The Phrygian dominant
scale (also commonly referred to as the Spanish Phrygian scale)
is heard as a more exotic scale by many "western" ears. It's a
natural mode of the harmonic minor scale,
and is a staple
scale in many musical traditions.
As soon as you hear it (you can hear it being played in the second run in this clip), you get
distinctive flamenco flavour. It's also a large part of Arab and Jewish
In modern times, rock and heavy metal have borrowed
it for its tense, dark sound.
Harmonically, this scale has qualities that can be applied in any style
of music. You'll
learn exactly what those qualities are as you
experiment with the scale.
with the basics and theory behind the phrygian dominant scale
(important!) before moving on to expand
across the guitar neck to free up our finger movements. You'll
then be free to use the scale more fluidly
Phrygian dominant scale basics & theory
You may already know about the
minorPhrygian mode. Phrygian dominant
is like a major version of this mode.
Phrygian dominant is exactly the same as minor Phrygian,
except for one tone - the 3rd.
Whereas Phrygian has a minor
3rd interval (making it a minor scale), Phrygian
has a major 3rd
a major scale).
Let's compare the two on the fretboard using their 1st
Minor (b3 = flat/minor
= major 3rd)
This means that phrygian dominant will work over major chords
(although not in every
circumstance. More on this later).
struggling with the fingering for that boxed pattern above,
this diagram may help:
Phrygian dominant over chords
Musicians tend to hear Phrygian dominant as carrying more harmonic
than minor Phrygian, so musicians may replace instances of a minor
chord with major,
in order to emphasise the use of Phrygian dominant in place
of its minor
Let's listen to a couple of simple chord progressions to see how using
major instead of minor makes the Spanish scale a more natural harmonic
to use. The below relationship is between what is known as the tonic
chord and the V
or 5 chord.
The first progression used E
minor before returning back to the A minor tonic chord,
so we'd typically use minor
Phrygian over E minor.
This is a typical natural minor key relationship.
The second progression used E
major before the same return back to A
minor, so we'd typically use major/dominant
Phrygian over E major.
A common way to alter the minor v
Transposed to other keys, that same minor tonic
- dominant V
relationship would be as follows (the V chord being where you play the
Dominant (V) chord
Now, I'm not saying we'd never
want to use the minor phrygian example, but it's generally considered
use of E major and,
therefore, dominant Phrygian with the major 3rd has a more effective tension
before resolving to the
minor home chord. It's less ambiguous and holds more harmonic weight
than minor phrygian.
If in doubt, let your
ears be the judge!
Of course, the phrygian dominant scale doesn't have to be applied in
of the example above. It's simply just another major scale that can
played over major chords. However, you must use your best judgement
when deciding which major scale to play over which major chord. Don't
just use it because it's an interesting new scale you've learned -
think about context.
like in the other guitar scales lessons, let's expand that basic boxed
pattern to cover more of the fretboard. This helps to free up our
movements around the scale so we can apply techniques such as slides
and wider hammer-ons/pull-offs fluidly.
Phrygian dominant is great for runs, and being able to play 3 or more
per string will really loosen up your fingers for more elaborate
First, let's expand the boxed pattern either side for more coverage.
That low E string root note
marks the 1st note of the boxed pattern from earlier. The major 3rd and
tones have also been highlighted for reference as these, along with the
root note, are considered "safe" resting points within your Spanish
scale phrases. To begin with at least.
See, because the root,
are the essential tones that make up a basic major triad,
the other notes of the Spanish scale (in yellow) can be seen as
"colouring", or passing
tones, to give more flavour to that major sound.
By widening our
pattern, we can now use techniques such as slides, wider hammer-ons and
pull-offs or tapping etc. In other words, you're free to
move around more intuitively and find those hooks without being physically
restricted to that rather cramped box pattern.
are a couple of exercises that make use of this wider pattern. We're
going to play in the same key as the diagram above. The root note tells
us the key, and the root notes
in the above pattern are positioned on the note B:
Note, that \ slash symbol in the tab means "slide
down". So whatever finger is
on fret 9, slide it down to fret 7. This is a form of note slurring
that gives your picked solos some texture variation. It also helps to
you move through these larger patterns more efficiently.
Try also playing two strings at a time (known as double
stops) from the
create harmonised lead phrases:
you move up the fretboard, the fret spacings get narrower, which allows
you to span much wider intervals per string. More on this kind of
playing in a separate lesson!
Many guitarists find it most
convenient to play scale phrases around chord shapes. This means that
the scale around the same root note string as you would for the chord
you're playing over.
For example, many chord shapes use the A string as
the bass root note, so it's good to learn a basic pattern around that
same root note position. It's effectively like superimposing the scale
over the chord shape...
Let's finally add that A string
root pattern to the wider pattern from above:
Now we have something we can really
work with! For example, if the backing chord was C# major, and you
know your barre chord shapes, you'll know that we can form a C# major
chord with an A string
Therefore, if you know the pattern above, you can simply start your
solo by playing the scale around that same root/chord shape position,
out from there into something more elaborate.
That's just one way to do it. Experiment.
Phrygian dominant backing track
mentioned earlier that not every instance of a major chord will be
appropriate for using phrygian. There are certain chord
progressions you will begin to hear as being naturally compatible with
explore the scale over a single major chord. The below "drone track"
uses the Bb7 (B flat dominant 7th) chord. This means the root of your
phrygian dominant scale needs to be Bb.
Pay special attention to the minor 2nd (b2) and minor 6th (b6)
of the scale, as these will add a lot of tension to the major chord.
The longer you hold these notes, the more dissonance and tension you'll
create. Pass over them quickly for a more subtle effect.