What are the differences between natural major, harmonic major and melodic major scales?

The natural major scale on C has the notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B. What is the difference between natural major, harmonic major, and melodic major scales. What notes of the natural major are changed in harmonic/melodic major?

• The sixth and seventh scale degrees are lowered or raised to produce the various minor scales. There are several existing posts that go into the details. Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 17:13
• Just googled 'harmonic major' and got the notes (in key C)- C D E F G G# B. Surely that ain't right?
– Tim
Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 17:33
• My answer to this question goes into some detail that you might find helpful: music.stackexchange.com/questions/91091/… Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 18:16
• @Tim: It's wrong, but enharmonically correct. It should be C D E F G Ab B. Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 18:41
• @MichaelCurtis: The question is about major scales, not minor scales. Commented Dec 16, 2019 at 18:41

The harmonic major scale has a lowered 6th scale degree:

`1 2 3 4 5 b6 7`

The only difference with the harmonic minor scale is the major third, so harmonic major can be obtained from the harmonic minor scale by raising the third.

Raising the third of the melodic minor scale results in a standard major scale, so that's not the way melodic major can be derived.

The term "melodic major" is actually hardly used, but it usually refers to the 5th mode of the melodic minor scale with scale degrees

`1 2 3 4 5 b6 b7`

This scale is more commonly (and more understandably) referred to as mixolydian b6.

From what I understand, Harmonic Major flattens the 6th degree of natural major: [C D E F G A♭ B]. Melodic Major flattens the 6th and 7th degree of natural major: [C D E F G A♭ B♭].

As for why: The upper tetrachord of harmonic major is identical to that of harmonic minor. For melodic major, the modified 6th and 7th give the scale its "melodic" moniker. AFAIK, these scales are played identically both ascending and descending.

Another possible reasoning for the name of melodic major is from its identity as a mode of melodic minor (the 5th mode, to be specific).

On ascending, what I'd think of as "melodic major" can only be the same as regular Major (Ionian). Harmonic Major is just Harmonic Minor with a raised 3rd, and Aeolian n6 n7 with a raised 3rd is just Ionian again. But it's still possible to see melodic major as a distinct scale because melodic minor can be considered different when ascending and descending. On the way down, you can just use natural minor again. Raising the 3rd of natural minor gives you Aeolian Dominant, which fits what I'd think of as "melodic" major. You could have C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C (ascending) and C-Bb-Ab-G-F-E-D-C (descending). To me melodic major has kind of a contemplative, melancholy, bittersweet feel, mostly because it has I iv.

• I don't think you're using the term "melodic major" the same way that the OP was; your answer takes the melodic minor scale and raises the 3rd, but the scale commonly referred to under that name has flattened the 6th and 7th of major instead. Commented Apr 29, 2021 at 19:52