I’m often asked by other guitarists about some of the more eastern-sounding things that I incorporate in my playing and music. My first introduction to Indian music was through the music of Ravi Shankar. I was mesmerized the first time I saw a video of him playing in which he played all these amazing runs on one string and I thought to myself, “Now there’s an idea!” I imagined the concept of using that same application for blues or rock.
I began deciphering all the scales that I knew and worked them out on each string linearly. I worked things out in every key to the point where I would feel comfortable in most situations navigating the fretboard in this manner. One of the first things that I did to re-create this sound to apply the Indian influence on guitar was to actually take a major scale and play it across the fretboard.
In Ex.1A let’s take an E Major scale in a linear fashion across the fretboard, you’ll notice quickly that it doesn’t really create much of an exciting effect right off the bat, but if you play a drone over that note (open E) you will see that you can hear the effect between each degree of the scale against the droning note (Ex. 1B). At this point, you could actually use some ornamentations on the scale notes to begin re-creating an Indian sound very quickly.
Let’s take the same notes and and add some ornamentation (Gamaka is the Indian term for this). Just as in any style, sliding and bending notes around the fretboard will bring your notes to life (EX. 2)
Next, let’s try something a little more exotic; like the Phrygian Dominant scale. You’ll see that by using the same techniques that we used in the earlier examples and altering the notes to sound more exotic we’re going to get a far east sound right away (Ex. 3A).
Just as in the Major scale example, the real magic begins when we slide the notes around within the scale (EX.3B). Creativity is key here. As long as you stay in the scale, have fun and create some interesting sounds, be sure to add vibrato and slides to what sounds good to your ears.
In EX.4 we use a common technique in eastern music where you hit a target note and play the note right behind it (staying inside the scale) and slide back into the target note again and ascend up the notes of the scale as a tool to get from one position of the fretboard to the next.
I hope you enjoyed these examples and can begin applying them to create your own eastern sounds in your playing. Be sure to check out my TrueFire Instructional World Rock Guitar for more examples in this style.