When the melodic minor scale is descending, the scale is identical to the natural minor scale, but when the melodic minor scale is ascending, both the sixth and the seventh note are raised a half step resulting in a scale as seen below.
(Ascending melodic minor scale)
(Descending melodic minor scale)
The ascending melodic minor scale is similar to the harmonic minor scale as well, but it has the raised sixth note. The tones for the ascending melodic minor scale are as follows: WHWWWWH W is a whole step and H is half step. The W is a major second and the H is a minor second. If you look at the melodic minor scale starting on A, you will notice that there are no black keys between the B and the C where a half step takes place. Similarly, there is a half step between the G sharp and the A, where the other “H” takes place. The 7 notes above comprise the A melodic minor scale. Play the notes above and notice the difference the raised sixth makes on the overall sound of the scale. This difference in sound will correspond to the mood of the composition when you compose on this type of scale. Keep in mind that the melodic minor scales can begin on any key.
Previously, the natural minor scales and the harmonic minor scales were taught. When you combine these two scales with the melodic minor scale you realize more variety in the playable notes for your composition if you are composing in the minor key. To illustrate, let’s take an example of you composing a piece in A minor.
With the A natural minor scale you can play the following notes: A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. These 7 notes would normally be the extent of the usable notes in your composition, but if you combine the natural minor scale with the harmonic minor scale and the melodic minor scale then you can grasp two additional notes, F sharp and G sharp. This gives you a total of 9 notes to compose with in the minor keys. For comparison, the major key only permits 7 notes to compose with.
Of course, you can always disregard the rules and compose the sounds that are pleasing to your ear, but basing compositions on scales creates a firm foundation for your phrases. Melodic minor scales are an excellent scale to use as a foundation. Try playing the melodic minor scales.