Phrygian Mode

Learning the different diatonic modes of the major or minor keys and their chromatic alterations allows you to add variety to your music and even borrow the chords from the parallel modes.

This article covers the Phrygian mode, including its scale formula, intervals, notes, main characteristics, comparison with other modes & scales, possible alterations, patterns to assist you in guitar playing, chords, its use in popular music, etc.

Read the complete article to know all about the Phrygian mode and more!

What is a Mode in Music?

To understand the concept of modes, consider a major scale represented by its seven scale degrees [1 2 3 4 5 6 7]. To derive a mode, you must keep the same seven notes in the same sequence. Consider the seven notes to be placed in a circle.

Scale Notes

You can select any of the above notes as the tonic and go clockwise through all the notes till you reach back your starting point. You will get 6 more such combinations other than the original or parent scale, as shown below.

[2 3 4 5 6 7 1],

[3 4 5 6 7 1 2],

[4 5 6 7 1 2 3],

[5 6 7 1 2 3 4],

[6 7 1 2 3 4 5 ], and

[7 1 2 3 4 5 6 ]

These new combinations of the seven notes, including the original combination, forms the seven modes of the parent scale. The mode starting with the nth scale degree is the nth mode. This means the mode starting with the second scale degree of the original is the 2nd mode. The mode starting with the third scale degree note of the original is the 3rd mode, and so on.

These modes of the major diatonic scale have their special names in order, as below.

  • The Ionian Mode.
  • The Dorian Mode.
  • The Phrygian Mode.
  • The Lydian Mode.
  • The Mixolydian Mode.
  • The Aeolian Mode.
  • The Locrian Mode.

What is the Phrygian Mode

The third mode of major scales, as shown above with the scale degree notes order [3 4 5 6 7 1 2], is known as the Phrygian mode.

Consider the C Major scale with the notes [C D E F G A B]. Its third mode starts with scale degree 3 with notes [3 4 5 6 7 1 2], is known as E Phrygian, and carries the notes [E F G A B C D].

If you consider the ‘Ab’ Major scale with notes [Ab Bb C Db Eb F G], its 3rd mode, the C Phrygian mode, will have the notes [C Db Eb F G Ab Bb].

Phrygian Modes Formula

The scale formula for the Phrygian mode is

{H W W W H W W} or {S T T T S T T} or {1, 2, 2, 2, 1, 2, 2}

Where H represents a half step and W denotes the Whole steps (2 half steps). Similarly, S and T represent a semitone and a Whole tone, respectively.

Use the Relevant Major

We have shown the method to derive the notes of any mode from the parent scale by rearranging the notes above. This means that you first need to find out the parent mode of any Phrygian scale and then use its notes to find out the Phrygian mode notes.

You can derive the notes of any Phrygian scale directly by applying the formula given below to the notes of the parallel major scale.

{1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7}

Suppose you want to find the notes of E Phrygian by this method. You must first write down the notes of the E Major {E F# G# A B C# D#}. Now you can apply the above formula to the notes of the E Major scale. As you can observe, you must lower the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th notes by a half step.

So you get the notes of E Phrygian as {E F G A B C D}, the same as we derived in the earlier section. You can play it using all the white notes on a Piano Keyboard.

Similarly, you can derive the C Phrygian with the above formula as {C Db Eb F G Ab Bb}.

Phrygian Mode Intervals

You can derive the intervals of the Phrygian mode from the notes of the E Phrygian in the previous section or the scale formula discussed above. The below section shows the intervals using the notes of the E Phrygian.

E to F – 1 semitone = minor 2nd (minor second or m2 from the tonic)

F To G – 2 semitones = Major 2nd (minor third or m3 from tonic)

G to A – 2 semitones = Major 2nd (Perfect Fourth or P4 from tonic)

A to B – 2 semitones = Major 2nd (Perfect Fifth or P5 from tonic)

B to C – 1 semitone = minor 2nd (minor sixth or m6 from tonic).

C to D – 2 semitones = Major 2nd (minor seventh, m7 from tonic)

D to E – 2 semitones = Major 2nd (Octave from tonic)

The intervals from the tonic can be summarized as R, m2, m3, P4, P5, m6, m7, and R(O). A more detailed structural representation of the scale formula and intervals is given below.

