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.

In the theory of Western music, a mode is a type of musical scale coupled with a set of characteristic melodic behaviors. Musical modes have been a part of western musical thought since the Middle Ages, and were inspired by the theory of ancient Greek music. The name mode derives from the Latin word modus, "measure, standard, manner, way, size, limit of quantity, method".

In early Greek music theory, an octave species is a sequence of incomposite intervals making up a complete octave. The concept was also important in Medieval and Renaissance music theory.

In western music theory, a diatonic scale is a heptatonic scale that includes five whole steps and two half steps (semitones) in each octave, in which the two half steps are separated from each other by either two or three whole steps, depending on their position in the scale. This pattern ensures that, in a diatonic scale spanning more than one octave, all the half steps are maximally separated from each other.


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.

Phrygia ancient kingdom in Anatolia

In classical antiquity, Phrygia was a kingdom in the west central part of Anatolia, in what is now Asian Turkey, centered on the Sangarios River. After its conquest, it became a region of the great empires of the time.

Anatolia Asian part of Turkey

Anatolia, also known as Asia Minor, Asian Turkey, the Anatolian peninsula or the Anatolian plateau, is the westernmost protrusion of Asia, which makes up the majority of modern-day Turkey. The region is bounded by the Black Sea to the north, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, the Armenian Highlands to the east and the Aegean Sea to the west. The Sea of Marmara forms a connection between the Black and Aegean seas through the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits and separates Anatolia from Thrace on the European mainland.

Dorian mode or Doric mode can refer to three very different but interrelated subjects: one of the Ancient Greek harmoniai, one of the medieval musical modes, or, most commonly, one of the modern modal diatonic scales, corresponding to the white notes from D to D, or any transposition of this.

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.

In music theory, a tetrachord is a series of four notes separated by three smaller intervals. In traditional music theory, a tetrachord always spanned the interval of a perfect fourth, a 4:3 frequency proportion—but in modern use it means any four-note segment of a scale or tone row, not necessarily related to a particular tuning system.

Major second musical interval

In Western music theory, a major second is a second spanning two semitones. A second is a musical interval encompassing two adjacent staff positions. For example, the interval from C to D is a major second, as the note D lies two semitones above C, and the two notes are notated on adjacent staff positions. Diminished, minor and augmented seconds are notated on adjacent staff positions as well, but consist of a different number of semitones.

Semitone musical interval

A semitone, also called a half step or a half tone, is the smallest musical interval commonly used in Western tonal music, and it is considered the most dissonant when sounded harmonically. It is defined as the interval between two adjacent notes in a 12-tone scale. For example, C is adjacent to C; the interval between them is a semitone.

Phrygian mode

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

Minor third musical interval

In the music theory of Western culture, a minor third is a musical interval that encompasses three half steps, or semitones. Staff notation represents the minor third as encompassing three staff positions. The minor third is one of two commonly occurring thirds. It is called minor because it is the smaller of the two: the major third spans an additional semitone. For example, the interval from A to C is a minor third, as the note C lies three semitones above A, and (coincidentally) there are three staff positions from A to C. Diminished and augmented thirds span the same number of staff positions, but consist of a different number of semitones. The minor third is a skip melodically.

Phrygian mode

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

Major third musical interval

In classical music from Western culture, a third is a musical interval encompassing three staff positions, and the major third is a third spanning four semitones. Along with the minor third, the major third is one of two commonly occurring thirds. It is qualified as major because it is the larger of the two: the major third spans four semitones, the minor third three. For example, the interval from C to E is a major third, as the note E lies four semitones above C, and there are three staff positions from C to E. Diminished and augmented thirds span the same number of staff positions, but consist of a different number of semitones.

Quarter tone Musical interval

A quarter tone is a pitch halfway between the usual notes of a chromatic scale or an interval about half as wide as a semitone, which itself is half a whole tone. Quarter tone divides the octave by 50 cents each, and has 24 different pitches.

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 , 244–46).

Ethos Greek word for "character"

Ethos is a Greek word meaning "character" that is used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology. The Greeks also used this word to refer to the power of music to influence emotions, behaviors, and even morals. Early Greek stories of Orpheus exhibit this idea in a compelling way. The word's use in rhetoric is closely based on the Greek terminology used by Aristotle in his concept of the three artistic proofs or modes of persuasion.

Cleonides is the author of a Greek treatise on music theory titled Εἰσαγωγὴ ἁρμονική Eisagōgē harmonikē. The date of the treatise, based on internal evidence, can be established only to the broad period between the 3rd century BCE and the 4th century CE; however, treatises titled eisagōgē generally began to appear only in the 1st century BCE, which seems the most likely period for Cleonides' work.

In music, transposition refers to the process or operation of moving a collection of notes up or down in pitch by a constant interval.

The shifting of a melody, a harmonic progression or an entire musical piece to another key, while maintaining the same tone structure, i.e. the same succession of whole tones and semitones and remaining melodic intervals.

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). 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 (like the Phrygian dominant but with a major sixth scale degree), 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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The Hypophrygian mode, literally meaning "below Phrygian ", is a musical mode or diatonic scale in medieval chant theory, the fourth mode of church music. This mode is the plagal counterpart of the authentic third mode, which was called Phrygian. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance this mode was described in two ways: the diatonic scale from B to B an octave above, divided at the mode final E ; and as a mode with final E and ambitus from the A below to the C above. The note A above the final had an important melodic function. The melodic range of the ecclesiastical Hypophrygian mode therefore goes from the perfect fourth or fifth below the tonic to the perfect fifth or minor sixth above.

Hypodorian mode plagal Gregorian mode

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Musical system of ancient Greece

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