The Phrygian Mode

Difficulty: Spectrum

The Phrygian Mode is another minor type scale (it has a b3) but has a strong Spanish or ethnic flavours because of the b2 scale tone. It is less a commonly used mode, though is used in some modern jazz theory concepts.

Scale Equation










E Major









E Phrygian









Modal Equation









Basic Observations
First notice that it has a b3 (minor 3rd) so it's a minor type scale. It also has a b7 which makes it work on Min7 type chords. It's the b2 and b6 (which can be thought of as a #5) which are both very strong flavours and must be approached with caution (they are super hot chili).

Key Tone = b2
The b2 is the main flavour here, that interval is only found in one other mode (Locrian).

Common Chords associated with the Phrygian Mode:
Minor Type chords: min, min7, min7b9

Parent Major Scale (PMS)

The PMS is found two tones below the tonal centre (or up a minor 6th).

You have two choices here - either count back two tones from the TONAL CENTRE: You want to play an C Phrygian Mode, just think back 2 tones from C and you get Ab Major Scale as the parent.

Ab Major Scale played with a Tonal Centre of C will give you C Dorian Mode.

Or think up a minor 6th - diagram shows the interval of a Min 6.

Note Choices
Be very careful with this one as the chord tones are the only real resting points. Notice how the b2 and b6 are used… very carefully:)

You can hear it sounds very ethnic in flavour but can work well in some types of metal too. It's very easy to get off track and make a pretty bad sound with this one - you have to work out some ways of using the notes that are not chord tones as spices and use them just a little, too much will be horrible!

Like with all theory stuff, you MUST try it and hear it for yourself or it will never really make sense.


This diagram shows a Major Scale with the chord tones of the Phrygian Minor chord (in red). The red notes make up the TONAL CENTRE. The R showing the root of the TONAL CENTRE. The black notes make up the Phrygian Mode.

The scale is of course, the Major Scale, Position 1 - which we use for all of learning about modes, so you can see clearly how the one scale gets used for each mode (it's a lot better way to learn them than having a different shape for each).

Put the scale with your fist finger in the 7th fret (C Major) and play it over a E minor chord (or other chords in the Common Chords shown above). Ideally you should record yourself a backing track, jam with a friend, or use the Phrygian vamp (Track 7) on Really Useful Play Along Tracks.

Listen to how well the red notes sound over the chord and that the other notes link up the red notes and add flavours... important here is to notice that many of the black notes are found just a semitone above the chord tones - there are the ones you must be extra careful with (the b6 and the b9).

This listening is the key to getting modes in your head and understanding how to use them. Let your ears teach you how to use the sound of the mode.

This one will take some work if you really want to get into it. It's not a very commonly used mode, but it can sound pretty cool if you take the time to get it down.

I have read before that many heavy rock bands (like Metallica and Slayer) use this mode, but I can't think of song that uses it in that Genre. Perhaps if you know one you could let me know on the forum!

The trick I have found is to work out a few licks, I use mostly hammers and flicks to get the add in the spices - like adding the b9 as a very fast hammer-on then flick-off. Experiment yourself and hear how it works for you!

Major Scale Modes



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