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I tried to look around for an answer to this problem but don't know how to ask the proper question in a search engine. I've been working on a song and realized recently that while I had been working on the song in the key of Em (E, F#, G, A, B, C, D) I had accidentally placed D# notes in several of my melodies. The confusing part is it sounds fine and I didn't even notice until I looked closer. What's more, if I change them to D it sounds off key and if I change them to E it just sounds wrong for what the melody is supposed to be doing. I don't have much music theory knowledge but this confused what I thought I knew. Am I misunderstanding something here? Any help and clarification would be appreciated.

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    Not-so-random question: do the D sharps tend to occur when the melody is going upward, and the D naturals when it is going down? Alternatively, if you have harmonies, or chords, worked out, do you notice certain chords attracting the D naturals and others the D sharps? – replete Apr 17 at 3:46
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    Read the answers to this question for more information on minor key harmony. – Matt L. Apr 17 at 5:31
  • @replete yes I think you're right. At first I thought I wasn't but it's true, I go from a C to a D# but I had dropped the D# an octave. So I was technically ascending even if it looked descending on a keyboard. I'm glad I explored this question. I was tempted to just not worry about it cus it was working so why care? But exploring it is teaching me some music theory I didn't know. – Ben Apr 17 at 15:13
  • It looks like we have some good answers to this, but I also want to add that this is incredibly contextual - it depends what OP means when they say "key of Eminor", and since they are focused on the melody (without harmonic context), lots of possible things could explain what sounds "right" or not. For example, a couple of D7-G chord changes could make that D sound just right, and the D# sound "out". – cduston Apr 18 at 3:08
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Your confusion is understandable because you have the choice of using one, or a combination, of three minor scales: the natural minor, the harmonic minor or the melodic minor. In using a D# you have strayed from the natural minor scale to the melodic minor scale, and this scale has worked for you.

The natural minor scale flattens the 3rd, 6th and 7th degrees of the parallel major scale. The harmonic minor scale flattens the 3rd and 6th. The melodic minor (ascending) only flattens the 3rd, but when descending it is identical to the natural minor, flattening the 3rd, 6th and 7th. The jazz melodic minor just flattens the 3rd, ascending and descending.

These scales are all legitimate minor scales (there are others too). What's known as the Leading Tone, in this case D#, has a strong pull towards the tonic and it is often used in popular songs. At present you seem to prefer that semitone sound between D# and E, and that's fine.

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    It'd be good to point out that the reason D# sounds good is that it's the leading tone and general in popular music, the resolutions are usually D#->E rather than D->E – Shevliaskovic Apr 17 at 6:15
  • Thanks, @Shevliaskovic. Done. – Areel Xocha Apr 17 at 6:32
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    “In using a D# you have strayed from the natural minor scale to the melodic minor scale” …or harmonic, see Tim’s answer. – Melebius Apr 17 at 9:30
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    Thanks for the awesome response. So if I'm understanding you correctly the E melodic minor scale has D# in the ascending scale (i.e. moving towards higher pitched notes) but D in descending. And that I'm probably switching between the E natural minor scale and the E melodic minor scale? If I understand the concepts of ascending and descending scales this means that if you are at E and going down a note in this scale you'd go to D, but if you were at C going up you'd go to D# – Ben Apr 17 at 15:08
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    @LuckyB today there is a lot of material, but from my personal experience, google for "hooktheory" -- they also have 2 android apps which are interactive books and totally worth the price, and also I find youtube to be a great source of information, just google for videos and look for the music tutorial channel that works best for you, there are a lot of them.. I can recommend "Signals Music Studio" for starters, for example – noncom Apr 18 at 16:01
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You'll most likely find that the chord used where D♯ fits better is either B major or B7. That has the D♯ in it. The D ♮ will fit in other places, notably when going from an Em chord to an Am. It's the reason centuries ago that the natural minor scale morphed into the harmonic minor, with a raised leading note ( here, the D♯), and later, because there was then a great big jump of a tone ane a half created, the 6th note of that natural minor got sharpened too, to remove a big jump.

All the minor scales have the same first five notes, but the melodic minor (classical) has the same 6 and 7 as the parallel major scale.

  • Very slight nitpick (fixed in edit): "B major, or B7" seems like an appositive stating that B major is the same as B7. – user45266 Apr 17 at 6:28
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    @user45266 - that's fine. Do you mean apposition? Not heard of appositive. – Tim Apr 17 at 6:37
  • Well, I thought that was the correct term, but now I'm not sure... I was always better at music theory than English grammar (funnily enough, reflected well in my reputation on ELL compared to MP&T) – user45266 Apr 17 at 6:39
  • english.stackexchange.com/search?q=appositive seems to confirm my suspicion. Although England may have a different term than the U.S. uses. – user45266 Apr 17 at 6:48
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    @user45266 - non the wiser! Can't find appositive in my Engish dictionaries, but apposition is there. May be the Atlantic Ocean is to blame. – Tim Apr 17 at 6:55
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D# makes a nice lower neighbor to E. Likewise, in E-minor, the dominant (B) often has its third raised at cadence points. Minor keys (at least in classical theory) have two mutable notes; scale steps 6 and 7 may be raised to make voice leading smoother or just because it sounds good.

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I tried to look around for an answer to this problem but don't know how to ask the proper question in a search engine.

So you are writing a piece in e-minor and obviously you know what is e-minor, you know the scale of e-minor is and you know that there are D and D#.

I had accidentally placed D# notes in several of my melodies.

Why sounds D# more harmonic?

As you will see you are not the first that The human mind already in earlier times of music history obviouly wanted to have a tension to the final note (the root) and so they constructed a leading tone by augmenting the 7th degree.

This was the "invention" of the harmonic minor scale.

What's more, if I change them to D it sounds off key and if I change them to E it just sounds wrong for what the melody is supposed to be doing.

By augmenting of the seventh degree was a gap of 1+1/2 tone between the 6th and the 7th degree: in e-minor between C-D#.

So to become a more "natural" ending and easier to sing (for instruments it didn't matter) but also for listening they augmented the 6th degree too. This was only needed when the melody was leading upward to the upper octave. In a downward melodic formula the leading tone was not needed and so

the the melodic minor scale had been developped.

You are free to use all kind of the 3 scales at your "gusto".

Just looking for e-minor:

here is explained the e-minor (and all minor scales have 3 variant models)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E_minor

I don't have much music theory knowledge but this confused what I thought I knew. Am I misunderstanding something here?

If you want to continue composing my advice is to read first the basics of music theory (scales, chords, harmony).

and again:

I tried to look around for an answer to this problem but don't know how to ask the proper question in a search engine.

I was looking up developpement of melodic and harmonic minor and found this link:

https://study.com/academy/lesson/harmonic-minor-scale-formula-modes-quiz.html

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