Here you can listen to some cool Ethiopian scales called ‘kignits’:

Listen to Ethiopian kignits.

Twenty of them, all pentatonic! One of the most popular is Ambassel 1, shown above. If you listen to just one, please try that!

Ambassel 1 sounds good because of its charming mix of symmetry and asymmetry. If you count the octave, this scale consists of two identical blocks. But each of these blocks is very lopsided: first a half step and then four half steps!

You can think of Ambassel 1 as a subset of the Phrygian mode: it has the 1st, diminished 2nd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th and minor 6th.

Some kignits are just modes of the familiar major pentatonic scale—the one you can get by playing just the black keys on the piano. This is a fave in jazz and rock. But other kignits are new tools you can add to your toolkit.

Here are some other fun pentatonic scales. The framing is practically a textbook study in ‘exoticizing the other’, and it verges on insulting: for example calling something the ‘Hindu scale’ neglects the long list of ragas in Hindustani classical music. Some of the ‘exotic’ flavor of these scales comes from how Rob van Hal subtly bends the notes while playing them. But he explains these scales clearly and illustrates them with nice examples:

Listen to him rock out in the raga called Asavari.

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