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Exotic handpan scales

September 18, 2022 3 min read

In this short article we are going to display 4 different scales, each one being exotic, flavorful and unique which can easily be identified to a specific country or culture. Here we have chosen to highlight handpan scales which will allow you to play Japanese, Chinese, Indian and Middle east melodies. 

1 - Japanese handpan scale - Akebono


If you are a big fan of asiatic song and in particular Japanese, the akebono scale is a good choice if you are looking for typical japanese sound improvisation. The Akebono belongs to the Japanese scales in reason of the geographical location where it was born. This scale is great to compose melancholic ethnic music and also for modal jazz improvisation, scary and romantic music.

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The Akebono scale is pentatonic scale deriving from the japanese diatonic scale In. Akebono scale is also known as the miyako-bushi scale. The miyako-bushi scale is the scale of the handpan Akebono family.For more informations about the akebono scale, i recommend to have a look at this youtube video form "music making academy"

2 - Indian handpan scale - Raga desh


The Raga Desh belongs to the Indian scales group in reason of the geographical location where it was born and its typical sound. If you are looking to improvise Indian music, the Raga Desh scale is a great good choice.

For better understanding of the Raga desh scale structure, i invite you to have a look at this video article from "The Exciting Universe Of Music Theory". You will discover in details what is this scale. 

3 - Middle east handpan scale - Hijaz


Hijaz is a famous handpan scale which offers beautiful arabic melodies. The Hijaz scale is very present in the Eastern regions. Hijaz handpan are recognized by their dominant Phrygian style. It was originally called "Hijaz" in Egypt and "Spanish Phrygian or Gypsy scale" in other places. The Hijaz scale is very common in Middle Eastern, Arabic, Flamenco and classical music

The Hijaz scale is a Harmonic Minor. The only difference from the minor scale is a sharpened 7th note of the scale, which gives a compelling major chord. Depending on which note is the foundation of a melody, it can also be considered a Phrygian Dominant scale. To build the dominant Phrygian mode of the handpan, you have to take a normal Phrygian scale and add a major third. It is this third that makes the mode dominant.

For more informations about this scale and double harmonic scales, here is an interesting video from "The Exciting Universe Of Music Theory"

4 - Chinese handpan scale - China 


China scale can be a for you if you are looking for a typical Chinese music feeling. Chinese music can be traced back to 8000 years and offers a very nice sound. The Chinese Scale is distinguished by its sweet sounds reminiscent of the murmur of a stream or the song of birds. This handpan is very cheerful and upbeat, it is ideal for those looking for positive vibes and pleasant and cheerful sounds.


There are many scales for the Handpan instruments and you can easily find the one that suits you the best. The important point would be to listen all these scales and identify the one which triggers you. For the exotics scales we just saw, they are vey enjoyable to play and offer a transporting and magical experience. However, it may be hard to play with other instruments or handpan players as these scales are not as common as others. 

alexandre zunino
alexandre zunino

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