What in the World: The Kumoi (Japanese) Scale — with Tab and Video
The Kumoi, or Hon Kumoi Shiouzhi scale, is a pentatonic scale that has a very exotic or, more specifically, Japanese sound.
It's a great scale to learn for a few reasons.
One, it can add a cool, exotic sound to your playing that can be a nice addition to a solo. Two, the pattern itself makes for a good picking workout because it’s two notes on one string and three on the other string. This breaks up the typical three-note-per-string or even two-note-per-string patterns we are used to.
The notes/degrees of the scale are:
Here's one suggested fingering of the scale in three octaves:
If you'd like to approach the scale using the traditional two-note-per-string pentatonic approach, you can with the following fingering. This fingering, however, eliminates the third note or fourth degree of the scale. It does, however, retain its exotic sound and leaves you with two half-step intervals on each string. This gives the scale almost a diminished quality, due to the b5 interval between the second degree and fifth degree:
Here's another pentatonic-type lick/exercise. In this exercise, you are still playing two notes per string, but now all of the notes of the scale are included:
This scale can be played over a minor chord, as you can hear from the playing example in the video below.
Since there is a b2 scale degree, it’s best not to sit on that note, but use it more as a passing tone. Experiment with the phasing as far as bending notes and sliding. The most effective use of this scale can come from listening to Japanese music and Japanese instruments such as the koto, a harp-like, 13-stringed instrument that is plucked.
Using this scale and phases in your playing can add a cool and unexpected sound. As always, using a very sound-specific scale as this one, sparingly and tastefully, will be the most effective way to feature it in your musical arsenal.
Steve Booke is a composer for film and TV from the New York area. His compositions range from orchestral to metal to world styles from every corner of the planet. A graduate of Berklee College of Music, Steve has played guitar for more than 28 years. He has recorded 10 albums of his own and has played on countless others. He plays gigs in the NY area and tours the East Coast with a variety of bands. He has performed with Ben E. King and members of Mahavishnu Orchestra. He endorses D'Addario/Planet Waves, Larrivee Guitars, Levy's Leathers, Peavey, Stylus Pick, Finale PrintMusic, Pigtronix, Tech 21, Toontrack, Graph Tech, Seymour Duncan, Waves, Studio Devil and L.R. Baggs. His music is available on iTunes and Amazon. Steve is now offering Skype lessons and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit stevebooke.com and Facebook.com/SteveBookeGuitaristComposer.