Phrygian Scale Guitar: The Ultimate Guide – Learn How To Play The Phrygian Mode On Your Guitar

On this page you’ll find a complete guide to playing the Phrygian scale (also known as the Phrygian mode or Phrygian modal scale) on guitar. We start with a basic Phrygian scale guitar pattern, then introduce additional fretboard patterns that will allow you to play the scale all over the guitar neck.

What you’ll learn

  • The basic Phrygian scale guitar pattern.
  • Four more Phrygian modal scale fretboard patterns.
  • Why learning more than one scale pattern is beneficial.
  • How the Phrygian modal scale is constructed.
  • When to use the Phrygian scale

Let’s get started…

Page Index

About The Phrygian Scale

The Phrygian scale is the third mode of a major scale, and is also known as the Phrygian modal scale (see this page: Guitar Modes for information about modal scales). The Phrygian scale is named after the ancient kingdom of Phrygia (see Wikipedia), which is why it is capitalized.

The Phrygian modal scale uses the same notes as that of a standard major scale, but starts and ends on the third note of the scale. This is explained in the examples below:

  • Notes in a C major scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C
  • Notes in an E Phrygian modal scale: E, F, G, A, B, C, D, E (i.e. the same notes as in the C scale above, but starting and ending on the 3rd notes)

Another example:

  • Notes in a G major scale: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G
  • Notes in a B Phrygian modal scale: B, C, D, E, F#, G, A, B (i.e. the same notes as the G scale above, but starting and ending on the 3rd notes)

The third note of a Phrygian scale is a minor 3rd from the tonic note, giving the scale a minor tonality.

The Phrygian modal scale has a subtle ‘Spanish’ sound, and can be used over Spanish / Latin chord progressions. Its effect is less marked than that of the other scales in our Spanish Guitar Scales page.

The Phrygian scale can also be used to provide a subtly ‘exotic’ sound in metal / rock solos.

If you have any questions about anything covered on this page then feel free to ask them in the comments section below; we’ll be happy to help!

Basic Phrygian Guitar Pattern

Get to know the sound of the Phrygian scale by playing the pattern below. Further down the page you’ll find four additional Phrygian patterns and tabs.

Phrygian Scale Pattern 1

The fingering shown in the diagram above can be used to play a Phrygian scale in any key.

Play it at the 8th fret for a 2-octave C Phrygian scale, as shown in the TAB below. (At the 8th fret the green tonic notes as shown on the diagram will be positioned over ‘C’ notes on the fretboard.)

2-Octave C Phrygian Scale TAB (Up & Down)

C Phrygian Scale TAB 2 Octave

You may have noticed that the scale pattern above includes 2 additional notes that extend the scale beyond the second octave.

Scale diagrams often include notes that are either above or below the tonic notes in this way. This is because you’ll usually be using the scale while improvising, so knowing which extra notes are available in that fretboard position can be useful.

If you just want to play the scale then start and stop on the green tonic notes.

2-Octave G Phrygian Scale TAB (Up & Down)

Here’s the same Phrygian scale pattern being used to play a G Phrygian scale:

G Phrygian Scale TAB 2 Octave

All Phrygian Scale Patterns

The diagram below shows the first Phrygian scale pattern together with four more patterns. We’ll take a closer look at each of the new patterns below.

Phrygian Scale Guitar Patterns

The basic Phrygian scale pattern (pattern 1) can be extended up and down the guitar fretboard using the additional scale patterns. You’ll see how to join the patterns up in order to create longer lines further down the page.

A tab example has been provided for each of the new patterns. The tab shows how the pattern can be used to play either a 1 octave or a 2 octave C Phrygian scale. (Patterns 1 & 5 span 2 octaves, the others a single octave.)

Remember that the scale patterns may contain notes that extend the scale, either upwards or downwards. If you just want to play a single octave, play from a green note to the next green note, as shown in the tabs below.

