The Phrygian mode belongs to the III chord!
Phrygian is probably the easiest mode to recognise due to its semitone intervals between the root – b2nd as well as between the 5th – b6th. These semitones give 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 five Minor Pentatonic shapes.
To build Phrygian from the Minor Pentatonic using intervals looks like this:
The Em shaped Phrygian mode is the easiest shape to get to terms with. Probably because everyone knows the Em shaped Minor Pentatonic better than any other shape.
As the video demonstrates, simply add the b2nd and b6th to build Phrygian from the Minor Pentatonic.
The Am shape is also easy to learn and remember, you just build it from the Minor Pentatonic by adding the b2 and b6.
Looking at the Chordacus image below, can you see an Am shaped chord and, a semitone further up, an A shaped chord?
If you can remember this simple trick, as well as how to build it from the Minor Pentatonic, you won’t ever forget how to play this scale.
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, to sing with a correct pitch!
Focus on targeting the notes that give 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 semitone steps these two new notes create. It’s the semitones of root – b2nd and the 5th – b6th which make you sound Phrygian.
Focus on these when you improvise to get the full Phrygian flavour.
This shape is great for improvising, practise as the video lesson demonstrates.
Make sure you can see the Cm7 chord shape and the Cm shaped Minor Pentatonic in this Chordacus image.
This next video lesson demonstrates how to connect all Phrygian shapes.
In the step by step advanced course, we play this exercise in all 12 keys and push the BPM. We also vary the rhythm and find the Phrygian mode in popular songs.
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, like this.
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 practise this exercise. Here’s a video demonstration.
The improvisations that demonstrate the different modes do not have any chords behind them, all you can hear is the actual scale, compare this Phrygian improvisation to the other two minor modal improvisations.
Make sure you can actually see when I add the extra notes in each of these improvisations, they are all in Am.
The Phrygian mode is simply a Minor Pentatonic with an added b2 and b6. If you can see the pentatonic and both these intervals in all shapes you can learn this mode really quickly.
When you improvise or write, it’s good to know that Phrygian appears naturally every time chord III appears. As this happens in most songs, you really do need to become good friends with Phrygian.
To learn more about Phrygian and find it in a musical context, take the advanced guitar course.