Dating back in name at least as far as ancient Greek civilization, in modern flavors the Phrygian modes strongest tendency is to create the Spanish atmosphere with a hint of minor tonality. Lets go there now. Example 1.
Sound Spanish flavored? Lets find the half steps within the minor Phrygian mode and look at the intervalic properties of this important modal color. Here is a chart looking at scale degrees, intervals from the root and the pitches created from the root A. Example 1a.
|scale degree / interval||1 / root||2 / major 2nd||3 / minor 3rd||4 / perfect 4th||5 / perfect 5th||6 / major 6th||7 / minor 7th||8 / octave|
|pitches of Phrygian mode||C||Db||Eb||F||G||Ab||Bb||C|
The Phrygian mode is unique among diatonic colors in that the first interval used to create this color is a half step, C / Db. The root retains its position as the center of the tonal gravity of the color but in a rather new way. So here we have a one time situation whereby the gravitational pull normally associated with the half step of the important leading tone is created from above, moving down by half step, not below, the usual ascending half step resolution associated with harmonic minor and the major scale. Here is a common diatonic cadential motion using this unique Phrygian property. Example 1b.
|C minor||Db major||Eb maj Db maj||C minor|
An all to common practice with the above idea is to make all of the chords in the above idea major triads, while retaining the minor color of melodies supported by these harmonies. We see this sort of alteration allot in American music, especially in the blues, where the changes are major while the melody is technically minor, i.e., minor 3rd in the scale. Here is the idea of example 4b from above rewritten with this duality between chords and melody. Example 1c.
|C major||Db major||Eb maj Db maj||C major|
Combining the two harmonic possibilities from examples 4b and 4c in one phrase is also fairly common. Here is the above idea starting in the diatonic minor color and ending up in the major tonality. Note the E natural in the last bar of the next example. Called the "Picardy third" by theorists, it is a Baroque period (1600 to 1750) harmonic technique, whereby the final chord becomes major in minor tonality tunes, to emulate the bringing forth of the light after the dark? Example 1d.
|C minor||Db major||Eb maj Db maj||C major|
In improvisation, the Phrygian color can also be used effectively over the bluesy dominant seventh sharp nine chord when resolving by a fourth to the minor tonic. Example 2.
|G 7#9||C min 9|
Cool tunes using aspects of the Phrygian color? Find a recording of Chick Corea's "Spain" and explore the magic he creates in this potentially important color. Also, the intro of the Beatles tune "Bungalow Bill" uses a classical type Spanish / Phrygian idea to get things started. There's lots, Flamenco guitar players such as Carlos Montoya can often be found at the "Phrygian cafe." Explore.
Here is a chart spelling out the Phrygian formula as projected from each of the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale. Example 3.
Here are the above groups of pitches written out in standard notation. Example 4.
Got these Phrygian scales under your fingers? Any of the major scale / Ionian modes under your fingers contain this group of pitches n'est pas?
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"I have often regretted my speech, never my silence." Xenocrates (396-314 B.C.)