Phrygian Scale Pattern 2

Phrygian Scale Pattern 2

Play this pattern in 10th position (i.e. position your hand so that the index finger is ready to play at the 10th fret), starting and stopping on the green notes, for a 1-octave C Phrygian scale:

C Phrygian TAB Shape 2

Phrygian Scale Pattern 3

Phrygian Scale Pattern 3

The TAB below shows how pattern 3 can be used to play a 1-octave C Phrygian scale in open position. (You could play the same scale an octave higher by using the pattern starting on the C at the 15th fret of the 5th string.)

C Phrygian TAB Shape 3

Phrygian Scale Pattern 4

Phrygian Scale Pattern 4

Play this pattern at the 3rd fret for a C Phrygian scale, as shown in the TAB below:

C Phrygian TAB Shape 4

Phrygian Scale Pattern 5

Phrygian Scale Pattern

Playing this pattern in 5th position will result in a C Phrygian scale, as shown in the TAB below:

C Phrygian Guitar TAB Shape 5

Why learn more than one pattern for each scale?

Guitarists learn more than one scale pattern for each scale so that they can play the scale in different octaves and at different positions on the guitar neck.

For example, if you only knew the basic Phrygian scale pattern (pattern 1) and were improvising over a chord progression in C, then you’d be limited to playing in 8th position (i.e. with your index finger positioned over the 8th fret.)

If you also knew Phrygian scale pattern no. 3, then you could also improvise using a C Phrygian scale in open position, or in 12th / 13th position (the pattern requires changing position). This would give you access to several more notes.

Joining Multiple Phrygian Scale Guitar Patterns

When playing with scales, you can extend your lines by linking together adjacent scale patterns. Below you’ll find a TAB example of this, with suggested fingerings.

3 Octave Phrygian Scale Using Multiple Patterns

G Phrygian TAB 3 Octave

This is just one of many ways you can join Phrygian scale patterns up to make longer lines.

Experiment linking each of the five patterns with its neighboring patterns to create your own extended lines.

Notes In The Phrygian Scale

The Phrygian scale comprises the following notes / intervals:

  • Tonic note
  • Minor 2nd
  • Minor 3rd
  • Perfect 4th
  • Perfect 5th
  • Minor 6th
  • Minor 7th

Its scale spelling is: 1, b2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7

Therefore, the notes in a C Phrygian scale are:

  • Tonic note = C
  • Minor 2nd = D flat
  • Minor 3rd = E flat
  • Perfect 4th = F
  • Perfect 5th = G
  • Minor 6th = A flat
  • Minor 7th = B flat

… and the notes in G Phrygian scale are:

  • Tonic note = G
  • Minor 2nd = A flat
  • Minor 3rd = B flat
  • Perfect 4th = C
  • Perfect 5th = D
  • Minor 6th = E flat
  • Minor 7th = F

How To Use Phrygian Scales

The Phrygian scale has a minor tonality and can be used to improvise over minor chord sequences.

The Phrygian scale contains the same notes as the major scale with a tonic note a major third lower (e.g. an E Phrygian scale contains the same notes as a C major scale, but starting on E rather than on C).

Because of this, the Phrygian scale can be used to solo over chord progressions than contain chords that are diatonic to the major scale a major third lower .

For example, you could use the E Phrygian scale to solo over the following chord progression, because all of the chords are diatonic to C major.

||: Em /  F / | G / / /  | G / Dm / | Em / / /  | Em / F / | C / / / | G / Dm / | Em / / / :||

The Phrygian scale has a Spanish sound, and can be used over Spanish-influenced chord progessions, such as the one below. A solo using the E Phrygian scale sounds good over the E major chords in the progression despite the scale’s minor tonality.

||: G / / / | F / / / | E / / / | E / / / :||

The scale can also be used in metal / rock, and can bring a Spanish / exotic sound to your solos. Try using a G Phrygian modal scale over the chord progression below:

||: G5 / / / | Ab5 / / / | G5 / / / | F5 / Ab5 / :||

Discover More Guitar Scales At Guitar Command

Visit the following pages on Guitar Command to find out more about guitar scales and how to use them in your own playing:

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