Ritchie Blackmore - E Phrygian Dominant Scale Lick

This article and video lesson explores Ritchie Blackmore's use of E Phrygian Dominant on Rainbow's "Gates of Babylon."

Ultimate Guitar
Welcome to my 100 guitarists project! I've made a list of over 100 guitar players in 4 main styles - blues, jazz, rock and country. I'm going to do 2 short (5-10 minute) videos for each player, where I'll demonstrate and explain 2 licks that I learned from them.

In this installment, I'll discuss Ritchie Blackmore, the great British guitarist from Deep Purple and Rainbow.

This lick is from "Gates of Babylon," on Rainbow's "Long Live Rock 'n' Roll" record in 1978. I'd recommend that you use this article as a supplement to the video lesson below I put together. Here we go!

Gates of Babylon

This lick has a very exotic, Middle Eastern sound to it, and happens at the 3:05 mark in the track. Here, Ritchie uses the E Phrygian Dominant scale, played over (mostly) an E pedal tone in the bass.

E Phrygian Dominant Scale

The Phrygian Dominant scale is the 5th mode of the A harmonic minor scale. So, all that means is that you take an A harmonic minor scale pattern on the guitar, and play licks that revolve around an E note instead of an A note.

For your reference, the notes of A harmonic minor are:
1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7  1
A B C D E F G# A
As you can see, I also numbered each note relative to the A major scale. If you struggle to fully understand this, it's time to lock down your major scale understanding! More on that in another article.

When I start it from the E note, and relate it to the E major scale, I find out what makes the scale special...
1 b2 3  4 5 b6 b7 1
E F G# A B C D E

Notes essential to the sound

There are 3 things that stand out to me in this scale.

1) The 1/2 step between 1 and b2 gives it a nice tension

2) The unusual 1 1/2 step gap between the b2 and the 3 gives it a nice tonality. Play around in these areas and you'll like what you hear!

3) Somewhat less important to my ear (but still important) is the 1/2 step between 5 and b6. If you bend up from 1 to b2, and 5 to b6, add aggressive left hand vibrato, you'll approximate the sound that Ritchie gets here.
Try it out!

A Pattern for you to try

To really hear it, play it over your open E string!
2 3 1 2 4 4 1 3 4 3 1 4 3 1 1 3 2
Here's the lick...
1 1 4 1 4 3 1 2 3 1 2 1 3 1 2 1 3 1 2 1 3 4 

Summary of the lick

The lick starts on 1 of the scale (E), and Ritchie applies some pretty aggressive vibrato to the note. He follows that up with a really quick hammer on/pull off combination, and then goes into a 1/2 step bend on the 11th fret. Then he shifts back to the 8th fret with his 3rd finger, and works into a 16th note pull off combination with the b2, 3 and 4 of the scale, ending with a 2 whole step bar dip on the 9th fret G# (the 3rd of the scale) down to the root.

If all those words are hard to follow, check it out on the video - it's only a 5-10 minute video:

YouTube preview picture

Look out for many more of these short lick/concept video lessons. Check 'em out, we'll both learn a lot about different styles of guitar playing!

About the Author:
Dave Lockwood is an accomplished musician and award winning teacher in the Atlanta, GA area. Keep up to date by signing up at www.duluthguitarlessons.com, and subscribing to his YouTube channel.

5 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Such an underrated solo. Would recommend any rock guitarist to learn it. You can use a lot of the licks
    Absolutely! Ritchie is a player with a unique perspective, that's for sure. I may go back and figure out the whole solo at some point myself. In the meantime, on to the next lick
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