How to play the Hirajoshi Scale on guitar 5 modes of the Hirajoshi scale

In this guitar lesson, I’m going to teach you all about the Hirajoshi scale on guitar. As you can probably tell by the featured image of the lesson, the Hirajoshi scale has Japanese origins. It’s a tuning system adapted from shamisen music for the koto and fortunately for you, it’s very easy to play on guitar. Guitarists across multiple genres such as rock, jazz and metal have incorporated this scale into their playing for many years now. A notable user of the scale is guitarist Marty Friedman and a future notable user of the scale is perhaps you. Okay that last part was lame.

Here, I am going to teach you how the Hirajsohi scale is built and I’ll show you how you can break it down into modes. By the end of this guitar lesson, you will be ready to start using the Hirajoshi scale in your own music and improvisation.

The first thing that we’re going to look at is the basic music theory behind the Hirajoshi scale so that you can better understand what is going on but before we dive in, here’s a cheap plug. This isn’t the first exotic scales lesson that I’ve written for Eat Sleep Guitar Repat. If you’re someone who’s interested in expanding their horizons in terms of scales, be sure to check out this lesson here which teaches both the Hungarian minor scale and the Hindu scale.

hirajoshi scale on guitar exotic guitar scales

How the Hirajoshi scale is built (scale formula / notes of the Hirajoshi scale)

The Hirajoshi scale may sound exotic and rather mysterious both in terms of the name and also how it sounds on the guitar but when you look at it closely, it’s actually very simple indeed. Don’t skip the theory! Knowing this next part will help you to both learn and implement the Hirajoshi scale much quicker.

The Hirajoshi scale formula or spelling looks like this.

1 2 b3 5 b6.

There are just five notes in the Hirajoshi scale which means that it’s therefore, a pentatonic scale (pentatonic = five notes). We have a root, a second, a minor third, a perfect fifth and a minor sixth. In the key of B (all examples herein will be in the key of B), the notes of the Hirajoshi scale are therefore B C# D F# G.

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Another way of thinking about this Hirajoshi scale is that it’s like the natural minor scale or Aeolian but without the 4th and 7th degrees. All five of the remaining notes are exactly the same as you would find them in their natural minor scale sibling. For example, the notes of the B natural minor scale are B C# D E F# G A. We simply delete the fourth degree of the scale which is E and the seventh degree of the scale which is A and we have the B Hirajoishi scale. Easy right? When you think of the Hirajoshi scale in this way, it becomes much less daunting and intimidating and much easier to understand.

The five modes of the Hirajoshi scale (which we will look at next) can therefore be considered as alternatives for the Aeolian, Locrian, Ionian, Phrygian and Lydian modes and you can even think of the first mode of the Hirajoshi scale as an alternative to the first mode of the minor pentatonic scale.

Now, you will hopefully have an understanding of what the Hirajoshi scale is. Next, we will move onto the practical side of the lesson as we learn how to play it on guitar. We will be learning how to play the scale across the entire fretboard from the low end to the high end. The best way to do this is by breaking the scale up into modes.  

5 modes of the Hirajoshi Scale on guitar

As I mentioned earlier, the Hirajoshi scale has five notes. This makes it a pentatonic scale. This means that there are five modes to learn. One mode per degree of the scale and each mode starts on a different scale degree. This is the same concept as the minor pentatonic scale that I’m sure you’re already familiar with. 

We’re going learn the modes in order and our example is going to be in the key of B but all of these shapes can be moved to other keys easily. Here is the first mode of the B Hirajoshi scale.

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First mode of the Hirajoshi scale

hirajoshi scale on guitar mode 1 in b

The mode starts up at the seventh fret on the low E string and you play that first note with your second finger. The mode has two notes per string but we have three notes at the very end there on the high E string.  The first mode of any scale is naturally the best place to start.

Here is the second mode of the Hirajoshi scale in B.

Second mode of the Hirajoshi scale

hirajoshi scale on guitar mode 2 in b

This mode starts up at the ninth fret. The low strings can feel a little awkward with this shape at first but you’ll get the hang of it after playing around with it a little.

Here’s the third mode of the Hirajoshi scale in B.

Mode 3

hirajoshi scale on guitar mode 3 in b

We start up at fret ten for this mode with your first and fourth fingers. This one flows very nicely when ascending but it turns a little fiddly when descending. All strings have two notes and we also have a repeated pattern from the previous mode in there.

Here’s the fourth mode of the Hirajoshi scale in B.

Mode 4

hirajoshi scale on guitar mode 4 in b

This one can obviously be connected to the previous mode up at the fourteenth fret but you can also move down the fretboard and start it at the second fret on that F sharp. This is a more complex mode. The A string has three notes and that string acts as a good connecter. There are familiar patterns in there too which helps with the learning process.

Here is the fifth and final mode of the Hirajoshi scale in B.

Mode 5

hirajoshi scale on guitar mode 5 in b

The final mode is quite an easy one to learn. We have three strings that have the same note positions and then in the middle, we have that little three string combo that we can see across a few of the modes. This one along with the first mode are my personal favourites.

Combining all five modes together

As you should know, the modes of a scale all merge/connect together. When we do this with the Hirajoshi scale, we end up with something like this.

This example is in the key of B.

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Look at the above chart and see if you can spot all five modes in there and see if you can see how these modes connect with each other. It’s important that you learn how modes blend so that you can avoid the trap of becoming boxed in too much.

Over to you

You now have all the tools and knowledge that you need to start using the Hirajoshi scale in your guitar playing right away. Learn all five of the modes in B, and also in different keys. Experiment with them and find where the unique sound produced by the Hirajoshi scale fits in with your music.

A good place to start is by using the five modes of the scale as substitutes for other modes. The first mode of the Hirajoshi scale can be used in place of the Aeolian mode (natural minor) or the first mode of the minor pentatonic scale. The second Hirajoshi mode can be used in place of Locrian. The third in place of Ionian (major scale), the fourth in place of Phrygian and the fifth in place of Lydian.

Play around with the modes of this exotic Japanese scale and see if you can come up with some interesting licks and sounds.

What next?

That just about concludes this lesson on the Hirajoshi scale. Hope you found it useful and interesting. You’ve took steps to expand your scale knowledge so how about expanding your chord knowledge? Give this guitar lesson on minor chords major 9 chords and dominant 9 chords a try. Or, you could try this guitar lesson on minor chord variations. Want to learn more scales? Try this guitar lesson on the minor and major Neapolitan scale. 

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