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Video Tutorial: Make Phrygian mode chord progressions and Melodies
Modes made easy: Many people see the musical modes as being part of a bigger mode or parent scale, which is the Ionian mode. But 90% of the time I don’t approach it this way. I like to see each mode as a separate scale. So it’s not part of something bigger. The Phrygian mode scale is what it is and not some kind of small brother from the major scale.
I will explain how you make a Phrygian scale and chord progression. You can use this for writing beautiful melodies and full songs. Just follow these four steps below.
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 start our Phrygian journey first we need 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?
Remember our A minor scale from above? To make the A Phrygian 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 To Make Phrygian Mode Chord Progressions
Just as with all other modal chord progressions. We will use the Phrygian scale to find out what chords you can play or what chords you have in this musical mode. You need to create a chord or triad on each scale degree. And you do this by only using notes from the scale!
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.
Chord Progression No.1 in C Phrygian
This first chord progression has the most obvious characteristic of a Phrygian chord progression. This is going from the minor 2nd scale degree to your tonic chord. Going back and forth between these two scale degrees is often used.
Another technique that I use is a pedal note. The tonic note or root note is sustained while the chords on top, change.
And here is the chord progression without the pedal note.
Chord Progression No.2 in E Phrygian
Sometimes you might find that going from the 1st scale degree to the minor 2nd can sound a bit too obvious. But there is a way to avoid this, but still use that typical sound that makes the Phrygian mode.
What is part of the Phrygian mode formula is the minor 2nd scale degree. And as you can see in our scale example on Phrygian mode chords, this note is also part of the chord on the 7th scale degree. Which in this example is Dm. The ‘Phrygian’ note is F.
We can use the D minor in our Phrygian chord progression but put it in the 1st inversion. When you do this, F will be the bass note instead of D. This puts the minor 2nd scale degree in the bass again.
You can hear this in action in one of my songs from Facing Mountains.
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Chord Progression No.3 in D Phrygian
This chord progression is a bit longer. Just watch out the when you use too many chords you might not have a strong Phrygian mode sound and risk getting out of the musical mode.
To avoid this you need to emphasize the chords that have the minor 2nd scale degree in them. Of course, don’t forget about your tonic chord. When you listen to the example in my YouTube video then you can hear how much difference adding a melody makes. First the progression sounds dark, but with the melody it sounds more peaceful.
Chord Progression No.4 in E Phrygian
This chord progression is not really in the Phrygian mode. Because it has the same chords as E natural minor. Because if you look at the scale below, None of the chords has the F in it. This note is the lowered 2nd scale degree.
This is where your melody gets to shine. By writing a Phrygian melody you can still evoke a Phrygian feel and sound. So the minor 2nd scale degree will be in your melody!
Did you notice the A chord in the 2nd system? This chord is not part of the Phrygian mode or the Aeolian mode. I got this chord by using a chromatic mediant. This is a great technique for getting beautiful melodies and chord progressions. Check out my tutorial if you want to learn more about them!
Or dive into the beautiful technique of modal mixture, modal interchange and borrowed chords. Lydian & Ionian, Phrygian & Aeolian.
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Suggested Video Tutorial: Combining The Lydian Mode and Ionian mode Through Modal Interchange
The dark one, the exotic one, the intriguing one. In other words the Phrygian mode. Is it really only an exotic mode or can we do more with it? Let’s find out and let’s get creative!
To show you just how versatile the Phrygian mode actually is, I wrote four chord progressions in four different styles for today. And with each example, I will show you new tricks that you can use.
To make the Phrygian mode you take a natural minor scale of any key that you want to write music in and you lower the second scale degree to create the Phrygian scale. Now to find out what chords we have in this mode we build a triad on each scale degree and there we are! We have our complete melodic and harmonic resource.
In this example we have the most characteristic element of a Phrygian chord progression: which is going from the chord on the minor second scale degree to the tonic chord and vice versa. And a great technique that I use in this example is that I sustain the tonic note as a pedal tone, and on this pedal tone, I switch from the tonic chord to the chord on the minor second scale degree and back. And this creates some lovely tension.
Did you notice how much interest and tension the chords on the pedal tone bring? This really is a classic Phrygian sound and works also very well on guitar.
Sometimes the progression from the first scale degree to the minor second one can sound a bit kitsch and exotic. So what can we do?
As you now know the tone that’s unique to the Phrygian mode is the minor second scale degree.
This tone is also present on the chord on the seventh scale degree. What we can do to keep the half step bass movement, is use the chord on the seventh scale degree, but have it in the first inversion instead. This puts the minor second scale degree in the bass again.
I applied this technique to one of my own songs for the music project Facing Mountains and the link to the full song is in the description if you want to check it out!
This next example is a longer chord progression with more chords. But if we switch too many chords, we run the risk of getting out of the Phrygian feel and sound. To avoid this from happening you want to play more chords that have the minor second scale degree in them
Together with your tonic chord, you want them to be in the majority. Also, notice how in this example the melody that comes in later on really brightens things up and the added sevens in the chords also.
It gives this progression a peaceful yet melancholic feel to it.
So who said that the Phrygian mode cannot have a brighter sound to it?
The chord progression of this next example does not have to be in the Phrygian mode. It might as well be in E natural minor, because as you can see none of the chords have the minor second scale degree in them.
So here’s where the power of melody comes in.
We can still emphasize the Phrygian feel by including and emphasizing the minor second scale degree in our melody.
For the people who really paid attention that last A major chord is not part of the Phrygian mode or part of the natural minor mode. This A major is a chromatic mediant. Chromatic mediants are a very effective technique to use for unique chord progressions and they’re quite easy to use as well. You can check out my tutorial about chromatic medians in this playlist.
It is important that you find out which note is unique to the mode that you want to write in. So find out which one it is and which chords have it in them. Mainly you want to use these chords and the tonic chord to strongly confirm the mode. While you also want to watch out for the diminished triad and the dominant 7 chord. And very important: you don’t want to forget the power of melody, because this can steer you away or it can strengthen the modal sound.
The Phrygian mode is definitely capable of much more than only dark and exotic tones. So while you’re exploring these new possibilities, don’t forget to like share and subscribe to the channel and for now…
See you next time!