Combining Hirajoshi, Pentatonic & Aeolian Scales to Create Interesting Phrases
It’s no secret that I’ve always loved players like Jason Becker, Marty Friedman, and Jeff Loomis, and one thing these three have in common is their ability to effortlessly incorporate exotic scales and phrasing into their playing. I’ve long known of the existence of the Hirajoshi scale, and have even used parts of it in solos before, but didn’t really start understanding how it fit into my overall musical understanding until recently. For me, the easiest way to understand and absorb a new musical concept is to relate it back to the tried and true Aeolian mode – or the natural minor scale.
The Hirajoshi scale, in comparison to the plain ol natural minor scale, is one that’s missing a 4th and 7th. Contrast this with the minor pentatonic scale, which is missing the 2nd and 6th, and we have a scale that offers a really nice contrast to the melodic flavor of the minor pentatonic. If that goes over your head right now, that’s ok. The first step to understanding the differences in sound between minor pentatonic, hirajoshi and aeolian is to play the root patterns of each and notice the difference.
Once you play through each, you’ll notice that, even though the root is the same and we have no different notes from the standard aeolian scale, there’s a much more exotic and mysterious flavor afforded by the hirajoshi scale – and we can start to incorporate this vibe into our phrasing on guitar by sprinkling bits of the hirajoshi scale throughout our playing.
Example 1 starts off like any typical E minor pentatonic lick – we bend up a full step on the G note of the high E string in the first pentatonic box. From there we incorporate a couple quick hammers and pulls before doing a full step bend on the A note of the G string and a quick B/E note from the 12th fret of our box. And then here’s where we connect the two scales and spice things up a bit – using the aeolian scale, we know F# is in E minor. So we slide back to the 11th fret on the G string and start walking down the hirajoshi scale. The contrast between these two is pretty unexpected and definitely adds a darker dimension to the basic pentatonic phrase we used to start this lick.
Example 2 combines a basic minor arpeggio shape with the corresponding hirajoshi box that’s used in the same area of the neck. For me, I always need to know where this A string root arpeggio shape is at in any scale that I’m playing. From here I can switch into the hirajoshi box that starts on the same notes. Knowing that this arpeggio shape and hirajoshi box line up in this way, I can transpose hirajoshi licks into any key on the fly.
Example 3 is a tapping idea that combines shapes from the hirajoshi scale and minor pentatonic scale. We take the 5th box in the hirajoshi scale and the second box of the minor pentatonic scale, and start tapping and pulling off following the respective shapes. The note choice is squarely aeolian, but the way they cascade one after another definitely brings to mind the sound of major and minor add9 chords.
As you can hear, there’s an entire world of possibilities present when combining the hirajoshi, minor pentatonic, and aeolian scales. These are just a couple ideas, but this sort of thing really lends itself to so many interesting and unexpected melodic lines. Keep experimenting and come up with your own phrases!
Until next time, this is Bryce VanHoosen – keep shredding!