In essence a minor color, the Phrygian modes strongest tendency is to create the "Spanish" atmosphere. Lets go there now. Example 1.
Getting a sense of the Spanish flavor? The Phrygian color is at the core of the Flamenco sounds and styles which originated in Spain. Lets find the half steps within the mostly minor Phrygian mode and look at the intervalic properties of this important modal color. Here is a chart looking at scale degrees and intervals of this ancient color. Example 2.
|scale degree / interval||1 / root||2 / minor 2nd||3 / minor 3rd||4 / perfect 4th||5 / perfect 5th||6 / major 6th||7 / minor 7th||8 / octave|
The Phrygian mode is unique among diatonic colors in that the first interval used to create this color is a half step or minor 2nd, A to Bb. The root retains its position as the center of the tonal gravity of the color but in a rather unique 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 the major scale and other groups. Here is a common diatonic cadential motion using this unique Phrygian property. Example 3.
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 a lot in American music, especially in the blues, where the changes are major while the melody is emotionally and theoretically shaded minor. Here is the idea of example 3 from above rewritten with this duality between chords and melody. Example 4.
Combining the two harmonic possibilities from examples 3 and 4 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 G# 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 5.
In improvising, the Phrygian color can also be used effectively over the bluesy dominant 7th sharp nine chord, either in a resolving manner as in the idea which follows or in a nor resolving manner such as in a vamp. Example 6.
|E 7#9||E 7#9||A min 7||A 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 ancient 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 often hang at the Phrygian cafe. Explore. Click Phrygian mode for more ideas on this important color.
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"Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they're yours." Richard Bach