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#1066787 - 09/05/04 05:45 PM THE "OTHER" MINOR SCALES -- As if one weren't bad enough! (II)
Matt G. Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/22/01
Posts: 3789
Loc: Plainfield, IL
Pity the poor natural minor scale. It had not only survived through the centuries, but flourished as pretty much the medium of choice for musical expression for quite a long time. However, its days were numbered from the moment that the major dominant chord to tonic chord progression captured the esthetic sensibilities of several generations of composers towards the end of the Medieval musical style period.

The natural minor scale started out life simply enough, and developed a harmonic language all its own. But it lacked one thing that seemed to have become an obsession with late Medieval composers: the leading tone. Let's look at the natural minor scale here (we'll use a minor for this lesson) just for reference:

Let's say we wanted to put together a piece using the minor scale and its diatonic harmonies. Look at what kind of triad we get when we build on the dominant (scale degree 5) using just the diatonic notes of the natural minor scale:

Let's see... from e to g is a minor third, so that means this is a minor triad. It just doesn't really sound like it's planning on going straight to an a minor chord, does it?

What's missing here? There's no leading tone. When we studied the scale degrees, one of the names applied to the seventh degree is "leading tone." Why the strange name? As it turns out, the leading tone is a fairly recent arrival on the scene of notes. In earlier music, the seventh scale degree was usually a whole step away from the tonic, just as it is in the natural minor scale. But when there's only a half-step between the seventh scale degree and the tonic, that seven has a definite tendency, and its tendency is to go up a half-step to the tonic. It leads you almost inescapably to the tonic. Hence, it is only when the seventh scale degree lies a half-step below the tonic that we call it the leading tone. (Otherwise, it is called the subtonic.)

Great, so now that we've gone to great lengths to define the leading tone, what's the big deal with leading tones and minor scales? Well, let's take that brief little example we just used and flesh it out a little more:

It sounds sort of OK, but the end doesn't sound very convincing. Now let's try the same example and use a leading tone in the penultimate triad:

That triad built on the dominant just before the tonic triad sounded much better here, don't you think? Well, apparently, so did a whole lot of composers several centuries ago. It sounded good to them because there had been a revolution of sorts decades earlier when they finally got a decent sounding leading tone out of their tunings for instruments, and the theretofore neglected major scale started sounding a whole lot better. One of the major scale's strengths was the fact that it contained a leading tone, and triads built on the dominant had a double incentive to go to the tonic: the circle of fifths progression between the dominant and the tonic roots, and the leading tone's drive upwards by a half-step to the tonic. A major triad built on a root of the dominant was thus far more powerful a cadential device than the "old-fashioned" minor triad that only had root motion in its arsenal of tricks to resolve to the tonic.

But the minor scale and its harmonies were still very popular, and composers still loved the flavors that using minor scale-based harmonies brought to a piece. But this major dominant triad was a force not to be taken lightly, and so a compromise (or two) was struck.

"We really like the minor scale, and we really like the leading tone," they said.
"Let's just raise the seventh scale degree of the minor scale so that we have a leading tone." And thus was born what we now call the harmonic minor[/b] scale. When you compare the natural and harmonic minor scales:

it's pretty plain to see that the only difference between them is the harmonic minor's use of the leading tone. The harmonic minor scale, when used as a basis for harmony (hence its name!), provides the raw materials for the minor-keyed music we've come to know and love over the centuries.

Naturally, though, some people had a distinct problem with the harmonic minor scale: it is difficult to sing because of the augmented second between scale degrees 6 and 7. This difficulty, in fact, was so great that it led to the invention of another minor scale: the melodic minor[/b]. In the melodic minor, the augmented second between 6 and 7 was mitigated by raising scale degree 6 by a half-step. Well, what seemed a good idea on paper was marred by the fact that this melodic minor scale sounded just like a major scale with the exception of the lowered scale degree 3! Something had to be done about that, so someone struck upon the idea of using a different configuration for the melodic minor that depended on which direction the scale was being played or sung.

So, what was chosen was an ascending[/b] melodic minor scale that used the raised scale degrees 6 and 7, and a descending[/b] melodic minor scale that was the same as the natural minor scale. Here's the whole melodic minor scale (again in a minor) showing both the ascending and descending forms:

Why wouldn't one just use the ascending part backwards for the descending part? First of all, it is, as noted earlier, far too similar to the major scale, and this weakness would be even more apparent if the lowered scale degree 6 (as in the natural and harmonic minors) were to be eliminated altogether. Secondly, generally speaking, when a melody is descending from the tonic, it is far less likely that the harmony supporting the melody immediately following the tonic will require a leading tone; in other words, there's usually no need to jump straight to a major dominant right after the tonic.

