• Turn Heads With These Exotic Chords And Progressions From The Phrygian Mode

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Piano,Theory

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    There are exotic chords and progressions from the Phrygian mode that any serious pianist must not be without.

    Although modes are obsolete and have been replaced by the concept of key 400 years ago, they are still used in modern music in a variety of ways; especially in gospel and jazz music.

    If you’re familiar with modes, then the term Phrygian should be familiar to you. Nevertheless, we’ll start out by refreshing our minds on the Phrygian mode.

    Ready? Go!

    A Quick Review On The Phrygian Mode

    There’s no better way to start out than talking about modes briefly. Therefore, permit me to refresh your mind on modes before we proceed.

    A Short Note On Modes

    Before what we now know as key came to be, an ancient system of modes were in use.

    Every white note on the piano has a mode associated with it and modes are basically played by starting and ending on a given white note.

    C to C:

    …is the Ionian mode.

    D to D:

    …is the Dorian mode.

    E to E:

    …is the Phrygian mode.

    F to F:

    …is the Lydian mode.

    G to G:

    …is the Mixolydian mode.

    A to A:

    …is the Aeolian mode.

    B to B:

    …is the Locrian mode.

    A lot of what we play in the major key is associated with the Ionian mode:

    …therefore, going beyond the Ionian mode into exploring other modes usually leads to the realization of exotic chords and progressions.

    The Phrygian Mode — Explained

    Although there are seven modes, our focus in this lesson is on the Phrygian mode:

    …which is formed by playing all white notes from E to E.

    Due to the fact that E:

    …is the third tone in the key of C major:

    …the Phrygian mode is associated with the third tone of the major scale/major key.

    Attention: The first note of the Phrygian mode is always considered as the third tone of the major scale.

    In the formation of the F Phrygian scale, the first tone (which is F):

    …is considered as the third tone in a particular key and that is the key of Db major:

    So, using the knowledge of the Db major scale, we can figure out the rest of the tones of the F Phrygian scale:

    …which is basically the Db major scale:

    …played from F to F:

    “Here Are All The Phrygian Scales On The Keyboard…”

    C Phrygian scale:

    C# Phrygian scale:

    D Phrygian scale:

    D# Phrygian scale:

    E Phrygian scale:

    F Phrygian scale:

    F# Phrygian scale:

    G Phrygian scale:

    G# Phrygian scale:

    A Phrygian scale:

    A# Phrygian scale:

    B Phrygian scale:

    Now that we’ve refreshed our minds on the Phrygian mode, let’s go ahead and explore its exotic chords and progressions.

    Chords Of The Phrygian Mode

    Following the traditional principles of chord formation, we can form triads, seventh, and extended chords using the Phrygian mode as a scale reference. However, we’ll limit our chord formation in this lesson to triads.

    Transposing the E Phrygian mode:

    …to C:

    …produces the C phrygian scale:

    …which looks like the Ab major scale:

    …starting and ending on C:

    So, keep in mind that you’ll find all the triads in the key of Ab major in the C Phrygian scale.

    “Using The C Phrygian Scale, Here Are The Triads…”

    On the first tone (which is C):

    …is the C minor triad:

    On the second tone (which is Db):

    …is the Db major triad:

    On the third tone (which is Eb):

    …is the Eb major triad:

    On the fourth tone (which is F):

    …is the F minor triad:

    On the fifth tone (which is G):

    …is the G diminished triad:

    On the sixth tone (which is Ab):

    …is the Ab major triad:

    On the seventh tone (which is Bb):

    …is the Bb minor triad:

    Altogether, here are the triads derived from the Phrygian scale:

    The C minor triad

    The Db major triad

    The Eb major triad

    The F minor triad

    The G diminished triad

    The Ab major triad

    The Bb minor triad

    Using the triads above (derived from the Phrygian mode), Phrygian chord progressions can be formed in any key.

    Final Words

    Using the chords and progressions covered in this lesson, I’m doubly sure that you can create a fanciful ending to your songs

    For gospel musicians, you can hear a Phrygian chord progression in Tye Tribett’s Champion in the key of D major:

    Our God is the awesome God
    There’s none like you
    With him we win
    He’s our champion

    There’s a “3-2-1” Phrygian progression. Using the D Phrygian mode:

    …here’s the progression…

    The 3-chord:

    The 2-chord:

    The 1-chord:

    I’m sure you enjoyed this lesson and I can’t wait to be back to further this discussion in another lesson.

    Thanks for reading.

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.



    { 6 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Godwin Kayode

    Wow! Thank you sir for such an enlightening article.


    2 Chuku Onyemachi

    You’re welcome, Kayode.


    3 Papa

    If the one chord in the Phrygian mode is a minor, how come the chord in the last section – the final triad of the 3 2.1 progression – is D major, featuring the F sharp? Thank you for your helpful attention.


    4 Gideon

    Wow , really powerful, but for example if am playing on Cmajor, does it mean that I can play ‘any kind’ of progression on C phrygian to end my song or to create a turnaround?


    5 Drew

    When listing triads in the C phry mode you correctly say f minor but incorrectly display a F major chord. I understand modes and this is good info but I was hoping for something a little more advanced regarding this mode. Such as key changes to or from this mode and some example applications. The best song change keys IMO. like c major scale chords with c minor scale melodies …then switching to F phry mode or something idk…just saying but ty :)


    6 Chuku Onyemachi

    Thank you Drew, for pointing that out (the A instead of Ab.)

    Sure we can take this idea even further from what we’ve covered in this lesson into the application in songs and I’ll consider doing that very soon. However, just know that playing C major scale chords with C minor scale melodies is a bit alien from the use of modes. If you are in the key of C major and would want to play C minor melodies, you may have to consider switching to the C Aeolian mode and borrowing chords from there — instead of playing chords in the key of C major.

    Thanks again for pointing that out!


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