What happens when you mix the spicy sound of the Phrygian mode with the softer tones of the Aeolian mode? Well… You get amazing chord progressions! Learn how to combine these modes with modal interchange and transform your chord progressions.
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The Aeolian mode or natural minor is used in music all around us. It’s safe to say that this is one of the backbones of Western music. The Phrygian mode on the other hand is used less often. This is because a lot of songwriters and composers are not used to writing music in a specific mode.
But what if you could spice up your regular minor chord progression with a chord from the Phrygian mode? When you borrow a chord from a different mode, it is called a borrowed chord, modal mixture or modal interchange. Let’s explore how to make the Phrygian and Aeolian modes and find the chords we can use.
Video Tutorial: Phrygian + Aeolian mode = Awesome chord progressions
If you want to hear all these examples with real music, then check out my video on modal interchange with the Phrygian mode and the Aeolian mode. Listen to some real modal chord progressions in action!
What is modal interchange or modal mixture?
Modal interchange, also called modal mixture, is a musical trick where you use chords and progressions from one musical scale in a different scale. Scales are patterns of notes that sound good together, like the major scale and the natural minor scale.
When you use modal interchange, you take chords and progressions from a scale that’s closely related to the one you’re using. These scales have almost the same notes but with one or two differences. For example, if you’re playing in the key of C major, you can borrow chords from related modes like C Mixolydian or C Lydian.
You add these borrowed chords to your music without changing the main key you’re playing. This makes your music sound more interesting and colourful.
Modal interchange is a cool way to make your music stand out and surprise listeners. It’s used in many different types of music like classical, jazz, and pop.
How do you make a Phrygian Scale?
Music is often in a certain key. Which could be A minor or D major for example. When we talk about music being in a certain key. We actually refer to the notes that can be used in our song. And also which note feels like our home base. These notes together often form a scale. To make a Phrygian scale it is the easiest to first make a minor scale. Here is the formula for a minor scale.
Minor scale blueprint / minor scale formula
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.
How to make a Phrygian scale?
To make the A Phrygian scale, from our minor scale above, 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 To Make Phrygian and Aeolian Mode Chord Progressions
Just as with all other modal chord progressions. We will use the Phrygian and Aeolian scales to find out what chords you can play or what chords you have. Create a chord or triad on each scale degree. And you do this by only using notes from the scales!
How do you make a triad? When you make a chord, just skip one scale tone and choose the next one. So for example in A Phrygian, the chord on the first scale degree is A Minor. And the notes are A-C-E. We skipped the tones B and D.
Aeolian and Phrygian harmonies with 7th chords
When we use seventh chords you will have another option that opens up for you. You will have another chord that will be different between both modes.
If you only have triads then the chord on the minor third scale degree is the same in both Aeolian and Phrygian. But when you turn it into seventh chords then you’ll see a difference.
In Aeolian, we have a C major seventh chord while in Phrygian we have a C dominant seven chord.
Chord Progression No.1 in B minor (with borrowed Am)
In this B minor chord progression, I will use a chord from the Phrygian mode, to make it sound darker. We can do this by switching the chords on the minor 7th scale degree. In the Aeolian mode, it is an A major chord, while in Phrygian it is an A minor chord.
Chord Progression No.2 in C minor (with added Db)
We can also do the opposite. We can make this C minor chord progression sound brighter by using a chord from the Phrygian mode. In Aeolian, the chord on the 2nd scale degree is a D diminished. This chord sounds darker and has more tension. In the Phrygian mode, the chord on the minor second scale degree is a Db major chord.
Chord Progression No.3 in E minor (with added G7)
When we use 7th chords, you will have another chord option to switch chords. If you use triads, then the chord on the 3rd scale degree is the same in both modes. But when we use 7th chords, then in Aeolian, the chord on the 3rd scale degree is a G Major seven chord, while in Phrygian this is a G Dominant seven chord.
