Eric Bourassa runs a music school by day and shreds guitar by night. You can find him at his Fort Worth website, where he helps guitarists.
There are two ways to think about this scale, so we'll discuss both. Personally, I think about each of these things together when using Phrygian dominant in my soloing and songwriting:
- Phrygian scale with a raised third.
- The fifth mode of harmonic minor.
To create Phrygian dominant, simply raise the third a half step- 1 b2 3 4 5 6 b7 (Ex. 2)
Notice that you have a dominant seventh chord outlined (1 3 5 b7) but it retains the key element of what defines the Phrygian mode, the b2. Hence, Phrygian dominant.
We could then map this all out on the fretboard, OR we can save ourselves a lot of work by relating this mode to the harmonic minor scale.
Harmonic minor: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7
Now build the scale starting from the 5 (where the dominant chord is built) so that your fifth is now the root.
5 = 1 b6 = b2 7= 3 1= 4 2= 5 b3= b6 4= b7
A harmonic minor - A B C D E F G#
E Phrygian dominant - E F G# A B C D
You can see that A harmonic minor and E Phrygian dominant contain the same notes!
So here's how we apply this:
- If you're learning a song that is in E Phrygian dominant, add 5 frets and solo using the harmonic minor scale (A in this case).
- Songwriting - If you wanted to write a song in E Phrygian dominant, keep E as the central tonality throughout the song and use chords from A harmonic minor.
- The blues - the Phrygian dominant scale is great over the V chord in a blues progression.
E Phrygian dominant = A harmonic minor
A Phrygian dominant = D harmonic minor
D Phrygian dominant = G harmonic minor
G Phrygian dominant = C harmonic minor
C Phrygian dominant = F harmonic minor
Again, notice that the corresponding Harmonic minor scale is up a fourth (or 5 frets) from the Phrygian dominant's root.
It can take some time to fully wrap your mind around the concept if you're not really comfortable with modes, but practice building the scale from various positions on the neck and matching it up with its parent harmonic minor scale on a regular basis, and you'll be blazing like Yngwie before you know it.
About the Author:
Eric Bourassa teaches rock guitar at his studio in Fort Worth, TX and plays Mario games with his wife and 3 children far too often.