In the last issue I showed you two ‘exotic’ sounding scales and how you could use them over a typical thrash metal riff. For this column I’m going to show you two more scales that have a non-western sound, but over a different riff and in another tonality.


This groove-based metal riff employs power chords mixed with single notes and some chromaticism. The basic key is A minor, and the main chord movement is A5 to Ab5 (I-bII). This is the most commonly used chord progression for the Phrygian mode (1-b2-b3-4-5-b6-b7). The brief descending chromatic run at the end doesn’t affect the overall harmony and can be ignored. Therefore the obvious scale choice would be A Phrygian. Since power chords are tonally ambiguous and there is no III chord in the riff, another possible scale to use would be Phrygian dominant (1-b2-3-4-5-b6-b7). It is exactly the same as Phrygian but with a raised (major) third (see issue #75). While these scales would still sound good, two exotic sounding ones you could also use are the Japanese scale, and the Double harmonic scale.

Hear Exercise 1


Although there are actually many different types of scales used in traditional Japanese music, the one shown in exercise two is commonly referred to as simply the ‘Japanese’ scale. It is pentatonic (containing five notes) and you could think of it as being like Phrygian but without the third and seventh notes. Since it doesn’t contain a third, it can be used over a minor or a major chord. Therefore, whether soloing in Phrygian or Phrygian dominant, the Japanese scale can be used as an interesting alternative. Marty Friedman (ex Megadeth, Cacophony) commonly uses this scale. Try bending to notes from a half step below for some very Marty-esque sounds.

The first fingering provided here moves the five notes diagonally across the neck in two string groupings starting on the root note. The second is a more ‘boxed in’ pattern.

Hear Exercise 2


As I mentioned, a possible scale to use over the riff would be Phrygian dominant. A nice substitute for this is the Double harmonic scale. Essentially, it is just the same as Phrygian dominant but with a raised seventh. This creates a half-step interval on either side of the root note which is a bit bizarre, but can sound cool when used appropriately. The 7 and b2 around the root note sound best when only played briefly, but if you do pause on them, make sure it’s resolved to a chord tone.

The fingerings I’ve included here are a standard ‘box’ pattern and a three note-per-string form. The latter involves some awkward stretches, but it’s a good one since it puts strings one/two, three/four into adjacent finger groupings. It becomes easier as you move up the neck in different keys. In the examples I’ve included my own solos with the riff from exercise one so you can hear what each scale sounds like, and here's the backing track so you can give it a try yourself: Backing Track

Hear Exercise 3

Try not to get too caught up in the different names when using non-traditional scales. Instead, focus more on the ways in which they can be used and the particular sound and mood they create. Since in metal there are really no rules, experiment with these and other exotic scales, using your ears to guide you.