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GMC Forum _ THEORY _ The Sounds Of The Phrygian Mode

Posted by: The Professor Mar 2 2013, 07:03 AM

As we continue our exploration of the modes of the major scale, how they are built as well as how you can build chords, triads and arpeggios from these commonly used modes, we’ll be digging into a funky, Middle-Eastern sounding mode today in our exploration.

In this lesson, we’ll be covering the Phrygian Mode, how it is built and the chords, triads and arpeggios that go along with this commonly used minor mode, giving you all the material you need to fully bring this cool sound into your soloing and song writing.

As a refresher, you can also check out the first 2 articles on this series here:

And, here are the chords, mode, triad and arpeggio from the Phrygian Mode to use as a reference as you work through each of these devices in more detail throughout the rest of this lesson.

Phrygian Chords

The first item we’ll look at are the 3 and 4-note chords that you can build from the Phrygian mode.

The easier of the two, the 3-note chord, that you can see above is the minor triad, the same chord we saw with the Dorian Mode.

Again, you will notice that the minor triad is built from the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the Phrygian mode, E-G-B in the E Phrygian Mode written out above.

As you can use different modes over the same chords, such as Dorian and Phrygian over minor chords, you might want to try putting on an Em vamp and solo over it while moving between E Phrygian and E Dorian to get an idea of how these two different modes add a different “color” to the underlying minor chord.

The second chord, which is a bit trickier as it technically has 5 notes but is often played with 4 notes, is the m7b9 chord that you can see in the example above.

This chord comes from the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th notes of the Phrygian mode, which would be the notes E, G, B, D and F if you are using the E Phrygian mode as was written out above.

But, because we often play four-note shapes on the guitar, to make things easier for us on the fretboard, we often leave out the 7th and just play 1-b3-5-b9 as you can see in the shape above.

This gives us the notes E, G, B and F, which brings the sound of the Phrygian Mode to the chord without having to contort our fingers to get all of the 5 notes of the total chord onto the guitar.

Whenever you have a 9th chord, a lot of the times one or more notes are left out in a similar manner. It’s not always the 7th, sometimes it’s the 5th or the root, so just be aware that this approach is out there and see if you can recognize it’s usage in any 9th chords you already know or learn in the future.

Further Reading


Write out the note for each minor triad and m7b9 chord in all 12 keys.

Post your answers below and I will correct them and give you feedback if you are having any trouble writing out the notes of these triads and chords.

Phrygian Scale

The Phrygian mode itself can be seen in two different ways when building it from a note and/or interval standpoint.

You can relate it to the Ionian mode, and see it as a major scale starting and ending on the 3rd note of the scale, as Phrygian is the 3rd mode of the major scale.

This means, if you had a C Major scale as such:


And you started it on the 3rd note, E, you would produce the mode E Phrygian as so:


You can also build the Phrygian mode by comparing it intervallically to the Ionian Mode. When doing so, you take the Ionian mode and flat the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th notes of the scale.

So, if you have C Ionian:


You add flats to those notes and you get C Phrygian:

C Db Eb F G Ab Bb C

So, there are two ways to figure out the notes in a Phrygian Mode, and both can work depending on which one suits you better.

Try them both out, and then if you find one approach is easier than the other, feel free to use that as your go-to method of working out Phrygian Modes in different keys and root notes.

Further Reading


Write out the notes of the Phrygian mode in all 12 keys.

Post your answers below and I will check them out and post feedback, as well as answer any questions you may have on this scale construction.

Phrygian Triad and Arpeggio

As was the case with the other modes that we’ve checked out so far in this series, you can use the same notes as the 3-note chord to build the “picked” triad as you can see in the above example.

The only difference between the two structures is that for the 3-note chord you “strum” all the notes at once, and for the triad you pick the notes in order from root, to 3rd to 5th.

The Phyrgian arpeggio is a bit different from the 4-note chord, as we are able to now include all five notes, from the root to the b9.

So, the arpeggio that you can learn for the Phrygian Mode has the intervals Root-b3-5-b7-b9, or the notes E-G-B-D-F for an E Phrygian Mode as written above.

Check both of these ideas out, especially the arpeggio, as they are great ways to expand your Phyrgian soloing chops without relying solely on the scale itself for all of your melodic ideas.

Further Reading


Write out the triad and arpeggio notes for the Phrygian mode, a minor triad and m7b9 arpeggio, in all 12 keys.

Post your answers below and I will check your work and help with any issues or questions you may have on this subject.

Learning the structures behind each mode that you are learning on the guitar can help shore up your theory knowledge, as well as make it easier for you to apply these modes to your solos and song writing as you learn to relate them to chords, triads and arpeggios.

If you have any questions or comments, post them below.

Posted by: Vulpine Mar 2 2013, 07:11 AM

Great Lesson I cant wait for the "Aeolian Mode"

Posted by: The Professor Mar 2 2013, 07:11 AM

QUOTE (Vulpine @ Mar 2 2013, 06:11 AM) *
Great Lesson I cant wait for the "Aeolian Mode"

Thanks! Getting there soon.

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