Modes are some of the most unique scales used in modern music. All of our basic seven modes are derived from the key of C Major. Learning your modes can help you to improve both your improvisational skills as well as your song writing skills.
In this lesson, we will be discussing one of the modes that is most popular within heavy metal music; the Phrygian guitar mode.
Like all modes, the Phrygian mode contains absolutely no sharps or flats (accidentals). This is because it is derived from a scale degree of the C Major scale. The scale degree that the Phrygian mode is derived from is the mediant, or the third scale degree (third note within the scale).
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The main characteristic of the Phrygian mode is that it sounds almost like a harmonic minor scale. This is why it is so popular within heavy metal music. It can give a medieval or classical sound to a piece while staying within the basic context of a C Major.
This is a unique property as the C Major scale has no accidentals and the harmonic minor has a raised seventh letter name (leading tone). The properties are derived from the Phrygian modes starting place; E. The Phrygian mode is an E scale with no flats or sharps. The qualities of playing from E to E have a naturally minor feel.
The notes within the Phrygian mode are E, F, G, A, B, C, and D. The first thing that you should do when learning the Phrygian mode is to allow yourself to become comfortable with it. Play it along to a metronome. Try to develop a feel for the mode itself. This means don’t try to play it as a C Major scale in a different order; each mode has its own flavor.
When you are comfortable with the Phrygian guitar mode, try creating some simple patterns with it. Yet again use your metronome to keep yourself in time. Run up and down the scale and see which notes fit best together. Try creating guitar triads using each scale degree. Allow yourself to get a full feel for how the notes relate.
Once you are confident with the mode and you have a feel for all of the notes, try improvising. At first, go without a backing tracking. When you do use a backing track, use one that is in C Major. Start off by using your patterns that you have created. This will allow you to keep within the context of the Phrygian mode instead of slipping back into playing the C Major scale.
Practicing is key to understanding the modes; take a block of time each day and set it aside for working with the modes. As soon as you feel comfortable enough, try using them in an improvisation with other musicians. Remember, the modes are best used with C Major as they are built from it. Have fun, and good luck.
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