R – S – m2 – T – m3 – T – P4 – T – P5 – S – m6 – T – m7 – T – R(O)

Phrygian Mode Notes & Degrees

You had seen the notes of the E Phrygian mode. The scale degree numbers and their names, including the functions, remain the same as those of the major and natural minor scales.

E Phrygian On the Treble and Bass Clef

The notation diagrams of the E Phrygian mode in ascending and descending are placed below, showing its notes on the treble and bass clef.

E Phrygian on Treble Clef in Ascending & Descending

E Phrygian Mode on the Treble Clef

E Phrygian on Bass Clef in Ascending & Descending

E Phrygian Mode on the Bass Clef

Comparing Phrygian to the Major Scale

The Phrygian scale has 4 notes, the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th notes lowered by a semitone, compared to the major scale. Its minor third interval makes it one of the minor modes along with Dorian, Aeolian, and Locrian.

Comparing Phrygian to the Natural Minor Scale

The only difference with the Aeolian mode (the natural minor scale) is in the 2nd note, which is also lowered in the Phrygian scale.

A comparison with the Minor Pentatonic scale [1 b3 4 5 b7] shows that it has all the notes of the minor pentatonic with the same tonic. The minor pentatonic, of course, has the missing 2nd and 6th scale degree notes.

For example, the E minor pentatonic has the notes [E G A B D].

Phrygian Mode Characteristics

What sets Phrygian apart from the other scales is the presence of the b2 note. This note gives its distinct sound. This minor second interval is followed by three whole-tone intervals. The whole tone scale never appears to resolve.

The tritone intervals, which are part of all diatonic major and minor scales, lie between this b2 and degree 5 notes of the Phrygian scale. This makes Phrygian sound dark, evil, unnerving, dramatic, tense, and even creepy but exotic.

It is used in Heavy metal, Hip Hop, and Jazz music.

List of Phrygian Scales

The list of the Phrygian scales, along with their notes, is given in the table below. The scale formula given above will help you in deriving the notes of the other Phrygian scales.

Relative keys – Phrygian and Major

Two scales are said to form a relative pair if they carry the same notes and the key signature. By definition, the mode of any parent scale will form a relative pair with it as the notes of the parent scale are just rearranged in the mode.

The Phrygian mode is formed from the scale degree 3 note of the major scale as the tonic note, which is at the major third interval from the tonic of the major scale. Hence, you need to lower the tonic note of the Phrygian scale by a Major third interval or 4 semitones to get the tonic of the major scale.

  • C Phrygian – Ab Major
  • C# Phrygian – A Major
  • D Phrygian – Bb Major
  • D# Phrygian – B Major
  • E Phrygian – C Major
  • F Phrygian – Db Major
  • F# Phrygian – D Major
  • G Phrygian – Eb Major
  • G# Phrygian – E Major
  • A Phrygian – F Major
  • A# Phrygian – F# Major
  • B Phrygian – G Major

Altered Phrygian scales

The following section discusses the common alterations on the Phrygian scales.

Phrygian Dominant or Phrygian #3

The Phrygian Dominant mode has a raised 3rd compared to the regular Phrygian mode. So the notes of the Phrygian dominant scale are [1 b2 3 4 5 b6 b7]. E Phrygian Dominant scale consists of [E F G# A B C D]. You may observe the following:

  1. The tonic chord is now major.
  2. The interval between scale degree 2 and 3 notes is modified to an Augmented second.
  3. The interval between scale degrees 3 and 4 is reduced to a minor 2nd.
  4. It is the same as the 5th mode of the Harmonic Minor Scale, also known as the Phrygian #3, also known as the Persian scale.

It is frequently used in film music, and this interesting video gives its sound demo.

Double Harmonic Major or Phrygian #3 #7

Also known as the Bhairav Raga, Arabic, and Gypsy major, the scale is uncommon but a beautiful scale with very dark sounds. As indicated by the Phrygian #3 #7 nomenclature, it has a raised 3rd and 7th from the Phrygian scale and a raised 7th compared to the Phrygian Dominant.

The notes of the Phrygian #3 #7 scale are [1 b2 3 4 5 b6 7]. E Phrygian #3 #7 scale consists of [E F G# A B C D#]. Its characteristics are:

  1. The interval between scale degrees 6 and 7 is raised to an Augmented 2nd.
  2. It has two Augmented 2nd intervals. The harmonic Minor scale has one. Hence the name Double Harmonic Major.
  3. It is symmetrical with S – TS – S intervals on both sides of the 4th note.

