Middle Eastern Scales: Exotic Jazz Piano Soloing

middle eastern scalesWould you like to learn how to use Middle Eastern scales in jazz piano?

You’ve come to the right place.

In this lesson, you will learn 5 Middle Eastern scales.

You can use these scales to come up with interesting licks and improv.

These scales will be most helpful in soloing over standards like Caravan

Let’s get started.

Why The Double Harmonic Scale Is An Awesome Soloing Tool

Our first Middle Eastern scale is what’s called a double harmonic scale.

This scale has the set of notes used for Raga Bhairav in Indian classical music.

It’s also called Hijaz Kar (Arabic music) and the Byzantine scale. 

The double harmonic scale is simply a major scale where we flatten the 2 and 6.

In scale degrees, this is what the double harmonic scale looks like:


In C, we have it as C-Db-E-F-G-Ab-B:

middle eastern scales

In a jazz context, this looks like a Clifford Brown set of notes with approach tones leading to the root, 3rd, and 5th of a C major chord.

However, the more interesting use for this scale is when used in its 5th mode.

Let’s use a bit of modal theory to figure out a new scale that can be used over a dominant chord.

In the key of C, we have G7 as a dominant chord. For this chord, we can use this double harmonic scale derivative:


middle eastern scales

With the root note G, we now have the notes G-Ab-B-C-Db-E-F as our new scale.

Experiment using this scale for soloing over dominant chords to get a feel for it.

Let’s go over another popular Middle Eastern scale.

How To Impart A Jewish Flavor To Your Jazz Solo

Another one of those Middle Eastern scales for you to learn is the Phrygian Dominant scale.

The Phrygian Dominant a.k.a. Jewish scale has follows this formula:


This scale is used to a great extent in Flamenco music and goes well over the chord progression called Andalusian cadence:


In the key of Am, this cadence is Am-G-F-E7.

In jazz, we can use this scale over any dominant chord for soloing.

For example, in the key of C, we can use the scale over a G7 chord:


middle eastern scales

The b9 of the scale often sounds really interesting when played over a VI7 chord.

In the key of C, we can use the same scale over A7 to a great effect.

Let’s look at your 3rd Middle Eastern Scale.

How To Get Some Middle Eastern Scales From The Dorian Mode

One thing that you can do to add an exotic flavor over minor chords is to play a #11.

If you replace the natural 11th with a #11 in a Dorian scale, you get the Misheberak scale.

The Misheberak scale looks like this in scale degrees:


In the key of C, you can use this over a Dm7 chord:


middle eastern scales

if you examine this scale closely, it’s the 4th mode of the harmonic minor scale:


middle eastern scales

Now what if I reveal to you a smaller pattern than can provide big possibilities? Read on.

Why Middle Eastern Micro Scales Offers Tons Of Possibilities

Did you know you can use small fragments of three-, four-, or five-note groupings to create Middle Eastern scales?

One way of getting that “Maqam” feel over your dominant chord is by using the Jins Kurd.

Jins Kurd is simply a 4-note pattern that goes 1-b2-b3-3.

Starting on G, you’ll get G-Ab-Bb-B.

Apply the Jins Kurd pattern over the root, b3, 3, b5, and 6 of your dominant 7th chord.

These small bits can provide some really interesting material for writing licks as well as improvising.

Another 4-note pattern you can use is 1-b2-3-4. It’s called Jins Hijaz.

This pattern has that “dark” or “evil” sounding ring to it.

Apply the Jins Hijaz pattern over the root and the 4 of your dominant 7th chord when soloing.

Now that you know at least 2 patterns from Arabic music, you can combine these to produce various improv ideas.

However, the big question remains: Is this enough to take you to the next level?

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I hope you enjoyed this lesson on Middle Eastern scales.

If you have any questions, reactions, or suggestions for new lessons, leave a comment below.

Have a great time making your music spicier. Now go practice.

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Mark A. Galang, OTRP, MAM-MT(c)

Mark Galang is one of our contributors at FreeJazzLessons.com. He loves teaching all styles of music especially jazz, blues, rock, classical, and Christian music. Mark is also a licensed occupational therapist in the Philippines that combines music therapy intervention with occupational therapy.