There is something weird about the Max Payne theme in that although technically it's in C minor, it's using B-natural prominently. What is this called, where is it coming from?

  • I didn't listen to all of it but in the beginning the harmony sounds like standard dominant V (without 7). The melody seems to be switching between natural and harmonic C minor scales (or perhaps some kind of dominant G scale; not so familiar with those).
    – nonpop
    Oct 17, 2013 at 9:03

3 Answers 3


It is called C harmonic minor scale. It was conceived to give the "leading tone" characteristic of the seventh/octave degree transition (note that B to C gives us a half-tone), and to recover the tritone on the dominant chord -- in Gm7 (G-Bb-D-F) there is no tritone, while in G7 (G-B-D-F) we have the tritone between B and F.

The tritone is a pivotal sonority when it comes into tonal harmony, as it states clearly the cadential movement one should expect of a tonal progression.

Of course, over the time composers have gained more and more freedom to subvert such rules; nonetheless, when it comes to the strict theoretical question you asked, we should still remember those old rules of thumb.

P.S.: I should add that there is also the melodic minor scale, which in its own namesake adds melodic cohesion, "undropping" the sixth degree as well as the seventh. In C minor, the final tetrachord would be "G-A-B-C", as opposed to "G-Ab-Bb-C" of the natural minor scale and "G-Ab-B-C" of the harmonic one. The melodical effect is related to avoiding the augmented-second leap that results from Ab-B, recovering the neighboring tones progression.

  • As above, the tune also has a Bb.This takes it out of the harmonic and into the melodic minor.
    – Tim
    Oct 20, 2013 at 9:26
  • 1
    @Tim: actually the Bb brings it to the natural (aka primitive) minor scale. The melodic one also occurs briefly when the note A natural is played (please refer to my "P.S." above for further understanding). This piece effectively alternates between all three forms of the minor scale.
    – SeuMenezes
    Oct 21, 2013 at 13:16

Like many pieces of classical music, this theme features the movable scale degrees 6 and 7 of the minor mode, which can be either major or minor without leaving the key. What makes this theme especially freaky is that, instead of using B-natural in ascending motion toward the tonic (as is typical for melodic minor), this melody repeatedly employs unusual downward leaps, specifically the diminished fourth Eb-B and the augmented second B-Ab. (These intervals sound like thirds but do not function as thirds in the established key, unless we call the B a Cb, implying an even weirder sort of chromaticism.) In fact, the normal stepwise ascent A-B-C does not occur until the big cadence at 1:10.


It's called C melodic minor. The older version of this uses C major notes on the way up, but with a flat 3 to get minor tonality. On the way down, it uses C natural minor notes, as from Eb major.

So C melodic minor contains C, D, Eb, F, G,Ab, A, Bb, B.

However, I recall a discussion elsewhere on this site about whether a key and a scale are the same.So I guess the proper answer is that it's in "C MINOR".

Melodic ascending - C D Eb F G A B

Melodic descending - C Bb Ab G F Eb D

Harmonic - C D Eb F G Ab B

Natural - C D Eb F G Ab Bb (same as melodic desc.)

Dorian - C D Eb F G A Bb

The unedited original answer was rubbish, but why didn't the downvoters point out the errors, or edit it themselves ? Moral - proof read before pressing 'go',

  • 1
    The OP wasn't clear, but assuming only B-natural shows up, implying Ab is in the scale, then it's harmonic minor, not melodic. Oct 17, 2013 at 11:58

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