For example, E Melodic Minor would have C#, allowing for a ii7-V-I cadence.

  • 2
    Historical note: If you're talking about the chorales proper (rather than any other vocal music by Bach), the melodies of the chorales (set in the soprano voice by Bach) were not written by Bach himself, but rather come from various composers early in the Reformation (including Luther himself). Music back then was still modal, and the only scales allowed are the modal ones (including the possibility of B-flat/B (i.e. B/H) ambiguity). It's not possible to make melodic minor using the modal scale, so none of the chorale melodies will be in melodic minor. Sep 29 '18 at 22:56
  • There is no such thing as a melodic minor key. There are major keys and minor keys. The melodic minor scale was not even identified until probably a century after Bach died. @AlexanderWoo but Bach's chorale melodies sometimes employ chromatic alteration; Christ lag in Todes Banden is a famous example, where the fourth degree of the (Dorian) scale is raised. Surely there's one somewhere that has chromatic alteration of both sixth and seventh scale degrees. Also, some melodies were composed later, or have chromatic alterations added later but before Bach.
    – phoog
    Oct 1 '19 at 16:47

Yes and no.

"Yes" because there are certainly moments where he uses the raised sixth and seventh scale degrees of a minor scale. In fact, a recent question discussed such an example: Functional analysis of chorale 'Wie wunderbarlich ist doch diese Strafe' BWV 244/46

But it's also "no" because there really aren't "melodic minor keys." Minor is just minor, and the fact is that music (especially by someone like Bach) rarely sticks to one "form" of minor. In practice, music in minor flows freely between the natural, harmonic, and minor forms of the minor scale. So it's a bit of a misnomer to ask whether Bach ever used a "melodic minor key"; instead, we simply acknowledge that music is in a minor key, and scale-degrees six and seven have a particular fluidity that allows them to be adjusted at various points.


Yes, all the time. Because Bach (although he was quite prepared to be 'modal' at times) set down the foundations of functional harmony, built on dominant-tonic resolutions. And if you want a perfect cadence in a minor key, you need a major dominant chord including the leading note. And, for smooth voice-leading, that implies a melodic minor scale. ('Scale', not 'key'. 'Harmonic minor' isn't a key.)

  • But how would Bach use both C and C# or D and D# for instance?
    – user53092
    Sep 29 '18 at 17:41
  • Well, he probably wouldn't use them both in the same phrase! Sep 29 '18 at 17:56
  • More than likely he'd use C# and D# going up and C and D natural coming down. This is because it's what a singer would naturally do, it's comfortable such that the notes lead onwards smoothly and it allows the required harmonies. . .
    – PeterJ
    Oct 1 '19 at 11:50
  • "Bach set down the foundations of functional harmony": those foundations were well in place decades before Bach was born. The raised leading tone (in modes that have a whole step below the final) was used for centuries before Bach, long before tonal harmony was anywhere close to being on the scene.
    – phoog
    Oct 1 '19 at 16:49

The raised 6ths and 7ths in minor are mostly used when the line is ascending toward the tonic. Bach used this very often. When the line is descending away from the tonic, the 6th and 7th degrees are often used as they would be in the natural minor. It is quite common to have both the natural and raised 6th and 7th degrees in the same phrase, depending on how the line flows. One line can easily go up and down in relation to the tonic within the same phrase, and the notes would be adjusted accordingly.

  • This answer describes melodic minor nicely, but it does not address the question, which is about Bach's use of melodic minor.
    – phoog
    Oct 1 '19 at 16:51

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