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Exotic Scales pt.1

The term “exotic scale” generally refers to scales outside of the standard Major Scale (& it’s modes), the Harmonic Minor, and the Melodic Minor…plus a few others (depending on which text you’re reading). Essentially, exoticism is the use of musical devices (melodies, harmonies, rhythms, instrumentation, etc.) to evoke the atmosphere of ancient or distant places, so the easiest way to gather such scales are to take them from non-western cultures.

Like the last installment of “Insanity 101”, this article will assume a knowledge of modes. Rather than breaking each scale down myself as I have in the past, I urge you to pull each one apart yourself and experiment with them. Note that all scales herein are in the key of “A”.

The first scale we’ll look at is the Enigmatic Scale. This scale was said to be invented by Verdi and he used it in his Ava Maria of 1897. Guitar players, however, probably heard it first via Joe Satriani on his album, “Not of this Earth”. The scale is:


Breaking this scale down into it’s modes is a great exercise and yields some very interesting fodder for future use (note all the chromaticism), so be sure to spend a good week examining this one and it’s possibilities – through the use of not only analysis, but composing brief etudes and general jamming – before moving to the next scale…which is another 7-note scale, the so-called “Over-tone Scale”. It is:


You’ll definitely want to break this one down into modes, too! Again, spend an entire week examining the sonic possibilities afforded by this scale and even write a few practice pieces.

The last scale we’ll look at today is a 5-note (pentatonic) Japanese scale called “Hirajoshi”.


A modal examination of this scale leads to several other popular oriental scales. Like before, spend time analyzing & writing for the modes of this scale and see what you come up with.

Next time, more exoticism!

David M. McLean is the proprietor of Skinny Devil Music Labs, former guitarist of the avant-garde fusion-metal band Aurora-Sen, guitar instructor, and columnist for TinFoil Music Magazine (where he conducts interviews in the on-going series “Guitar Gods”). His new solo album, “HUNGER”, will be released later this year.

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