Learning the Phrygian Mode

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Continuing with the overview of the modes, it is the turn of Phrygian. As with the other Modes covered, Phrygian is based on the Major (Ionian) Scale and is built from the 3rd note of the Major Scale.

It is made up of the following notes in relation to the corresponding Major Scale:

This means that C Phrygian would be made up of the following notes:

Phrygian is one of the ‘Minor’ sounding modes. It differs from the Natural Minor (Aeolian) scale by one note (b2). Interestingly if you ‘invert’ Phrygian you would get the Ionian (Major) mode.

I have to come clean and admit this is one of my favourite scales. It has an exotic sound, conjuring images of Spanish flamenco, but can also sound heavy. The b2 is used to great effect in metal, riffing on E then throwing in the F (the b2). In recent years it has also come into more use in the world of EDM and Hip Hop, it started being used in some early Techno tracks and has been used ever since, it has a certain psytrance quality to it.

The chords that are built on the notes of Phrygian always follow the same pattern (if you remember the Major Scale chord sequence, just start from the 3rd and loop!).

As usual the position of the dominant 7th chord will help you identify a Phrygian chord progression. In this case it will normally be the 3rd chord in the sequence. A characteristic Phrygian Chord progression is from the Minor chord to a Major chord 1 Semitone higher.

As always, try playing some Phrygian chord progressions to get the feel for yourself. Try playing the Minor chord of the key to the Major chord a semitone higher to ‘get’ the sound. It also works really well with power chords.

Below is a Phrygian Chord Progression you can listen to and get the feel of it. Have a jam over it too and get exotic (or heavy)!

C Phrygian Chord Progression Backing/Play Along Track

Try improvising in C Phrygian or C Minor Pentatonic and try adding/targeting the b2.

Work hard and most importantly, have fun!!

-Duncan Richardson - MU Columnist

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