Although there are many scales that evoke the sound of the Middle East, there is one in particular that Western musicians think of as the "Arabic scale." This scale is technically a relative mode of the harmonic minor scale, as it starts on the fifth tone of the harmonic minor scale and runs until that note reaches its octave. All this might sound quite complex, composing Arabic-sounding music with this scale is really just a matter of playing the right notes over the right chords.
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Learn the harmonic minor scale. The harmonic minor scale is a minor scale with the seventh degree raised a half step. The notes in an A harmonic minor scale, for example, would be A, B, C, D, E, F and G#. This exotic-sounding scale can open many new musical paths.
Play the harmonic minor scale, starting from the fifth note and ending on its octave. This is the Arabic scale. The Arabic scale derived from the A harmonic minor scale would read E F G# A B C D. To play this scale on a guitar, you would hit the open low E string, the first fret of the E string, the fourth fret of the open E string, the open A string, the second fret of the A string, the third fret of the A string, the open D string and end on the second fret of the D string (the octave of the root note).
Transpose the scale to every key. Learning to play the Arabic scale in every key will make it much more useful. It is also helpful to learn to play it at as many different positions as possible.
Practice playing the scale over different chords and chord progressions. The best way to master any scale is to use it in musical settings.
Tips and warnings
- Some types of Arabic scales use the harmonic minor mode outlined above with the seventh degree raised a half step. In E, that would read E F G# A B C D#.
- Each of these scales have specific uses in composing music. Although they can be useful on their own, they are much more useful if you understand the theoretical context in which they should be used. There are several books about music theory and scales on the market, and guitar teachers can usually teach you the proper use of these scales.
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