One aspect of the melodic minor scales that frequently escapes students is that the notes of the melodic minors make rather poor choices as the basis for harmonization. Notable among the problems are some rather odd functions of the triads that are built on the ascending melodic minor (e.g., a triad built on scale degree 6 would be a diminished triad), and the same problem with lack of leading tone in the descending melodic minor that is also suffered by the natural minor. For these reasons, the melodic minor scales are seldom chosen as the source of pitches for harmonic progression. However, they are still very commonly used in melodic passagework where the underlying harmony is used in a supporting (as opposed to a more contrapuntal) role.

OK, let's do a couple of exercises.

#1. Using a key signature on a treble[/b] clef staff, provide the following harmonic minor scales: f# minor, g minor, bb minor, e minor

#2. Using a key signature on a bass[/b] clef staff, provide the following ascending[/b] melodic minor scales: d minor, b minor

#3. Using a key signature on a treble[/b] clef staff, provide the complete ascending and descending melodic minor scales: c minor, g# minor.

Answers will appear here when I'm darn good and ready! ;\)

So, now without further ado, your gardening tip: If you live in a climate that has very cold winters, one's plant choices are often somewhat limited by what kinds of perennials, trees and shrubs that can survive the deep-freeze. However, it is often quite possible to grow things that wouldn't normally survive in your climate. The key is finding planting locations that are sheltered from the full brunt of winter's fury. A spot that is buffered from winter's drying, freezing winds will lessen the cold's impact. Likewise, a location that receives ample sunlight, especially when backed by something that will reflect the solar warmth (particularly walls), can also help create a microclimate that can allow less hardy plants to survive winter's blast. Look for spots in your garden that might have a gentler winter microclimate, and try a thing or two that you might not otherwise consider.

Next topic: TRIADS -- Third Time's a Charm! (I)[/b]
Sacred cows make the best hamburger. - Clemens

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Sauter Pianos

#1066788 - 09/05/04 09:17 PM Re: THE "OTHER" MINOR SCALES -- As if one weren't bad enough! (II)
sleepingcats Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/30/04
Posts: 982
Loc: Oregon
Thanks Matt for all your hard work!

My teacher is having me learn all three forms of minor scales at the same time (so far I've learned them for "a minor" and" e minor").
"Cats make purrfect friends"

#1066789 - 09/05/04 10:32 PM Re: THE "OTHER" MINOR SCALES -- As if one weren't bad enough! (II)
RKVS1 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/07/01
Posts: 3192
Loc: Topeka, Kansas
I thought we had the Holiday OFF![/b]
Isn't this un-American or something?
Can I at least complain to the ACLU or PETA or daJA or somebody?

Oh all right, I'll put down my beer and read the damn thing. \:\(

I don't NEED to put the beer down!

Gee, Matt, thanks, you're A-OK!
"It'll just have to wait, dear ( :swig:), I'm studying."
.... later that evening ( humming )

That mel-o-dic minor
Just ain't what it used to be
When going down the keys
Drop those first 2 steps please

(shifting to an even more miner tune)

You drop 6 a half step
and whadaya get?
well ... mel-o-dic minor,
but we ain't there quite yet.
The third stays aflatted,
The seventh does too
But when you go back up
What the Hell do you do?

(tiny-little) :burp:
Probably them pesky Cheetos.

\:\) Bob

#1066790 - 09/06/04 05:43 AM Re: THE "OTHER" MINOR SCALES -- As if one weren't bad enough! (II)
plays88skeys Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/08/04
Posts: 3091
Loc: Richmond, VA
Matt - the minor scales have always given me fits. I think this will be very helpful, if I can ever stop laughing at Bob's post long enough to study it.

Thank you!
There are no shortcuts to any place worth going. - Beverly Sills

#1066791 - 09/09/04 07:31 AM Re: THE "OTHER" MINOR SCALES -- As if one weren't bad enough! (II)
LudwigVanBee Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/18/04
Posts: 83
Loc: USA
Thanks very much Matt. I'm way behind in reading these but I'm putting them into a single document. I'm over 30 pages now under the title: Matt's Music Theory Book. When you're finished maybe can send it off to a publisher.
_ _ ___________________________ _ _
"There are no shortcuts to anything worth doing." Beverly Sills

#1066792 - 09/11/04 10:57 AM Re: THE "OTHER" MINOR SCALES -- As if one weren't bad enough! (II)
Matt G. Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/22/01
Posts: 3789
Loc: Plainfield, IL
Ready or not, here are the answers to this lesson's exercises:

#1(a) f# harmonic minor

#1(b) g harmonic minor

#1(c) e harmonic minor

#2(a) d ascending melodic minor

#2(b) b ascending melodic minor

#3(a) c melodic minor

#3(b) g# melodic minor

So, how did you do? Any questions?
Sacred cows make the best hamburger. - Clemens


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