East Indian Scales and Bends

East Indian music is full of very cool sounding slides and bends built from interesting scale tone combinations. It can be a fantastic direction to study for introducing some very different sounds into your guitar playing...

Many years ago, (probably around the mid-1980's), I started getting into the guitar playing of Larry Coryell. Several of his songs included interesting chord drones as a foundation for some of his pieces. To me, at the time, it was a really cool East-Indian sounding effect and one that I spent quite a bit of time studying.

Years later, I read an article with him where he'd mentioned how he composed several songs where his primary influence for the piece was East Indian music. He mentioned the various, "Chord Drone," effects and how he was going for the, "Indian-like," foundation by fretting unique voicings for some fairly standard chords, which included open strings. 

I tried to copy some of his ideas and quickly began to notice some similar concepts take hold. The Indian sound I heard him use was applied with arpeggiated ideas. Played either straight upward or downward from strings always organized to include at least one open tone. 

Take a look at the chord I've given in example one below for an idea of how this can be done.


The chord shown above is a slightly unconventional version of a, "D Maj.9," chord. Notice that there is an open high, "E," string applied up at the 1st guitar string. 

By playing the chord in an arpeggiated fashion we can achieve a very interesting sound. This sound can function perfectly for playing along with some very cool - yet very simple scale ideas.

One of Larry Coryell's scale ideas for this, "Indian-like," sound was from Indian Neo-fusion violinist "Lakshminarayana Subramaniam." 

The scale includes five notes out of a basic major scale, (1, 2, 3, 5, 7). Created from off of a "D" root, we would get the following tones:

If playing strictly traditional Indian music, only these tones would be used. But, Larry would often add the 6th (B), as well. 

I personally began to experiment adding in the use of a #4 (G#) to produce an interesting "Lydian Mode" effect. 

While these added notes do depart from the traditional scale, they can create new accidental phrases that give us some very unique variations useful within a Neo-fusion approach to this sound.

Another area to explore with this powerful sound is bending. The way we can achieve, "Indian-like," bending effects is somewhat different from rock bending. Indian bending uses quick bends and releases to produce a fluid move from one note over into the next. Normally, these bends are found as a half-step away, and back down.

When bending, find your strong finger and use it to produce the rapid response. Move fast, applying good strength and support through the movement. Experiment with bends both to the floor and to the ceiling. Add in other embellishments such as slides. And, try applying extra phrasing concepts such as hammer-ons, and pull-offs across the scale to produce an even greater, "Indian-like," effect.

Below, (in audio examples two and three), I have improvised demonstrations of the use of the backing chord of, "Dmaj.9," played behind the traditional scale, as well as, my accidental-laden version (which includes both the 6th used by Larry Coryell, and the #4 'Lydian' version that I added in).

First listen to the audio tracks to hear a few of the ways that I've phrased some lines using these scales. Then record the chord in your home studio and try making up a few of your own improvisations as well.

Improvisation Using the Observed Indian Scale Version

Improvisation Using the Indian Scale Version with the added 6th and #4 Tones

The sounds that are possible using these unique Indian scale and chord approaches can be a lot of fun to experiment with. It is certainly a move away from rock or traditional jazz and blues sounds. But, as we continue to expose ourselves to new and different musical styles, scales, chords and techniques our playing and musicianship will always grow.

This growth is not only important for expanding our way of musical thinking, but it is vital to both the creation and to the development of our own personal musical style.

I hope you enjoy this lesson.
- Andrew Wasson

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  1. Very cool, I have some experimenting to do now!

  2. very nice sound! Thanks for the lesson, I'll practice it

  3. I am super happy to have found you sir Andrew. You are a gracious gift to web-guitar all over world. Thank You so much sir.