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This is a very minor question, but I'm trying to learn a piece (a Bach Concerto in D minor) that has the following sequence of notes played in order:

A B C# D E F G A

My piano teacher said it was a scale, but could not/did not determine what it is called. So to satisfy my curiosity, what would you call it?

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These are exactly the notes from the D minor scale, are you only confused because you start and finish on A? Or am I misunderstanding something? –  Anthony Labarre May 6 '11 at 15:17
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@Anthony: Not true. The D minor scale (natural and melodic at least) has a B flat. –  Noldorin May 6 '11 at 15:20
    
As per the sheet music, there is in fact a natural on the B. –  Matthew Read May 6 '11 at 15:39
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@Brian: Yep, it appears right there in the 3rd bar. (I checked on another score too.) The base clef includes a simultaneous and parallel scale. I would presume the D was simply naturalised for "chromatic effect", and would classify it as such: a "modified D harmonic minor scale". –  Noldorin May 6 '11 at 15:43
    
@Matthew Read: That sheet music to which you linked is peculiar in the sense that it explicitly marks every Bb with the accidental rather than using a key signature. Why would the editor make that choice? It seems so cumbersome. –  Alex Basson May 6 '11 at 15:53
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2 Answers

up vote 30 down vote accepted

This is a D melodic minor scale (The root of the scale would be D since this Bach), which alters depending on if it is descending or ascending. When ascending the 6 and 7th degrees are raised, and then decending they are lowered. So when descending it is the same as a natural minor scale.

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These are pretty common in classic music and are often standard of youth symphony auditions.

As a side note, there are some interesting sounds based on different modes of the melodic minor scale (i.e. the same notes, but starting on notes other than D).

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If we wanted to look at it in modal terms (given the starting note A), it is A mixolydian b6 - the fifth mode of D melodic minor, as Rein Henrichs pointed out. –  Faza May 7 '11 at 1:39
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@Kyle Brandt: While I do agree that these are the tones of ascending D melodic minor, I wonder if this mode (based on A in this example) has a name. You wouldn't say that G mixolydian is C major, so if this is not D ascending melodic, this is A what? –  Gauthier Sep 1 '11 at 12:17
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After more research, it seems to me that Faza has the correct answer: mixolydian b6. It might also be called the Hindu scale. ref: jazzguitar.be/melodic_minor_modes.html –  Gauthier Sep 2 '11 at 7:37
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@Gauthier It's the standard name. See The Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine. –  Rein Henrichs Sep 2 '11 at 8:03
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@Rein: I just saw that and wrote it in an answer. I don't mean to hijack and use your knowledge in an answer I write, I just thought the name should figure in an answer rather than a comment. Also, I own that book and did not even check there :) ... books do not have a search button. –  Gauthier Sep 2 '11 at 8:17
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It seems to me that Faza has the correct answer in his comment to Kyle Brandt:

A mixolydian b6

It may also be called the A Hindu scale.

References:

Still unsure if it is appropriate to use Mixolydian b6 are Hindu for a mode.

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Perhaps edit into "A mixolydian b6" to point out that this is the scale starting on A as per the question? (Which happens to use the same note material as the ascending D melodic minor scale, and also is a consequence of the tonic being D minor.) –  Ulf Åkerstedt Dec 29 '12 at 19:51
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