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.
Posted on Nov 11, 2015 08:24 am
The Phrygian dominant scale is used extensively in metal and shred guitar, but a lot of musicians do not a) understand how it works, or b) use it at all. There's a lot to be left on the table if you are not utilizing this scale in your playing, where you can easily achieve a dark, Eastern-inspired feel.
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.
Let's first review the Phrygian scale - if a natural minor scale's intervals are counted as 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7, then the Phrygian mode's intervals are 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7. Play a minor scale, then play the Phrygian scale starting from the same root to contrast their flavor (Ex. 1).
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 Aharmonic 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 Aharmonic minor.
The blues - the Phrygian dominant scale is great over the V chord in a blues progression.
Here is a key to help you match up Phrygian dominant with its parent harmonic minor scale:
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. www.fortworthrockguitarlessons.com