Lesson Learned - The Phrygian Workout

Do you know where and how you would  use the scales and chords of the Phrygian mode? What types of chord movements will best establish the Phrygian sound? What scales associate in the best ways with the Phrygian tonality? These are the questions about Phrygian most guitar players can't answer - but we'll cover them here in detail on this post...

For a lot of guitar players the application of modes like Dorian and Mixolydian are fairly straight forward because they so closely relate to Blues, (and Blues is highly popular).

One of the first scales we learn how to use in music is the Minor Pentatonic (and its companion the Blues scale). However, when making the jump to “Phrygian” mode, things get significantly different.

The Phrygian mode is more like Natural minor with the added twist of having a lowered 2nd. This makes Phrygian unique in both its scale application and its chord harmony.

In the lesson I will be analyze and then play through a Phrygian mode progression that you can use elements of for developing the unique sound of Phrygian.


The phrygian mode is minor and contains all of the formatting of the standard "Natural Minor" scale. This includes the minor 3rd, 6th and 7th tones.

However, Phrygian also adds a unique twist off of the second degree. That degree is lowered by a half-step. This creates a unique color of a "Minor 2nd," tone between the scales Tonic and the second step.

In creating chord progressions, this degree is the critical highlight for injecting the Phrygian flavor. When this step is combined with the push of the VIIth step chord in minor harmony we can easily achieve a strong Phrygian harmonic backdrop.

Example Progression:

Now that you have a basic idea about the process of how to create interesting Phrygian harmonies, let’s actually use that, “B Phrygian” chord progression to compose a “B” Phrygian melody line.

When composing Phrygian melody (for this "B Phrygian" mode progression), our focus is going to be based on the Tonal center chord of, “B Minor 7” and also on the lowered 2nd degree chord of, “C Major 7.”

Along with those chords, we will also focus on the pull that gets generated (in the progressions 4th measure), drawing us back to the root chord by way of that final “A” power-chord.

Let’s hear what a melodic phrase built using these concepts sounds like when it focuses on all of those areas of our, “B” Phrygian progression...

Example Melody:

In the "B Phrygian" mode melody (above), our highlight tones focus strongly on the "B" and "C" tones of the Phrygian scale. Other important tones are the Minor 3rd's and the Minor 7th's. Arpeggio offerings that are applied upon each chord are also strong ways for connecting the melodic flow across the progression.

In wrapping up, I do have a few suggestions that I want to leave you with. They have to do with some important topics that you should study "prior" to really digging into the Phrygian mode soloing along with Phrygian song composition.

Scale Patterns: The first thing I want to stress is; the importance of learning Phrygian fingerboard patterns for this modal scale on the guitar fret-board. You should know at least 2 or 3 fingering patterns on the neck. Also, related to this is the study of the relationships for Phrygians various arpeggios along with what sounds out of Pentatonic sclaes appeal to you.

Chord Harmony:  If you do have an interest in this sound - you should also learn harmonies that offer up the Phrygian effect. A song like Joe Satriani’s “War” is a really good example.

So is the piece “Flame-Sky” from guitar greats; “Santana and John McLaughlin.” In fact “Flame-Sky” applies the same Minor to Major ½ step movement that I used in our chord progression example for this lesson plan.

Compose and Create: When we practice making up our own chord progressions it allows us the opportunity to apply the various harmonic movements that are important to learning the most critical elements of our Phrygian lesson plan.

By transcribing works and re-arranging them and by inventing new melodic and harmonic examples, we can stretch our ear so that there's a strong connection to the sound of the scale and how it can be used to make music.


If you’d like to learn more about topics like this one (and many others), join my members site as a free member and have a look at my, “Using the Major Scale Modes” eBook.

There’s a ton of great examples in my Modes eBook. The examples demonstrate all kinds of more advanced major scale mode ideas…

The Using the Modes eBook will work fantastic as a way to help introduce you to many of the most important scale and chord concepts when it comes down to using all the major scale modes.

Be sure to head over to review all of the guitar courses that are found on my website at CreativeGuitarStudio.com

I’ve got step-by-step; Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced courses that work alongside of in-depth elective programs to form the best guitar course available.

The courses have been designed so as to help you learn to identify where you're at, and what's required to get you up to that next level of guitar playing, in a very organized step-by-step way, that simply makes sense.

So, I look forward to helping you further at CreativeGuitarStudio.com



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