Exotic Pentatonic Scales: Kumoi

By Rob Thorpe

This free Exotic pentatonic scales lesson is an extract from my new book Progressive Metal Guitar, which covers several exotic pentatonic scales and unusual scales as well as many other topics to develop all aspects of your metal guitar playing.

Although we tend to think of the Pentatonic scale as the 1 b3 4 5 b7 of the blues, any group of five notes is a Pentatonic scale. Studies of Indian and Far-Eastern musical traditions reveal that just about any combination of pitches has already been explored by one musical culture or another. Several of these exotic pentatonic scales are used in the guitar styles of Marty Friedman, Jason Becker and Steve Vai.

I encourage you to perform your own musical experiments to discover more for yourself. Try taking a seven note scale and remove any two notes to create many different groups of five notes to explore

Kumoi’ Pentatonic scale

We’ll focus on just one of many exotic pentatonic scales in this lesson, known in Japanese music as the Kumoi or Hirajoshi scale. The formula is 1 2 b3 5 b6. It can be more user-friendly to see it as a truncated version of the familiar D Natural Minor scale. Whatever way you choose to look at it, the wider intervals combined with the semitones brings out a distinctly oriental sound not present in the western Pentatonic scale.

Exotic pentatonic scales Example 1

The semitones make fingering the D Kumoi scale with alternating groups of two and three notes per string the easiest option. However, as an interesting blend of the exotic with the familiar it’s arranged into two- note-per-string groups below which allows you to apply your favourite Pentatonic patterns easily to the new scale.

As a result, some of the shapes can, at first, be a little awkward to get your fingers around. Here we have a typical Zakk Wylde ascending Pentatonic run, albeit with the exotic flavour of the Kumoi scale.

Exotic pentatonic scales Example 

Next is another take on the same idea but this time moving across the strings in one position. You could alternate pick the whole lick for an abrasive sound, but the hammer-on between the first of each group of six notes varies the texture, as well as simplifying the picking.

Exotic pentatonic scales Example 

As well as learning exotic pentatonic scales such as Kumoi, you could also try adding an extra note to the minor pentatonic. Listen to Gary Moore’s very melodic ballad style to hear the natural 2nd being added to his blues licks. This subtle change gives them a very rich and majestic texture.

For more exotic pentatonic scales, substitutions and symmetrical scales as well as much more, check out my new book, Progressive Metal Guitar.

Recommended Listening:

Marty Friedman – Skin of my Teeth
Jason Becker – Perpetual Burn
Steve Vai – Freak Show Excess