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.

Modal interchange thumbnail

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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!

YouTube video

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.

A minor scale
The formula for an A minor scale / A Aeolian scale
The formula for an A minor scale / A Aeolian scale in midi
In Midi roll: The formula for an A minor scale / A Aeolian scale

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.

A Phrygian scale
A Phrygian scale
A Phrygian scale in midi
A Phrygian scale in midi piano roll (note that the A# should actually be Bb)

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.

A aeolian harmonies
All 7 minor chords from the minor scale
In midi: All 7 minor chords from the minor scale
In midi: All 7 minor chords from the minor scale
Example of an A Phrygian scale with triads
A Phrygian scale with triads
Midi example of an A Phrygian scale with triads.
Midi example of an A Phrygian scale with triads. (note that the A# is actually Bb)

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.

A minor harmonies with 7th chords
Harmonies of A minor with 7th chords
In Midi: Harmonies of A minor with 7th chords
In Midi: Harmonies of A minor with 7th chords
Harmonies of A Phrygian with 7th chords
Harmonies of A Phrygian with 7th chords
In Midi: Harmonies of A Phrygian with 7th chords
In Midi: Harmonies of A Phrygian with 7th chords
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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.

Normal B minor chord progression
Normal B minor chord progression
Bm chord progression with borrowed Am chord
Bm chord progression with borrowed Am 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.

Normal C minor chord progression
Normal C minor chord progression
C minor chord progression with borrowed D flat chord
C minor chord progression with borrowed Db 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.

Normal E minor chord progression
Normal E minor chord progression
E minor chord progression with borrowed G7 chord
E minor chord progression with borrowed G7 chord

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.

Normal E minor melody
Normal E minor melody
E minor melody with borrowed G7 chord
E minor melody with borrowed G7 chord

Conclusion

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.

Interested in more videos about the musical modes? Check out my other videos on the Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Dorian modes. Check out my videos on how to make Phrygian melodies.

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