The name ‘Arabic Scale’ has been given to several different scales, each of which has an ‘Middle Eastern’ sound when played. All of the scales below have been referred to as ‘Arabic’. However, although they may have been used in traditional Arabic music, it’s unlikely that the musicians were thinking in terms of western theory or notation.
The scales included here are the: double harmonic scale, Phrygian dominant scale, Phrygian scale, and the diminished scale (half-whole step).
On this page, each Arabic scale type is presented in notation, guitar TAB and guitar diagrams, to enable you to incorporate them in your improvisation.
If you want to learn these scales in more than one position, take a look at our downloadable Guitar Scales book. It contains these and many other scales in multiple fretboard positions, allowing you to play them all over the neck.
Arabic Scale 1: The Double Harmonic Scale
This strange and rather beautiful scale possibly has the biggest claim to be the ‘Arabic Scale’. With the scale spelling 1, b2, 3, 4, 5, b6, 7 it is very similar to the Phrygian dominant scale, but with a raised seventh note. The scale has two augmented second intervals, giving it its enigmatic quality. For more information and diagrams for other positions see: Double Harmonic Scale.
Scale 2: Diminished Scale (Half-Whole step)
The Half-Whole step diminished scale is another strange, ambiguous-sounding scale. It is octatonic (made up of eight notes), and is formed by alternate half and whole tone steps. Scale spelling is as follows: 1, b2, b3, 3, #4, 5, 6, b7. More info here: Whole Tone Scale Guitar.
Scale 3: Phrygian Dominant Scale
The Phrygian dominant scale is the fifth mode of a harmonic minor scale. It is also used by guitarists wishing to introduce exotic sounds into their playing. The scale spelling for a Phrygian Dominant scale is: 1, b2, 3, 4, 5, b6, b7 – the same as the double harmonic scale above, but with a flattened, rather than a natural seventh. For More information on the Phrygian Dominant scale, see: Phrygian Dominant Scale Guitar.
Arabic Scale 4: Phrygian Modal Scale
The Phrygian modal scale is also at times called an Arabic scale. The third mode of a major scale, the Phrygian scale has the characteristic semitone interval between its first two notes that is shared by all of the scales here. The scale spelling of a Phrygian modal scale is: 1, b2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7. Read more about modal scales here: Guitar Modes
Any of these scales can be used when an ‘Eastern’ sound is required in your music. Out of these, the Phrygian dominant is probably the most widely known and used. The double harmonic scale is possible the most authentic. Find out more about Arabic music at wikipedia. For our complete guitar scales page, visit: Guitar Scales.
Don’t forget to check out our printable Guitar Scales book.