How do you write a Phrygian melody? And how do you start using the Phrygian mode? Get started quickly and learn these two essential melody techniques. Let’s dive into these questions and let’s get creative by writing some music!
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The Phrygian mode is one of many different faces. It can be very dark and emotional or you can evoke more ‘exotic’ sounds. But a beautiful Phrygian melody can also evoke bitter-sweet melancholy or something bright that rises from the ashes.
Video Tutorial: How To Make a Phrygian Melody
If you want to hear all these examples with real music, then check out my video on Phrygian mode melodies and if you want to learn more about the musical modes, then check out my Modal chord progressions and melodies playlist on Youtube.
Modes made easy: Many people see the musical modes as being part of a bigger mode or parent scale, which is the Ionian or the Aeolian mode. But 90% of the time I don’t approach it this way. I like to see each mode as a separate scale or separate ‘key’. So it’s not part of something bigger. A Phrygian melody is what it is and not some kind of scale degree from the major or minor scale.
I will explain how you make a Phrygian scale and what makes a Phrygian mode.
How to write music in the Phrygian mode:
- Take a minor scale and lower the 2nd note half a step
- Create a chord/triad on each scale degree
- Focus your chords and melody on the lowered 2nd scale degree, root, and minor 3rd
How do you make a Phrygian scale?
When we talk about music being in a certain key. We actually refer to the notes that are being or can be used in our song or composition. And these notes often, if not always, form a scale. So to start our journey we have to make a scale and find the Phrygian mode formula.
A minor: To start we have to make a minor scale. And I hear you thinking “but you just said Phrygian is a separate scale?”. Yes, it is, but for clarity, I like to refer to the minor. Just bear with me.
All the musical modes or church modes as they’re sometimes called can be referred to as being major or minor-oriented. What this means, is that the 3rd note in the scale is major or minor. The major-oriented modes we derive from the major scale and the minor-oriented modes we derive from the natural minor scale.
How do you make a Minor scale?
The Minor scale consists of 7 unique tones. If you follow this formula or blueprint of whole and half steps, then you can make a natural minor scale in any key that you like! Whole step – Half step – Whole step – Whole step – Half step – Whole step – Whole step
Just keep in mind when naming the notes, that each step needs to be a different letter from the alphabet. So you cannot have C and Cb or A and A#. It should be C and B or A and Bb.
What are the most important notes in a natural minor scale? These are the root note, the minor 3rd, minor 6th and major 2nd.
Remember our A minor scale from above? To make the A Phrygian mode scale, you just lower the 2nd note or the note on the 2nd scale degree with half a step. The rest of the notes in the scale stay the same! So the formula for making a Phrygian scale is Half step – Whole step – Whole Step – Whole Step – Half Step – Whole Step – Whole Step.
How do you write a Phrygian melody?
Phrygian on guitar: A technique that I like for using the Phrygian mode on guitar is by taking the A minor pentatonic scale and just adding the note that is unique to the Phrygian scale. In our case that is the minor 2nd. In A Phrygian that is the B flat.
When you want to make a Phrygian melody or try to add a Phrygian flavour to something, then you need to focus on the most important notes of the Phrygian scale. Remember? The root, minor third and minor 2nd scale degrees are the most important. Because that is what makes the Phrygian mode. So make sure that these notes are present in your melody.
A Phrygian chord vamp: if you want to practise and get familiar with the Phrygian sound, then I suggest you record a loop of you just playing a minor chord and then improvise by playing the corresponding Phrygian scale. Once you get the hang of it, you can try to make a more elaborate Phrygian chord progression.
Phrygian melody technique No.1 in C
This example will be in C Phrygian. Here is the corresponding C Phrygian scale.
A beautiful melodic formula or Phrygian melody technique, is by playing from the 5th scale degree (which is the G) until the minor 2nd (which is D flat). Then the best is to rest for a while on that note. And after some time resolve it to the root note. This creates extra melodic tension.
So why does this sound good? This is because from the fifth to the minor second, there is an augmented fourth interval. This is an unstable interval and it wants to resolve downward.
Have a look at the melody below. Here I incorporated this Phrygian melody formula.
Phrygian melody technique No.2 in B
In the Phrygian mode, we have the great opportunity of making a motive that has two minor second intervals in it. This interval always creates a lot of tension downward or upward. This depends on what notes this interval is. This Phrygian mode example is really a classic melodic technique.
You play the minor 6th interval and resolve it to the perfect 5th. And then you play the minor 2nd interval and resolve it downwards half a step to your root note. In this example the 6th is the G, the 5th is the F#, the minor 2nd is the C and your root note is the B.
Of course, you don’t have to play them immediately after each other. You can play around and experiment. But if you keep them close, it will sound better because you keep the tension closer.
With these Phrygian melody formulas under your belt, you can start to experiment and explore the Phrygian mode. But of course, you can also use them as a quick fix or as an easy starting point. In any case, I guarantee that these melodic techniques will inspire you to write some new music!
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Suggested Video Tutorial: Parallel Harmony / Harmonic Planing
Frequently Asked Questions About Phrygian Mode Melodies
Phrygian melodies… What is the key to writing great Phrygian melodies?
The Phrygian mode is very exciting because you can use it to write dark and melancholic melodies. But on the other hand, you can also write melodies that shine bright like a diamond! It is definitely one of my favourite modes to write music in, but however nice it may be it can also be a tricky one.
And why is that? Well because I try to keep the Phrygian flavor and sound as subtle as possible. Because often I find it can be too much or just too obvious. But that’s just my opinion.
So where do we start? Well first of all we need to make a Phrygian scale of course and because the Phrygian mode has a minor third we consider it to be a minor-oriented mode.
The easiest way to make any minor-oriented mode is to take a natural minor scale and then adjust the note that is unique to the mode that you want to write music in. In our case, we will lower the second scale degree by half a step and everything else stays the same.
To recap: the Phrygian scale has a minor second, minor third, perfect fourth and perfect fifth, minor sixth and minor seventh.
If you’ve seen my videos on modal chord progressions then you know that for something to sound like it’s in a certain mode, you need to use the important notes and of course the note that’s unique to the mode that you want to write music in. This is all the music theory we need, so let’s make some music!
I have two Phrygian melodic formulas lined up for you. And you can use them to write melodies, leads, riffs, slow or fast… Anything that you want to use them for.
Let’s say that our piece is in C Phrygian. A beautiful formula is by simply playing from the fifth, which is the G, until the minor second, which is the D flat. Then rest for a while on that note and then resolve it downwards to the root note. And why does this sound so good? Well because from the fifth until the minor second we have an augmented fourth interval and this is an interval that sounds spicy and it’s unstable and it wants to resolve downwards. Listen to the melody that I came up with.
Did you notice how much colour and also tension this melody has? It’s absolutely wonderful! This next formula is an absolute beauty. With the Phrygian mode, we have the amazing option of writing this kind of motive.
Do you recognize the sound? We twice have the interval of a minor second. These have tension and want to resolve downwards. You don’t have to write them immediately after each other, but if you keep them close it will really sound amazing! Check out this example.
There’s just so much beautiful stuff to explore in the Phrygian mode, I can make a whole video series on it! But I do hope that these tips will get you going on your Phrygian journey. And if they do, you can support these videos via my Buy Me a Coffee support page. And of course, you can share this video with your music friends!
Stay inspired, stay creative, And for now…
See you next time!