Some even call it one of the darkest modes.

The Flamenco Mode or Major Phrygian.

In music theory, the Flamenco mode, or the Major Phrygian, has a raised 3rd and 7th but uses the key signature of the corresponding normal Phrygian mode and raises notes on the sheet music by using accidentals. Hence, while E Phrygian in Flamenco music is a major mode but continues to use no accidentals like Normal E Phrygian. It uses 9 notes [E F G G# A B C D D#]. This excellent video explains all the concepts behind the alterations.

Kindly refer to our article on the Flamenco Guitar Techniques, Por Arriba. Por Arriba refers to A minor Flamenco key which is equivalent to the E Phrygian mode. Flamenco uses the Andalucian cadence, which has the chord progression of the first four chords in the Flamenco key in descending order.

Por Arriba, on A minor Flamenco key, uses Am – G7 – F – E chords, with the Roman numeral representation of iv – III7 – II – I. The Roman numeral representation is based on the E Phrygian. As the Andalucian cadence happens to the E chord, it is a major chord due to raised 3rd.

The F chord can be an F Major#11, and E can be E Majb9 or E7.

E Phrygian Mode Guitar Patterns on the Fretboard

Let us now look at the patterns of the E Phrygian on the guitar fretboard, their fingerings, and the guitar tabs.

The complete E Phrygian scale on the entire guitar fretboard (up to the 15th fret) is shown in the diagram below. You can see the entire E Phrygian in a single line from the 2nd fret of the 4th string to the 14th fret.

E Phrygian Scale Up to 15 Fret

Phrygian Mode One Octave Shapes

The fretboard diagrams showing one octave of the E Phrygian with the tonic note on the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th strings are placed below.

E Phrygian Scale - Single Octaves

Phrygian Mode – CAGED Patterns

The below diagrams show the five different scale patterns based on the open chord CAGED system. Note the lowest root note positions of each pattern carefully, as you need to start playing any pattern from this position.

E Phrygian Scale Patterns

1st Pattern

  1. Chord shape based on: E open chord shape.
  2. Pattern lies between the frets: 7th fret to 10th fret.
  3. The number of root notes: Two.
  4. Lowest root note position: 7th fret on the 5th string.
E Phrygian Mode - E Shape

2nd Pattern

  1. Chord shape based on: D open chord shape.
  2. Pattern lies between the frets: 9th fret to 13th fret.
  3. The number of root notes: Three.
  4. Lowest root note position: 12th fret on the 6th string.
E Phrygian Mode - D Shape

3rd Pattern

  1. Chord shape based on: C open chord shape.
  2. Pattern lies between the frets: 12th fret to 15th fret.
  3. The number of root notes: Three.
  4. Lowest root note position: 12th fret on the 6th string.
E Phrygian Mode - C Shape

4th Pattern

  1. Chord shape based on: A open chord shape.
  2. Pattern lies between the frets: 2nd fret to 6th fret.
  3. The number of root notes: Two.
  4. Lowest root note position: 2nd fret on the 4th string.
E Phrygian Mode - A Shape

5th Pattern

  1. Chord shape based on: G open chord shape.
  2. Pattern lies between the frets: 4th fret to 8th fret.
  3. The number of root notes: Two.
  4. Lowest root note position: 7th fret on the 5th string.
E Phrygian Mode - G Shape

Practicing The Scale Patterns

See in detail how to play and practice any scale in our articles on the D Major scale and C major scale.

In summary, For the patterns that span four frets, you can use one finger to play notes on each fret. For example, in the 1st pattern, use

  • index finger for the 7th fret,
  • the middle finger for the 8th fret,
  • the ring finger for the 9th fret, and
  • the pinky finger for the 10th fret.

This has been explained for all the patterns in the table below.

