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Phrygian Chord Progression

Question by Anonymous

I don't know where to start. I need help with some examples of a chord progression for A flat phyrgian. Can I use an E major chord? An F minor chord?


Modal chord progressions are about creating a tonal centre around a particular mode and its related chord. In your example, the progression would need to have some kind of resolution to Ab (A flat) Phrygian, making the Ab minor chord Phrygian it's built around the tonic chord (i) of the progression.

Phrygian is a very limited mode as far as building chord progressions around it. However, just like the example track in the modal chord progressions lesson, by adding chords from the other related modes and chords of Ab Phrygian, you may find a progression that works to highlight the Phrygian flavour.


E Ion | F# Dor | Ab Phr | A Lyd | B Mix | C# Aeo | Eb Loc

E maj | F# min | Ab min | A maj | B maj | C# min | Eb dim

(note: strictly speaking we should call Abm G#m to keep the alphabetical sequence correct, but I'm not so precious about that for the purpose of this example)

I might use a progression of:

Ab minor | A major | Ab minor | F# minor

This progression makes Ab minor, and therefore Ab Phrygian, the tonic chord/mode. In other words, the other chords in the progression reinforce that central Phrygian sound... and that's what you need to listen out for.

The same process applies for any other modal chord progression. A good (but by no means conclusive) test is to end the progression on that tonic mode/chord and it should sound resolved, as if you've "returned home".

It's worth noting that, because Locrian and its related diminished chord sound naturally unresolved, it's rarely used as a tonic chord in a progression. There is no "Locrian chord progression" as far as I am aware.

Hope this helps. If anyone has anything to add/correct/comment, please do so using the link below. Cheers.

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What makes a Phrygian flavour?
By: Danyl

Why Ab minor | A major | Ab minor | F# minor ?
Is it because Phrygian has b2 interval and it makes flavour of this mode? Then why we back to F# minor as home and not to other chord? What behind this?


Correct. The b2 of Ab Phrygian builds the A major chord (the IV chord in the modal sequence). Therefore, this becomes a natural movement in Phrygian chord progressions. Similarly, F#m is the chord built on the 7th degree of Ab Phrygian so it too is a natural chord to use. We most likely wouldn't end on this chord if we wanted to highlight Phrygian as the focus of this progression.

However, just to complicate things, not every chord within the Phrygian diatonic key will sound natural. Phrygian is an awkward one, because it doesn't sound as resolved as, say, an Ionian or Aeolian tonic in their respective progressions. As mentioned before, minor Phrygian is quite limited in its harmonic application which is why musicians tend to use Phrygian dominant instead.

The reason Abm is the tonic and not F#m is because we made Abm the tonic by centering its tonality around Ab Phrygian (assuming you would also be soloing in Ab Phrygian).

It's all down to how your ear picks up the reinforcement of a particular tonic chord. In this example, moving between Abm and other chords, plus starting and ending on Abm, plus playing Ab phrygian lead, all collectively reinforces it as the tonic chord.

By: Danyl

Thank you Mike. Very comprehensive answer. Now it's clear.

Solo over Phygrian
By: Patrick

Question can I apply E maj scale to this progression starting and finishing on A flat,I am new to this,cheers.

Correct - E major will work...
By: Mike

E major will work because of its relative position to Ab minor, the iii chord (and therefore phrygian tonic).

E major is essentially the parent scale of the chords in my example.

So you could see Ab minor as the iii chord of E major (or the E major "chord scale").

Naming of Ab in this example
By: Andy E

Why is this not named G#m this making A the second degree. Namings confuse at times. As a beginner if I saw this progression written like this I would not be able to decipher it quickly. If course the alternative is to label A as Bbb which is obviously not very useful
Cheers Andy

Please tell me which progression this is. NEW
By: Anonymous


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