The Phrygian mode is used when you want to bring a Spanish vibe to your guitar solos, especially over m7 and 7alt chords.
The third mode of the major scale, Phrygian creates a b9 sound, which creates a sense of tension and release in your solos.
In this lesson, you learn how to build Phrygian, solo with this mode, one and two-octave fingerings, scale patterns, chords, and Phrygian licks in the style of Al Di Meola and others.
Phrygian Quick Facts
What is the Phrygian mode? Phrygian is the 3rd mode of the major scale, which means it has the same notes as the major scale but starting on the 3rd note of that scale. As well, Phrygian has the interval pattern 1-b2-b3-4-5-b6-b7.
What is the Phrygian scale? The Phrygian scale is the same as the Phrygian mode; it’s just two ways to say the same thing, as the terms scale and mode are often interchangeable in musical conversations.
Is Phrygian major or minor? Phrygian can be both major and minor. Traditionally, Phrygian is a minor sounding mode. But, musicians have started using it over 7th chords to produce a 7susb9 sound. So it works over both minor and dominant (major) chords.
What is E Phrygian? E Phrygian is the Phrygian mode from the C major scale. So, E Phrygian contains the same notes as C major, just starting on E.
What is the Phrygian mode used for? Phrygian is used to create riffs or solos over m7 chords, where you create m7b9 sound, or over 7th chords, where you create a 7susb9 sound.
What is a Phrygian chord? There are actually two Phrygian chords. The minor chord is a m7b9 and the dominant chord is a 7susb9 chord.
Phrygian Mode Construction
The Phrygian mode contains seven notes and has no accidentals when written in the key of E Phrygian.
This means that if you play E Phrygian on the piano, you only play the white keys, no black keys, on the keyboard.
These seven notes can be written a number of ways such as intervals:
Or you can think of them as specific intervals such as:
In this case, the legend for each symbol would be:
- P = Perfect Interval
- M = Major Interval
- m = Minor Interval
You can also think of the upper notes as extensions rather than lower notes.
This means that you think of the Phrygian mode with this pattern:
I prefer this way of thinking as it allows you to visualize the upper extensions over any chord you’re soloing over, but you can use either interval pattern so go with what’s easiest for you.
Here’s how the E Phrygian mode looks on the fretboard with both notes and intervals.
You can use either system, b2-4-b6, b9-11-b13, or a mixture of both, depending on the musical situation that you’re in.
Try both and see which fits better for you, then go forward with that interval system.
When soloing over m7s, highlighting the b9 helps to bring out the Phrygian sound, which you hear in the lick examples below.
Phrygian Mode Application
Now that you know how to build the Phrygian mode, take a look at how you apply this mode to a jazz guitar soloing situation.
Phrygian is used to solo over a number of chords in the minor family.
These chords include:
- Slash Chords such as Fmaj7/E
These minor family chords built from notes taken from the Phrygian mode.
Therefore, Phrygian is used to solo over these chords in a jazz soloing context.
Here’s an example of a Phrygian fingering and three chords derived from that mode, to see how they relate to each other on the fretboard.
To begin using this theory, put on a m7, Fmaj7/E, m7b9, m11 etc. backing track and solo with the Phrygian mode.
You can also apply Phrygian over a m7 modal tune when you want to move beyond the Dorian mode that you normally use.
This provides a distinct sound in your playing, so try it out in the practice room first before bringing it to a gig or jam.
To help you practice the Phrygian mode and licks in this lesson, here’s a Phrygian backing track in E.
Because it’s such a versatile mode, here are more Phrygian chords that you can study and add to your playing.
These chords cover the three main types of Phrygian guitar chord shapes:
- m7b9 Chords
- Slash Chords
- 7susalt Chords
To begin, here are 6th-string root chords that you can learn and apply to various musical situations.
After learning any of these shapes, take them to your chord progression and song practice routine to hear them in a musical situation.
Here are those same Phrygian chords with the root note on the 5th string.
There are some big stretches here, so feel free to pick and choose the chords that fit your hands and apply those to your comping.
Again, you see minor chords, slash chords, and 7susalt chords, the three chord types derived from the Phrygian mode.
After you’ve worked out these chord shapes, apply them to your guitar chord studies over progressions and songs to take these shapes further.
Phrygian Mode One Octave Fingerings
To help you take this mode onto the fretboard, here are one-octave Phrygian modes that you can work on in your practice routine.
These one-octave shapes come in handy when soloing over fast-moving chord changes or at fast tempos.
There are three fingerings that you learn for one-octave Phrygian shapes, starting with shapes that use your index finger on the first note.
Work these shapes in 12 keys, as well as solo over various minor backing track using these shapes as the basis for your lines.
This ensures that you’re working Phrygian from both a technical and improvisational standpoint.
You can also learn Phrygian modes with your middle finger on the first note of each one-octave shape.
Lastly, here are four Phrygian mode shapes that begin with your pinky finger on the first note of each shape.
Phrygian Mode Two Octave Fingerings
As well as learning one-octave Phrygian shapes, you can take these patterns further by learning two-octave shapes in 12 keys.
Two-octave Phrygian shapes come in handy when soloing over longer chord changes or tunes that don’t change keys very often
There are a number of ways to build two-octave Phrygian shapes, here are four of my favorites to get you started.
Learn these shapes one at a time, and then combine two or more as you dig further into these important mode shapes.
Phrygian Scale Patterns
You now check out scale patterns over any or all of the Phrygian modes that you’ve learned up to this point in the lesson.
To begin, here’s an ascending pattern that you can use to expand your technique and learn mode shapes at the same time.
The pattern is built by playing 123 and repeating this pattern from each note in the mode, in this case ascending.
This means that you play 123, 234, 345, etc. as you work your way up the mode, in this case a two-octave E Phrygian mode.
Go slow with this pattern, work it through both one and two-octave shapes, and different keys, as you take this pattern around the fretboard.
Click to hear phrygian scales 1
You can also work this pattern descending any mode you know, such as the E Phrygian mode in the example below.
Again, you’re playing every second note to create the pattern, creating the intervals 876, 765, 654, etc. as you work your way down the Phrygian fingering.
Click to hear phrygian scales 2
Once you have one or both of these patterns down, put on a backing track and add this pattern to your soloing ideas.
3 Phrygian Mode Licks
As well as learning patterns, you can study licks and phrases to build your understanding of this mode in a soloing context.
The first lick uses scale patterns to build a four-bar phrase over an Em7 chord, using the E Phrygian mode to construct the line.
Click to hear phrygian scales 3
This second lick is a descending pattern in the style of Al Di Meola, who is a huge fan of the Phrygian sound.
Click to hear phrygian scales 4
Finally, you study a lick that uses the E Phrygian mode over an E7alt chord.
When doing so, you create in the intervals R-b9-#9-11-5-b13-b7, so it’s an Altered scale but without the major 3rd.
Work this lick in different keys, and then put on a backing track and solo to take this concept further in the practice room.
Click to hear phrygian scales 5
Once you have these licks down, write out 3 Phrygian licks of your own to build your soloing vocabulary with this important mode.
Phrygian Guitar Solo – Minor Blues
To finish your study of the Phrygian mode, here’s a minor blues solo that uses various Phrygian techniques and applications.
As you use Phrygian over 7alt chords more often than m7 chord, there’s a focus on that application in this solo.
Learn the solo one phrase at a time, then combine them when ready in your studies.
There’s a backing track to play the solo over, as well as create your own solos as you bring Phrygian to your own guitar solos.
A Minor Blues Backing Track a-minor-blues-backing-phrygian
Click to Hear phrygian-guitar-solo