Japanese Pentatonic Scales Hirajoshi | Hub Guitar

Japanese Pentatonic Scales Hirajoshi

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The Japanese pentatonic scales are fairly different from the pentatonic scales used most often in modern music.

There is a much bigger emphasis on half-steps in these scales. And so that erie sound of constant half-steps is part of what defines the scale.

Another thing about learning scales used in World or Traditional music: the scale may not have been understood or used in the same way we normally use scales.

For instance, this scale was played by a ninja guy sitting up in a tree playing a thing called a shamisen.

There was definitely not another ninja guy jamming out playing a I IV V chord progression with one shamisen while the second ninja guy uses his shamisen to play pentatonic scales like we will have in musical setting today. That's just not how it works.

So be willing to try using the scales a little differently. For instance, you might play these scales using the root of the scale as a drone note. I'm going to give you one example of that, and I'm going to do that in A.

Or you might use these scales to improvise without accompaniment.

You can also find ways to apply them in the more conventional sense of using them to improvise melodies with related chords.

Here's pattern number 1.

And here's pattern number 2.

Here's pattern number 3.

Here's pattern number 4.

Here's pattern number 5.

So try these pattern yourself and see if you can find a way to apply them in your own playing.


The Japanese pentatonic scales (Hirajoshi, Kumoi, In, Itawo) are 5-note scales that emphasize the half-step interval. While the “pentatonic major” emphasizes the consonant intervals such as the perfect fifth, the Japanese pentatonic scales emphasize the darkness of the half-step.

This scale calls for an approach that is a little bit different than other scales you may have learned. It was normally played by a solo instrument. Any accompaniment would likely have been a tonicA word describing the tonal center of a piece of music, with other tones resolving to this note. drone note.

Japanese Pentatonic Scale 1

Also called the Sakura Scale for its use in the famous Japanese folk song.

f natural
c natural
d sharp, e flat
a sharp, b flat
f natural
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f sharp, g flat
f sharp, g flat
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a sharp, b flat
f natural
c natural
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d sharp, e flat
f sharp, g flat
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Japanese Pentatonic Scale 2

Also called the Hirajoshi Scale.

fret tile
f sharp, g flat
f sharp, g flat
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a sharp, b flat
f natural
c natural
fret tile
d sharp, e flat
f sharp, g flat
fret tile
c natural
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f natural
d sharp, e flat
a sharp, b flat
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Japanese Pentatonic Scale 3

fret tile
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a sharp, b flat
d sharp, e flat
a sharp, b flat
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f sharp, g flat
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c natural
d sharp, e flat
a sharp, b flat
f natural
c natural
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f sharp, g flat
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f natural
c natural
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Japanese Pentatonic Scale 4

fret tile
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c natural
d sharp, e flat
a sharp, b flat
f natural
c natural
fret tile
f sharp, g flat
fret tile
f natural
c natural
fret tile
d sharp, e flat
a sharp, b flat
f sharp, g flat
d sharp, e flat
fret tile
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fret tile
fret tile

Japanese Pentatonic Scale 5

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f natural
c natural
fret tile
d sharp, e flat
a sharp, b flat
f sharp, g flat
d sharp, e flat
fret tile
fret tile
f natural
c natural
d sharp, e flat
a sharp, b flat
f natural
fret tile
f sharp, g flat
f sharp, g flat
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Key Exercises

  • Learn, memorize, and apply the scales.
  • Create a chord progression that supports the harmonic major scale using chords built in thirds from each of the modes.
  • Improvise using the harmonic major, at first without any accompaniment.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to Kyo Shimizu for helping us clarify some information about these scales.

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