Non-traditional or non-western scales can be a great way to add spice and originality to your solos. To explore this idea I’m going to show you a basic metal riff and two ‘exotic’ scales that could work well with it.


This is a fairly standard thrash riff involving root-fifth power chords and fast-picked single notes. We can analyze the overall key as being E minor, and since there are no restrictions in metal, you could get away soloing with basically any minor scale in E (Minor pentatonic, Natural minor, etc). However, the main harmonic movement of the riff is from E5 to Bb5 (I-bV). This interval between the chords is a tritone (three tones apart), the evil and sinister characteristics of which have been utilized in metal for years. Therefore, scales more suited to the riff would be those containing a flat five (eg. Blues scale, Locrian mode).  Two more unconventional scales that could also be used are Dorian#4 and Hungarian minor.

Hear Exercise 1


Dorian#4 (also know as the Romanian scale) is the fourth mode of Harmonic minor – meaning you play the same notes as Harmonic minor but start and end on the fourth degree. As its name suggests, this results in a Dorian scale but with a raised fourth. Since #4 is enharmonic (the same) to b5, it means the scale is perfectly suited to our I-bV riff. As a general rule, put more emphasis on the #4/b5 notes over the Bb5 and not the tonic chord. Since it is a mode of Harmonic minor, you can also use diminished seventh arpeggios (see issue #71) by starting on the root note.

I’ve provided one string and shred-friendly three note-per-string fingerings here, but as long as you know your Dorian patterns, you can play it all over the neck by just changing the one note. I’ve included a solo of my own with the riff from exercise one to give you an idea of the tonal characteristics of this scale.

Hear Exercise 2


Another weird but cool exotic sounding scale is the Hungarian Minor. If you check out its formula, you will notice that it is akin to a regular Harmonic minor, only it too has a raised fourth. This creates a semitone on either side of the fifth degree, chromaticism you don’t usually see in more traditional scales. If you examine the root notes of the power chords in the riff, you will notice that all except the A in the last bar belong to E Hungarian minor (and E Dorian#4), and the A goes by so quickly that it doesn’t matter. This is why both scales work with the riff.

Practice the two provided fingerings in E ascending/descending, in different keys, and then try your hand at improvising with them. As well as recording a solo of my own for exercsie 3, here's a backing track of the riff so you can try using both scales yourself. These examples show you how to use the scales in a riff-based setting. The different chords and chord changes that work with them is a whole other area to explore.

Hear Exercise 3

There are many other unusual and exotic scales to use in your metal soloing and next issue I’ll continue by showing you a few more.