In this lesson, I’ll show you how to take a complex idea – infusing your playing with Arabic guitar scales – and start working it into your repertoire in an effortless way. Branching out and listening to different styles and genres of music is critical to your development not only as a guitarist, but as a musician. I like to do this mainly through improvisation and the exploration of scales other than those we habitually turn to when taking a solo. There are some amazing sounds in Arabic music that might seem out of reach or difficult to implement, but here’s a subtle but easy way to do just that.
In fact, all we need do is take our good old A Minor Pentatonic scale and change it up a little. Now, you may associate Arabic music with wide intervals and plenty of half-steps, but for our entry-level Arabic guitar scales exploration, we need only modify the minor pentatonic as follows: Remove the b7 and add in the natural 2. While this might not seem like a major change, it forces your fingers out of any pentatonic ruts, makes you choose your notes wisely, and throws you off just enough to bring out some very different sounds. Have a play around over an A drone using the following diagram.
The great thing here is that anywhere you regularly use A Minor Pentatonic can now be infused with Arabic musings using this scale, though you might not want to dive into a blues with it. So, if someone’s playing one of those chord progressions that A Minor Pentatonic works so nicely with (Am, Dm, F, G, C, etc.), you can use this to improvise over it instead.
Another thing I like to do with a scale such as this is map it out over 12 frets, then pick out chords using only the notes in the scale. You’ll see some familiar ones in there I’m sure, but to really get the essence of the scale, try different four-note clusters, even if you don’t know how to name the chords you come up with. Here’s a diagram to help you and remember that you can always throw in the open strings in the key of A as five out of six are available.
If you’re interested in exploring other Arabic guitar scales or exotic scales in general, check out our Intermediate Guitar Scales Handbook – Exotic Scales Edition, or Alternative Pentatonics, which features 28 new pentatonic scales and the chords to try them out over.
Inspiring listening: Yazz Ahmed.