Recently, I have been listening to a piece of music that extensively uses runs on the minor scale, but without the seventh note of the scale, i.e., the perfect fifth relative to the Ionian. (For reference, the song is 'Crystal Mountain' by the band Death, and the specific part is at 0:54.) The end result is a very interesting and oriental sound, further exemplified by the fact that this is just the Hirajoshi scale with an additional fourth (relative to the Ionian, this would be a second), and one can almost regard this as an 'oriental bridge' between the Hirajoshi and the Aeolian.

I am specifically interested in knowing the intervals that are responsible for creating the oriental sound, and whether they can be stacked to further exemplify the effect. For example, the 1-b2-3 and the 1-b2-b3-b4 are typical intervals reminiscent of the Middle Eastern sound, and stacking these together can often produce scales more pronounced in their mood induction, such as the double harmonic major scale. Can something along those lines be done to the scale above?

2 Answers 2


Let's take the scale in question and spell it out in A min: A B C D E F A. Just as you've said, if you remove the fourth (the D), you have a Hirajoshi scale in A. As your question states, your motivation for finding a repeating intervalic pattern is based on the Arabic scale, which is marked by this intervalic pattern: 1 semitone - 3 semitones - 1 semitone. In C, this Arabic scale gives:

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The 1-3-1 semitone pattern is seen starting from C (C Db E F) and again from G (G Gb B C).

By contrast, here is the repeating intervalic patten in the unmodified Hirajoshi scale (in semitones): 4-1. This can be characterized as the distinguishing feature of the Hirajoshi scale, which contrasts from the 1-3-1 distinguishing feature of the Arabic scale. In the key of A, this 1-4 pattern is seen two places in the Hirajoshi scale: we see it starting on B (B C E) and also on the E (E F A). So using / stacking that 1-4 interval pattern twice produces the Hirajoshi scale. As we would expect, the Hirajoshi scale has fewer intervals in its repeating pattern because the Hirajoshi scale has fewer notes than the Arabic--the Hirajoshi scale is a pentatonic scale (5 notes), whereas the Arabic scale is a heptatonic scale (7 notes).

When you take the Hirajoshi scale and add the extra tone (an F, when dealing with the key of A), the intervalic pattern I'm hearing (in semitones) is: 2-1. This pattern is seen beginning on A (A B C) and D (D E F). Combining those six notes produces the modified Hirajoshi scale you've described.

So in both cases--the pentatonic Hirajoshi and the modified Hirajoshi--your intuition is correct. There is a repeating intervalic pattern that, when stacked twice, forms each scale.

Given all of this, I don't think adding notes to the Hirajoshi scale would emphasize the particular genre of traditional Japanese music that you're picking up on. The characteristic interval is 1-4, and the 4 is an especially large jump (a make 3rd). As a result, there's simply no room left within an octave for additional stacking of this particular pattern.

Note: there's a second reason why extra stacking or extra notes would not emphasize the scale's traditional Japanese sound. The Hirajoshi scale is a pentatonic scale. Songs and solos written around a pentatonic scale often invoke creative and unique-sounding intervals in the melody line, and in think this is part of the characteristic sound you're describing. To illustrate this in an exaggerated example, consider this ascending scale pattern from a Hirajoshi scale in A: A4 C5 E5 B5 C5 F5 A5 E5 F5 B6 C6 A5... This pattern is formed from broken "thirds" (1-3, 2-4, 3-5, etc.) which alternate ascending and descending (1-3, 4-2, 3-5, 1-4.) When we add the extra tone into the Hirajoshi scale (the F when working in the key of A), we remove some of the larger intervals between scale tones, which can remove the more creative intervals in melody lines. This pentatonic nature is a crucial part of the Hirajoshi sound, and adding extra notes would remove this potentially defining quality of the genre from the scale.

  • A nice, detailed analysis. I do have some doubts over the natural 2nd point though; take the 2nd mode, or better yet, the 5th mode of the Hirajoshi. It is perhaps the most oriental sounding of them all, yet it has the intervals 1-b2-4-5-b6. I'm beginning to suspect that joining a semitone above or below the major 3rd interval forms the skeletal Arabic scale structure, and an oriental sound cannot form around such intervals. Another interesting stacked interval that could be relevant to the discussion would be 2-4 in semitones, producing an "almost" oriental sound. (Yet not forming a scale.) Jun 22, 2017 at 23:14
  • I think I'm not understanding. You say "a semitone above or below the major 3rd interval forms the skeletal Arabic scale structure." But the major 3rd interval isn't in the Arabic scale--it's in the Hirajoshi scale. In general, I'm not sure the modes of the pentatonic scales have practical application. The 5th mode, for example, would have to be a sus pentatonic as it has no 3rd. Are songs written around this tonality?
    – jdjazz
    Jun 23, 2017 at 0:33
  • Your point is taken regarding the natural second. In general, if you want to consider different modes, then it's not useful to talk about any scale tones (including the second) as being flat, natural, or augmented, because as soon as we consider a different mode, those tone qualities will necessarily change. The only description of a scale that will be valid across the scale's different modes is an intervalic description. It sounds like this is what you're after.
    – jdjazz
    Jun 23, 2017 at 0:40
  • 1
    Let me clarify: I'm suggesting that the interval 1-b2-3 is essential for the formation of an Arabic scale, and hence makes its 'skeleton'. Oriental sounds cannot form if any mode of our scale resolves like this; indeed, in this sense, the above interval can almost be regarded as an 'oriental-destructor'. As for writing music in the 5th mode of the Hirajoshi, there are plenty of progressive metal and traditional Japanese songs that use it. Absence of a third helps to add an element of mystery and uncertainty to music, which serves very well to the oriental theme. Jun 23, 2017 at 2:21
  • If the original Hirajoshi scale doesn't have a minor third, then isn't it true that none of its modes will contain a minor third? So none of the modes of the Hirajoshi scale will contain the "destructor" you mention. This might be your point, in which case I think the original interval analysis holds true: the defining quality are the intervals 1-4 (in semitones), which appear twice in any Hirajoshi mode. For my own education, could you link to any song(s) that use the fifth mode of the Hirajoshi scale?
    – jdjazz
    Jun 23, 2017 at 3:55

The Hirajoshi scale itself can be described as at least three modes from the cycle sequence 4-2-1-4-1 semitones. To get the root>2nd note as a semitone as you mention, using C as a start point in this cycle, (the notes being C-E-F#-G-B-C) there is only the scales starting (or rooted) on B or F# that produce this.

Actually, starting with the cycle as above, it doesn't take out the 'seventh' as that is the leading note. Also, using the cycle as 4-1-4-2-1 keeps the same effect.

The two modes of major scales that do the same are Phrygian and Locrian. From the minor modes comes Superlocrian (Altered) Lydian #5 and Mixolydian b6 (Hindu).

  • In C, the Hirajoshi scale the OP is thinking of is: C D Eb G Ab C. The flat second in the Arabic scale is included only to provide an example of a distinctive intervalic pattern that, when stacked, produces a particular distinctive sound.
    – jdjazz
    Jun 22, 2017 at 20:16
  • The scales mentioned in your last sentence are modes of the melodic minor scale, not the harmonic minor scale.
    – Matt L.
    Jun 22, 2017 at 20:31

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