Phrygian mode

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The Phrygian mode (pronounced /ˈfrɪiən/ ) can refer to three different musical modes: the ancient Greek tonos or harmonia sometimes called Phrygian, formed on a particular set of octave species or scales; the Medieval Phrygian mode, and the modern conception of the Phrygian mode as a diatonic scale, based on the latter.


Phrygian mode

Ancient Greek Phrygian

The Phrygian tonos or harmonia is named after the ancient kingdom of Phrygia in Anatolia. The octave species (scale) underlying the ancient-Greek Phrygian tonos (in its diatonic genus) corresponds to the medieval and modern Dorian mode.

In Greek music theory, the harmonia given this name was based on a tonos, in turn based on a scale or octave species built from a tetrachord which, in its diatonic genus, consisted of a series of rising intervals of a whole tone, followed by a semitone, followed by a whole tone.

Phrygian mode

In the chromatic genus, this is a minor third followed by two semitones.

Phrygian mode

In the enharmonic genus, it is a major third and two quarter tones.

Phrygian mode

A diatonic-genus octave species built upon D is roughly equivalent to playing all the white notes on a piano keyboard from D to D:

Phrygian mode

This scale, combined with a set of characteristic melodic behaviours and associated ethoi, constituted the harmonia which was given the ethnic name "Phrygian", after the "unbounded, ecstatic peoples of the wild, mountainous regions of the Anatolian highlands" ( Solomon 1984 , 249). This ethnic name was also confusingly applied by theorists such as Cleonides to one of thirteen chromatic transposition levels, regardless of the intervallic makeup of the scale ( Solomon 1984 , 244–246).

Medieval Phrygian mode

The early Catholic Church developed a system of eight musical modes that medieval music scholars gave names drawn from the ones used to describe the ancient Greek harmoniai. The name "Phrygian" was applied to the third of these eight church modes, the authentic mode on E, described as the diatonic octave extending from E to the E an octave higher and divided at B, therefore beginning with a semitone-tone-tone-tone pentachord, followed by a semitone-tone-tone tetrachord ( Powers 2001 ):

Phrygian mode

The ambitus of this mode extended one tone lower, to D. The sixth degree, C, which is the tenor of the corresponding third psalm tone, was regarded by most theorists as the most important note after the final, though the fifteenth-century theorist Johannes Tinctoris implied that the fourth degree, A, could be so regarded instead ( Powers 2001 ).

Placing the two tetrachords together, and the single tone at bottom of the scale produces the Hypophrygian mode (below Phrygian):

Phrygian mode

Modern Phrygian mode

In modern western music (from the 18th century onward), the Phrygian mode is related to the modern natural minor scale, also known as the Aeolian mode, but with the second scale degree lowered by a semitone, making it a minor second above the tonic, rather than a major second.

Phrygian mode

The following is the Phrygian mode starting on E, or E Phrygian, with corresponding tonal scale degrees illustrating how the modern major mode and natural minor mode can be altered to produce the Phrygian mode:

E Phrygian

Therefore, the Phrygian mode consists of: root, minor second, minor third, perfect fourth, perfect fifth, minor sixth, minor seventh, and octave. Alternatively, it can be written as the pattern

half, whole, whole, whole, half, whole, whole

In contemporary jazz, the Phrygian mode is used over chords and sonorities built on the mode, such as the sus4(9) chord (see Suspended chord), which is sometimes called a Phrygian suspended chord. For example, a soloist might play an E Phrygian over an Esus4(9) chord (E–A–B–D–F).

Phrygian dominant scale

A Phrygian dominant scale is produced by raising the third scale degree of the mode:

E Phrygian dominant

The Phrygian dominant is also known as the Spanish gypsy scale , because it resembles the scales found in flamenco music (see Flamenco mode).[ citation needed ] It is the fifth mode of the harmonic minor scale. Flamenco music uses the Phrygian scale together with a modified scale resembling the Arab maqām Ḥijāzī ( Katz 2001 ) (like the Phrygian dominant but with a major sixth scale degree),[ citation needed ] and a bimodal configuration using both major and minor second and third scale degrees ( Katz 2001 ).


Use of the Phrygian mode on A in Respighi's Trittico Botticelliano (Botticelli Triptych, 1927) (Benward and Saker 2009, 244)
Play (help*info) Respighi Trittico Botticelliano.png
Use of the Phrygian mode on A in Respighi's Trittico Botticelliano (Botticelli Triptych, 1927) ( Benward and Saker 2009 , 244) Loudspeaker.svg Play  

Ancient Greek

Medieval and Renaissance



Modern classical music

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