Spice It Up: Blues and Eastern Fusion, Part 3 — a Trip to Japan

In parts one and two of this series, we’ve been to Hungary and Egypt ... and now we’re off to Japan!

There’s something minimalistic and pure about traditional Japanese music, and it has inspired me to write this simple column.

An "Insane" Scale

The scale I’m going to use this time with blues is called Insen (or In Sen). The simplest way to memorize this scale is to take a minor pentatonic scale and replace the minor 3rd with minor 2nd. That’s it.

In D minor pentatonic, for instance, we replace F with Eb and we get the notes D, Eb, G, A, C. The uniqueness here is the intervals of the first three notes D, Eb, G – ½ step and then two whole steps, which can be found in other Japanese scales like Iwato (D, Eb, G, Ab, C) and Miyako-bushi (D, Eb, G, Ab, Bb).

Although it’s quite tempting to add the minor 3rd that is so significant in many blues licks, we have to control our natural impulse in order to get the exotic feel. In a way, this is the essence of playing this type of music, which demands control from us and allows us to meditate on one scale in one frame of mind.

Licks and Backing Track

In the following examples, I've tried to keep it minimalistic, using only the five notes of the Insen scale mentioned above with a bluesy lick approach.

Your creativity works overtime when it faces limited resources. It’s very rewarding, and I highly recommend it, so go on and record your own take on this. See if you can create cool, exotic licks and share them. You can use the following backing track:

Udi Glaser is a guitarist, guitar teacher, composer, producer and journalist. He has been playing all types of guitars and styles for more than 22 years and has been teaching them for more than 10 years. He holds a bachelor's degree in musicology and philosophy and attained a sound-engineering diploma and an Orchestrating Producing for Film and Games certificate, for which he received a scholarship in the name of Jeff Beck. Visit his website and follow his Facebook page or Twitter feed.

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