Just like in the other guitar modes
lessons, before we learn how Phrygian (sometimes called minor Phrygian) works
we need to get to know Phrygian in theory.
Only then will we know when
to use it.
Phrygian is the 3rd
of the major scale.
Therefore, it begins on the 3rd
degree of the major scale. This alone
implies how the modes relate to one another and are connected to a
single parent scale (the major scale).
This concept will
become clearer as we begin to paint the fuller modal picture.
Phrygian has a very distinctive sound, mainly because of one note
(which we'll identify in a moment). Many
musicians hear Phrygian as a natural part of flamenco and middle eastern music because of
its traditional use and association.
Don't know what the W's
mean? If so, take the intervals
lesson before you go on.
So, just like other minor scales, Phrygian includes a flat/minor 3rd
it's a minor mode) and a flat/minor
7th. As these two common
elements of the minor modes was looked at in the preceding Dorian
lesson, I won't
The key thing to know is, flat 3rd and flat 7th in addition to the root
creates a minor
7th flavour, which are natural minor flavours (will work
over most minor chords). The 5th is also a natural tone in minor 7th
chords, giving us the complete minor seventh chord/arpeggio: 1 ♭3 5 ♭7.
Now for the other tones of phrygian...
First we have the flat/minor
which is unique to this mode, as the other minor modes use a major 2nd (2).
The minor 2nd, just like the minor 3rd or minor 7th, is so-called
it has been lowered by a semi-tone
(half step or the equivalent of one fret position) from its "natural",
major scale position.
The major scale can be seen as the reference scale (no sharp or flat
intervals) from which we
modify (flatten and sharpen) tones to create different modes/scales.
The flat 2nd is what gives Phrygian its flamenco and middle
eastern sound. Listen below to the unique relationship between the
minor 2nd and the root, as they are only a semi-tone apart. Below, I'm
playing the same interval across 3 different octaves.
It's no surprise, then, that this particular interval is commonly used
to convey "darker" more serious moods, which is why heavy metal has
adopted it as
one of its staple scales. Flamenco itself builds on
this unique flat 2nd tension, using it to support the
atmosphere of the music.
By adding in more intervals, we can get a good ear for Phrygian's
signature sound, with the minor/flat 6th (♭6) being another key tension in the
scale. More on how to use these notes over chords soon!
So, like in the previous mode lessons, let's map out the intervals of
Phrygian into a simple box pattern across the 6 strings of
Like all scales, that pattern can be moved up and down the fretboard,
depending on the root (1).
example, if the root note lied on E,
the whole scale would be
We'll look at expanding out of this box in a later lesson.
suggested fingering for the above pattern...
This pattern can be seen as the 3rd position box of Phrygian's parent
major scale. Because Phrygian is the 3rd mode of the major scale, it uses the
same pattern. In other words, learn the major scale's pattern across the neck, and you'll have Phrygian covered.
Playing Phrygian over
We know from above that Phrygian is a minor mode, so we
know it will, theoretically at least, work over minor chords. Let's
now look at how the other
tones of Phrygian interact with minor chords.
The important thing to know about the flat/minor 2nd is that it most
works best as a passing
tone. That is, a bridge between two more stable
tones (e.g. the sequence could go: 1 - ♭2 - 5. The minor 2nd is the
the 1st and 5th tones). Lead guitar is all about bridging together
starting and destination notes into meaningful
Hold the flat 2nd over a regular minor chord and it might sound a
little... harsh. A more appropriate word is dissonant. This
isn't so bad for flamenco or more exotic music,
but only you can decide how you want it used in your music!
Sounds more natural doesn't it? It's getting that balance right - the
flat 2nd can complement your solo, or it can ruin it if not used
carefully and knowingly.
You can also use hammer-ons to
touch on the flat 2nd, before quickly pulling off back to the root
(1st). The idea is to know where the more stable tones are, so you can resolve to them when
this note just like the minor 2nd in most
circumstances - as a passing
tone. It can be held in certain situations, but it's most often a note
resolving. That means it naturally leads to a more stable tone.
Below I play the minor 6th and resolve it to the 5th (a semitone
lower), which is
definitely a more
stable tone, as it's part of the minor triad (1, ♭3, 5). This is what
playing lead is all about - tension,
resolution, tension, resolution etc.
Many musicians like to remove the minor 3rd from Phrygian altogether,
because doing so puts more emphasis on the flat 2nd, and the dark
mood it creates. You'll also come to realise that a major
3rd actually works better in certain
Now that we've removed the minor 3rd, the modified Phrygian mode could
essentially be applied over major
chords. However, in that instance, a
is often used in place of the minor 3rd, creating a scale/mode
called Phrygian Dominant. More on this
wonderful scale another time!
you don't remove the minor 3rd, it's best used, like the flat 2nd and
flat 6th, as a passing tone. It might sound strange that a minor mode
can't make much effective use of the minor 3rd interval, but this is
sounds more natural over a chord progression,
rather than just a single minor
chord. In other words, the chord progression puts the mode into context.
Notice how if you strip phrygian down to just the minor essentials we
looked at earlier - 1 ♭3 5 ♭7 - but also keep the 4th intact, we get
that familiar minor pentatonic scale:
In fact, this works over any minor mode/scale that accomodates those
tones. The reason I've brought it up in a mode lesson is because you
can switch between regular, 7 tone (heptatonic) scales and 5 tone pentatonic scales to
make your phrases/licks more dynamic. Mix it up a little.
It's also worth noting that Phrygian can work well over
suspended chords (e.g. Asus2, Asus4). Suspended chords are where the
3rd has been replaced by another note -
usually the 4th (suspended 4th chords). In this instance, the minor 3rd
will be more effective as a passing tone over "sus" chords, just like
the minor 2nd with most chords.
Phrygian jam track
You don't have to play anything too elaborate at the moment. Just
sequences of Phrygian's intervals
over the E minor backing track below and hear how each tone in the
scale interacts with the music. Experiment! You'll have this jam track
life (download it!), so you can keep coming back to it as you improve.
mentioned before, using the minor 3rd can sound a bit out of place if
not used properly in context,
even though it's technically a minor scale, but using it as a passing
tone can really bring out that haunting
As we're in the key of E (root note on E),
we can also play an open
the scale, with the lowest root note being the open E