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In this guitar lesson we are going to learn how the Phrygian mode is made, a common guitar scale shape for this mode, and what notes in this scale give it it’s unique sound. The Phrygian mode is considered a minor scale so it will be a bit darker sounding. It also has a kind of Spanish sound or flare to it. If you are not familiar with the major scale and how it is made, you should go check out the lesson Understand The Major Scale. We have provided you with diagrams of both of the scales that we will be referencing in this lesson.
Let’s start with a regular A major scale and alter just a few notes to turn it in to an A Phrygian scale. The A major scale is spelled 1A 2B 3C# 4D 5E 6F# 7G#. Check out the diagram of the A major scale for a reference. In order to make any major scale into a Phrygian scale all you need to do is lower the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th scale degrees one half step each. Lower the 2nd, 3rd, 6th, and 7th scale degrees of an A major scale and you would end up with an A Phrygian scale, spelled, 1A, 2Bb, 3C, 4D, 5E, 6F, 7G.
You can also think about the Phrygian mode as starting on the 3rd note of any major scale. Let’s use the key of F major for this example. The F major scale is spelled 1F 2G 3A 4Bb 5C 6D 7E. Start on the 3rd scale degree of the F major scale. This is an A note. Play the notes in the F major scale starting on that A all the way up to another A one octave higher. This would be an A Phrygian scale. You can choose to think about the Phrygian mode in which ever of these two ways works best for you. The important part is to start recognizing the sound of this mode and expressing it in your playing. Mess around with the shape that we have supplied for you and get the shape under your fingers and the sound in your head.
Now let’s take a look at which notes in the Phrygian scale give it it’s unique sound. The 1st degree, or root of the scale, helps to lock the listener in to sound of the Phrygian mode. The 2nd really give the Phrygian mode some of it’s distinct sound while the 3rd gives it it’s minor quality. Trilling from the 1st to the second scale degree really brings out the Spanish sound of the Phrygian scale.
Try recording an A minor or an A7 chord and then improvising with your A Phrygian scale over the chords. If you don’t have a way to record the chords, get a friend to play them for you. Try to become familiar with what each scale degree sounds like over these chords. If you like this sound, go ahead and learn some of the other shapes for the Phrygian scale on the guitar. It might be nice for you to learn some minor 7 arpeggios to throw in along the Phrygian scale.