In the harmonic
minor and phrygian
lessons, we learned two separate scales and which chords/chord
sequences they work well over. Hopefully you had a little play over the
backing tracks provided in each lesson, to explore the
unique flavours and tensions of each scale.
This lesson is about understanding the function of Phrygian dominant as
a mode of the harmonic
If you're not quite sure what that means, it should be crystal clear by
the end of this page.
Read every word. Take your time and experiment
with what you learn. This is pretty in-depth stuff, but if you've
prepared yourself through the lessons above, then you'll be fine and
the rewards are significant.
First, we need to understand the relationship between the two scales
- how and why
are they related?
as a Mode of Harmonic Minor
looking at the degrees of harmonic minor, you can count them from
note 1 to 7, before the sequence begins again. Tone number 1
marks the scale's 1st degree.
The (b3) refers to a minor 3rd interval (the equivalent of one and a
half steps) between the b6 and 7 of the scale.
That 1st degree note
marks the root
of the harmonic minor scale, so if the root note
the scale would be C
harmonic minor. If it was the note F#
(F sharp), the scale would be... yep, F# harmonic minor.
Now identify the 5th
degree of the harmonic minor scale above. The 5th becomes
note of a new scale, or more accurately, the 5th mode of that
harmonic minor scale. That's where Phrygian dominant comes in...
dominant is the 5th mode
because its root note lies on the 5th degree of the harmonic minor
from that 5th tone, and you get the Phrygian sound, even
though you're still playing through the same notes as the harmonic
In the clip below, I play B harmonic minor from its root note, then
from its 5th tone
to show you this shift to the scale's 5th mode...
The sound changes because we've created a new tonal center
around that 5th degree (sometimes labelled using Roman
numerals - V)
now using the notes of harmonic minor in a different context. 5 now becomes
This means if the bassist kept alternating between harmonic minor's
and the 5th, the boxed scale pattern above, overall, would be
When the 5th becomes the defined root note, it
will sound like you're playing the Phrygian scale, even though you're
still using the same harmonic minor pattern. Vice-versa for if you're
playing the Phrygian scale and the bassist moves the
root note to its 4th, since the 4
is in the same place as harmonic minor's 1
Play the Phrygian scale
sequence below from the 4th
tone, and you get harmonic minor...
So what does all this mean in practical terms? It means if you want to
play Phrygian dominant, you can simply play its parent harmonic minor
scale. The table to the right shows you how the roots of harmonic minor
phrygian relate to one another...
When you've identified what key you're playing harmonic minor in, it's
simply a case of knowing
the fretboard and
identifying how that relationship between the root and 5th (also known
as a perfect 5th interval) appears in
several locations across the fretboard.
other words, you need to know where the 5th of harmonic minor is in
relation to its root, not just in the above patterns, but wherever that
root might appear on any string. Remember, the root-5th interval
doesn't just appear in this scale, but also in other things you learn -
power chords, major and minor arpeggios, other scales etc.
That was a hint to learn those relationships!
Harmonic Minor/Phrygian Chords
We learned in the individual scale lessons that, simply put, harmonic
minor builds minor chords and Phrygian dominant builds
major chords. These two chords play off each other because they're part
of that same harmonic minor scale, just using a different degree of that scale.
So, what happens when you use the root-5th relationship we learned
above and build chords
on those degrees rather than just play single notes?
Well, if we know we're playing harmonic minor in the key of A,
for example, we
should know that the 5th would lie on... E,
based on our
knowledge of where the 5th lies in relation to the root (1)!
on the E string
= A 7th fret on
Therefore, A minor
/ E major
is one example of the 1
chord relationship, most often referenced using Roman numerals: i
(lower case i
for minor chord)
The chord relationship is also called tonic
Later we'll learn how using harmonic minor and phrygian dominant over
related chords naturally complements this movement.
Another example would be C
minor / G
major, since the note G
would be the 5th
of the C harmonic minor scale. The C root note of harmonic minor would
become the root note for the i
minor chord, the 5th note G would become
the root note for the V
just playing standard barre chords in that audio clip there, based on
those two root note positions - a C minor barre chord and G major barre
chord, based on those respective 1
root note positions.
So, remember - when you play a minor chord, know that if you want to
get that Phrygian dominant tension, use the "V
identifying the harmonic minor scale's 5th tone, and build
a major chord from that note.
To enhance the V
chord, a dominant
7th is commonly used, giving us V7.
to the track below and hear how the dominant/5 chord of harmonic
minor is used before the tonic D minor chord. There's also another
in there, a minor
chord built on harmonic minor's 4th
D harmonic minor would work over
that entire progression because the chords are part of that scale. Try
So the sequence goes: Dm
/ Gm (iv)
/ A7 (V)
/ Dm (i)
there's a certain unresolved, unstable feel to that major V chord,
which is then resolved by returning back to the tonic (i)
Over that tonic minor chord, the harmonic minor scale could
be played to maintain some of that tension, but most commonly,
musicians inter-change harmonic
minor with the regular natural minor
Using the 3rd of
Phrygian dominant as a leading tone
When that V
chord resolves to the minor tonic chord of the
same key, the
tone of Phrygian becomes the 7th
of harmonic minor...
So, as we learned from before, the root
of the V
chord and its related
Phrygian dominant mode, lies on the 5th
of the i
and its related harmonic minor. But we can also see that, when the
backing chord or
bass is on the 5th degree of harmonic minor, the 7th becomes the 3rd
of that V
Why is this useful to know? Well, when you're
emphasising that major 3rd on the V/Phrygian
chord, you'll know that
when the chord changes back to the tonic minor chord and you hold on to
that 3rd, you'll be playing a major 7th over that tonic minor chord.
Now, that 7th of harmonic minor is often used as a leading tone.
This means we don't hold on to it and tend to resolve it to the
tone directly above it
- in this case it would be the root
of harmonic minor.
However, if you shape the melody well, you can use that 7th as
a tense landing note...
you're struggling to grasp all this, don't worry, it just takes some
experimentation to hear how chord sequences and harmonies
naturally create tension and resolution, which you can enhance using
Below are a couple of jam tracks to help you experiment with your own