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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 octave species or scales; the Medieval Phrygian mode, and the modern conception of the Phrygian mode as a diatonic scale, based on the latter. It is also known in Arabic and in the Middle East as the Kurd mode.


Ancient Greek Phrygian mode

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 (in the chromatic genus, this was a minor third followed by two semitones, and in the enharmonic, a major third and two quarter tones). An octave species was then built upon two of these tetrachords separated by a whole tone. This is equivalent to playing all the white notes on a piano keyboard from D to D:

D E F G | A B C D

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 makup of the scale (Solomon 1984, 244–46).

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): E F G A B + B C D E

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):

G | A B C D | (D) E F G

Modern Phrygian mode

Modern Phrygian modal scale on C About this sound Play .

In modern music (from the 18th century onward), the Phrygian mode is related to the modern natural minor musical mode, also known as the Aeolian mode: the Phrygian scale differs in its second scale degree, which is a semitone lower than that of the Aeolian.

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
Mode: E F G A B C D E
Major: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
Minor: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

Modern uses of the Phrygian mode

Phrygian dominant

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

E Phrygian dominant
Mode: E F G A B C D E
Major: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1
Minor: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1

The Phrygian dominant is also known as the Spanish gypsy scale, because it resembles the scales found in flamenco music (see Flamenco mode). 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).

The Phrygian Mode in Jazz

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).

Examples of Jazz compositions using the Phrygian mode include "Ole" by John Coltrane, "Bemsha Swing," by Thelonious Monk and Denzil Best, "La Fiesta" by Chick Corea, "Masqualero" by Wayne Shorter, "Little One" by Herbie Hancock and "Solea" by Gil Evans (Pelletier-Bacquaert [n.d.]).


Medieval and Renaissance

  • The Roman chant variant of the Requiem introit "Rogamus te" is in the (authentic) Phrygian mode, or 3rd tone (Karp, Fitch, and Smallman 2001, §1).
  • The following compositions of Josquin are written in the Phrygian mode:




See also


Further reading

  • Tilton, Mary C. 1989. "The Influence of Psalm Tone and Mode on the Structure of the Phrygian Toccatas of Claudio Merulo". Theoria 4:106–22. ISSN 0040-5817

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Phrygian mode". Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.

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