Phrygian Dominant

The Phrygian Dominant mode belongs to chord IIIx!

The Phrygian Dominant mode is a modified Phrygian scale. It is the most common mode in popular music that isn’t directly linked to the major scale.

Even though Phrygian Dominant is a major scale, the similarity to Phrygian makes it easier to learn as if it comes from a Minor Pentatonic shape.

Phrygian Dominant is only used when Phrygian has been replaced, so this approach makes more musical sense than building it from a major scale shape.

This is what both scales look like using just the intervals. Notice how it is only the 3rd interval that differs.

Phrygian:
1
b2
m3
4
5
b6
b7
Phrygian Dominant:
1
b2
3 4
5
b6
b7

When practising Phrygian Dominant as a variation of Phrygian like this, you will more clearly see the connection between them.

Since the scale appears when a chord has been modified from being a normal III chord into a IIIx chord, this approach makes more sense.


The E(m) shape

The first scale played in the video is a normal Phrygian scale.

This is then modified into a Phrygian Dominant scale, pictured below as a chordacus image.

Should you have built from a Major Pentatonic instead, then the 5th string would have had four notes on it, the 3, 4, 5 and b6.

Since the shape remains looking like a minor shape we still think of Phrygian Dominant as a minor shape, but with a major third!
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When practising Phrygian Dominant as a variation like this you will be able to more clearly understand the connections in music theory and therefore solo with more ease.

Since the scale only appears when a chord has been modified from III to IIIx, this will make more sense.


The A(m) shape

The A(m) shaped Phrygian Dominant is possibly the easiest shape to remember!

Can you see how Phrygian Dominant looks like two major chord shapes, one fret apart? Look for an A and a Bb chord in the image below, both are A shapes.

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Just like with the E(m) shape, first play the Phrygian scale, then change the minor third into a major third. This approach will assure your fingers know the difference.


The D(m) shape

For the D(m) shaped Phrygian Dominant, use the same concept as with previous shapes.

1. Two D shapes a semitone apart
2. Think of this scale as a variation on a Phrygian scale

As always, the Dm and D shape are difficult to remember below the root, call out intervals as you go along or even better, sing along!

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The G(m) shape

The G(m) shaped Phrygian Dominant, pretty awkward for scale runs!

Again, this looks like two G major shapes next to each other. Compare this to Phrygian which looks like a Gm shape next to a G shape.

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So maybe not the best shape for quick scale runs, but that’s cool. Remember, complicated scales like this rarely last for longer than a bar. And, more importantly, why would you play the entire scale when you improvise anyway?

In an improvisation you might use three notes from this scale as the IIIx chord come around for one bar, then it’s on to the next chord and mode!


The C(m) shape

The C(m) shaped Phrygian Dominant is another awkward shape to improvise with. When soloing with this shape, try using big interval jumps rather than one note after another.

Another trick would be to just leave the 3rd out, this might be a good idea in the C shape if you are just passing through.

However, if you leave it out all together then there is nothing that says you are in a major, apart from the chord behind it off course!

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Connect shapes

This is much more difficult than previous modes due to the more angular layout of Phrygian Dominant.

Use the video lesson to see how this is done, for Phrygian Dominant in any key, turn to chordacus.


Cycle of 4th

Your final variation takes the Phrygian Dominant mode and runs it through the cycle of 4th. This is an important step when teaching your hands the shapes of the mode.

Should you get stuck in a shape, go back and practise that shape individually.

The full exercise reads:

A Phrygian Dominant – E(m) shape
D Phrygian Dominant – A(m) shape
G Phrygian Dominant – D(m) shape
C Phrygian Dominant – G(m) shape
F Phrygian Dominant – C(m) shape

This is repeated a fret up:

Bb Phrygian Dominant – E(m) shape
Eb Phrygian Dominant – A(m) shape
Ab Phrygian Dominant – D(m) shape
Db Phrygian Dominant – G(m) shape
Gb Phrygian Dominant – C(m) shape

When you can do it without making any mistakes you can stop practising the Phrygian Dominant scale and start playing it instead.


Improvisation

When you can play all shapes it’s a good idea to start improvising with the scale. By sticking to just one scale for a while, you can really get into the sound of it.

Try this concept in a couple of keys until you feel you got the hang of what Phrygian Dominant sounds like.


Summary

The Phrygian Dominant scale is not a scale you hang around on for too long.

As an improviser, you need to practise the same thing for long periods of time to properly hear it, to become familiar with the sound of a scale. However, in a real playing situation, it’ll most likely only appear over a bar or so.

Take the advanced course and start making some music with this scale. Once you know how this scale works and when it can be used, you’ll find that it pops up everywhere!

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