A major seven-chord sounds colourful and soft, while a dominant seven-chord sounds a lot stronger.
Using melody to highlight chord changes
With the melody, we can highlight the changes in the chords and emphasize the notes that are unique to the mode. When I add a melody to the previous chord progression, just play it and listen to how big the difference becomes between both progressions.
Whenever you don’t feel inspired or if you’re stuck on a chord progression, see if you can maybe borrow a chord from a different mode. This modal mixture or modal interchange is easy to use and the results are often great.
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Are you unhappy with your chord progressions? Do you always end up writing the same ones? Or maybe you don’t know how to create new variations? It sounds like you’re looking to break free, be more adventurous and want to add that extra spice that makes your chord progressions unique.
If this applies to you then join the club! Because in today’s episode we’re going to dive into the beautiful technique of modal mixture or modal interchange. And we’re especially going to focus on combining the phrygian mode and the aeolian mode. So let’s create some beautiful chord progressions and let’s get creative!
Borrowed chords or modal interchange sounds more intimidating than it actually is.
It’s not as difficult as you might think, especially if you follow the easy steps and techniques that i will show in the upcoming chord progressions. So where do we start?
The first thing that we need to do is make an aeolian or natural minor scale and also a phrygian scale.
Once we have this, then we build a triad or maybe even seventh chords on each scale degree to find out what chords we have in both modes. Now with this overview you can see what chords they have in common and which ones differ from each other.
If all this sounds unfamiliar or if you need to refresh your memory then i do recommend that you check out my videos on the phrygian mode and the aeolian mode later. The links are in the description!
In this first example i’m going to use a chord from the phrygian mode to make my chord progression sound more dark. And i will do this by switching the chords that are on the minor 7th scale degree.
In aeolian this is a major chord while in phrygian this is a minor chord. And to really show you the difference i will first play the normal chord progression and then straight after that i will play the chord progression with the modal interchange.
So if you can make your chord progression darker, can you also make it brighter? In this case… Yes you can and i will do exactly this!
In aeolian the chord on your second scale degree is a half diminished chord.
In itself a very beautiful chord but it has more tension and it has a darker sound to it due to the minor third and the diminished fifth. I will replace this half diminished chord with a major chord that lies on the minor second scale degree that comes from the phrygian mode. And just listen to how beautifully this major chord brightens and opens up the chord progression. Absolutely wonderful!
When we use seventh chords you will have another option that opens up for you.
If you only have triads then the chord on the minor third scale degree is the same in both aeolian and phrygian.
But when you turn it into seventh chords then you’ll see a difference.
Because in aeolian we have a major seven chord while in phrygian we have a dominant seven chord.
And does this make a big difference? Well yes it does! Just listen to how soft the sound of the major 7 chord is compared to the strong and characteristic sound of the dominant 7 chord. Just one tone difference but it creates a completely different world.
And now the question remains: are we neglecting something? And yes we are because we’re completely forgetting about the melody. Because with the melody we can highlight the changes in the chorus but we can also emphasize the tones that are important to the mode that you’re writing in. For example in the case of phrygian the minor second scale degree is of vital importance. Now when i add a melody to the previous chord progression, just listen to how big the difference becomes between both progressions.
And just a cool detail for the more advanced people watching. Did you notice the chromatic line that emerges from the chord progression? This would have never been possible without using the borrowed chords or modal interchange.
So whenever you find yourself stuck on a chord progression or without inspiration, just see if you can borrow a chord from a different mode and integrate it. Having this option will vastly expand your horizon and your chord progressions color palette.
If you’re ready to dive into more videos on modal chord progressions then check out this playlist. Or if you’re curious about what techniques lie behind famous songs, then check out this playlist for my ‘What I Learned From’ song analysis series. Don’t forget to share the channel and subscribe if my videos are useful to you. Because your support is wonderful!
Stay inspired and for now…
See you next time!