ShapeIndex FingerMiddle FingerRing FingerLittle Finger
EFret 7Fret 8Fret 9Fret 10
DString [3 4] - Fret 9th, String [1 2 5 6] - Fret 10String [3 4] - Fret 10th, String [1 2 5 6] - Fret 11String [3 4] - Fret 11th, String [1 2 5 6] - Fret 12String [3 4] - Fret 12th, String [1 2 5 6] - Fret 13
CFret 12Fret 13Fret 14Fret 15
AString [3 4 5] - 2nd, [1 2 6] - Fret 3rdString [3 4 5] - Fret 3rd, String [1 2 6] - Fret 4thString [3 4 5] - Fret 4th, String [1 2 6] - Fret 5thString [3 4 5] - Fret 5th, String [1 2 6] - Fret 6th
GString 3 - Fret 4, String [1 2 4 5 6] - Fret 5 String 3 - Fret 5, String [1 2 4 5 6] - Fret 6 String 3 - Fret 6, String [1 2 4 5 6] - Fret 7 String 3 - Fret 7, String [1 2 4 5 6] - Fret 8

Harmonization Of The Phrygian Mode

The triads of the Phrygian mode are formed like any other diatonic scale or mode by stacking the intervals of thirds (major or minor) over the root note, known as the tertian harmony.

Triads of the E Phrygian Scale

The chords formed by the harmonization of the E Phrygian scale, their roman numeral designation with respect to the Ionian mode, and the chord qualities are given in the table below.

Scale Degrees1234567
Chord DesignationibIIbIIIivvdimbVIbvii
Chord NamesEmFGAmBdimCDm
Chord QualityminorMajorMajorminordiminishedMajorminor

The following triad chords have resulted from the E Phrygian scale.

  1. Three major chords – bII, bIII, and bVI – Are the F major, G Major, and C Major chords. The bII chord is also known as the Neapolitan chord.
  2. Three minor chords – i, iv, and bvii – The E minor, A minor, and the D minor chord.
  3. One diminished chord – vdim – The B diminished triad, Bdim.

The seven triads, their note names, and their intervals are shown in the table below.

Scale DegreesIntervalsChord NotesChord Name
1R – E – m3 – G – M3 – BE – G – BEm
2R – F – m3 – A – M3 – CF – A – CF
3R – G – m3 – B – M3 – DG – B – DG
4R – A – M3 – C – m3 – EA – C – EAm
5R – B – m3 – D – M3 – FB – D – FBdim
6R – C – m3 – E – m3 – GC – E – GC
7R – D – M3 – F – m3 – AD – F – ADm

7th Chords of the E Phrygian Scale

The seventh chords formed naturally in the E Phrygian scale are

Em7 – Minor 7th Chord – [E G B D],

Fmaj7 Major 7th chord – [F A C E],

G7 Dominant 7 chord – [G B D F],

Am7 – Minor 7th chord – [A C E G],

Bm7b5 – Half Diminished Chord – [B D F A],

CMaj7 – Major 7th chord – [C E G B].

Dm7 – Minor 7th chord – [D F A C],

You can see that the triads and the 7th chords of the Phrygian mode are the same as the C Ionian mode, with different scale degrees and hence a different Roman Numeral Designation.

Which chord progressions can you use the Phrygian scale with?

The note b2 is Phrygian’s distinct note, and it has a minor tonic chord. The chords that contain b2 note are bII, vdim, and bvii.

The chord built on the degree bII of the Phrygian chord is also known as the Neapolitan chord or the Phrygian II Chord. We have a complete article on the Neapolitan chords, their examples and use in major and minor keys, their function as predominant chords, harmonic functions, chord progressions, etc.

i – bII is the most commonly used progression in the Phrygian mode, though you can have

  1. i – II – i – vii.
  2. i – II – III – II.
  3. i – III – vii – II.
  4. i – vii6 – II – III7

Phrygian Compositions and Songs

Some of the compositions and the song in the Phrygian mode are listed below:

  1. “The Sails of Charon” by Scorpions. (B Phrygian).
  2. “Symphony of Destruction” by Megadeth. (E-Phrygian).
  3. “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” by Pink Floyd. (E Phrygian & A Phrygian).
  4. “Harvester of Sorrow” by Metallica. (E-Phrygian).
  5. “Wherever I may Roam” by Metallica. (E-Phrygian).
  6. “Remember Tomorrow” by Iron Maiden. (E-Phrygian).
  7. “Get the Freak On” by Missy Elliot. (F-Phrygian)


We hope our article on the Phrygian mode has provided enough insights to try it out in your music. Do write in the comment section below if you need any further clarifications or if you want to share your experience with the Phrygian mode.

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