practice that people regularly follow. You may be thinking to yourself, "why are we using these made-up scales?" But aren't all things and terms we use made-up?
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