The Phrygian mode belongs to the III chord!

Phrygian is probably the easiest mode to recognise, its semitone interval between: Root – b2nd and the 5th – b6th, gives it a flavour that lends itself well to fast and aggressive playing.

Should you play Phrygian with a lot of distortion and play it very quickly you would fit well into the heavy metal scene.

On a nylon strung guitar you would enter the wonderful world of Flamenco music.

Whatever style you favour, Phrygian will always appear naturally every time you play over chord III.

For a guitarist, the best way to approach Phrygian is to add notes to the minor pentatonic:

Minor Pentatonic:

Em shaped Phrygian

The Em shaped Phrygian mode is the easiest shape to get to terms with.

Probably because everyone know the Em shaped minor pentatonic better than any other shape.

As the video demonstrates, simply add the b2nd and b6th to build from the pentatonic to the mode.

A Phrygian, Em shape

Am shaped Phrygian

The Am shape is easy to remember, you just build it form the minor pentatonic by adding the b2 and b6.

Look closely at the Chordacus image below, can you see an Am shaped chord and a semitone up an A shaped chord?

If you can remember this simple trick, as well as how to build it form the minor pentatonic you won’t ever forget how to play this scale.

A Phrygian, Am shape

Dm shaped Phrygian

Without a doubt, the hardest intervals to memorise are the ones below the root note in the Dm shape. This might mean that you need to spend some extra time with this shape.

Don’t forget to call out the intervals as you play the shape.

Calling out intervals can only be improved in one way: Sing with correct pitch!

A Phrygian, Dm shape

Gm shaped Phrygian

Focus on targeting the notes that gives you the Phrygian sound when improvising with this shape.

That would be the b2 and the b6th. But it’s not just these added intervals, it’s the semi tone steps these two new notes create.

It’s the semi tones of Root – b2nd and the 5th – b6th which make you sound Phrygian.

A Phrygian, Gm shape

Cm shaped Phrygian

This shape is great for improvising, practice as video demonstrates.

Make sure you can see the Cm7 chord shape and the Cm shaped Minor Pentatonic in this Chordacus image.

A Phrygian, Cm shape

Connect Phrygian scale shapes

Connecting the Phrygian shapes. Do this in 12 keys and push the BPM!

Also, don’t forget to vary the triplet rhythm with other rhythms. Pick any you like.

Phrygian through the cycle of 4th

Your final exercise takes the Phrygian mode and runs it through the cycle of 4th, finding the closest shape possible.

The full pattern reads:

A Phrygian – Em shape
D Phrygian – Am shape
G Phrygian – Dm shape
C Phrygian – Gm shape
F Phrygian – Cm shape

Before it repeats itself a fret up, starting at Bb, see below.

Bb Phrygian – Em shape
Eb Phrygian – Am shape
Ab Phrygian – Dm shape
Db Phrygian – Gm shape
Gb Phrygian – Cm shape
B Phrygian – Em shape
E Phrygian – Am shape

The next shape will be the A Phrygian Dm shape, use this as your starting point next time you practice this exercise. Here’s a video demonstration.

Phrygian Improvisation

The improvisations that demonstrate the different modes do not have any chords behind it, all you can hear is the actual scale, compare the Phrygian to all the other minor modal improvisations:

  1. Aeolian Improvisation
  2. Dorian Improvisation

Make sure you can actually see when I add the extra notes in each of these improvisations, they are all in Am.

Conclusion Phrygian

The Phrygian mode is simply a minor pentatonic with an added b2 and b6.

If you can see the minor pentatonic and both these intervals in all shapes you can learn this mode really quickly.

When you improvise or write with it it’s good to know that Phrygian appear naturally every time the chord is of the number III.

As this happens in most songs you really do need to become friends with Phrygian.

To learn more about Phrygian in a musical context, take the Advanced Guitar Course.