I'm working with a C scale in Phrygian mode. I can create some interesting melody with some character, but I miserably fail in creating pads with this scale. My chord progression has no 'soul', does not transfer any emotion, and is not able to fill the melody.

Is there any rule for creating progression in Phrygian mode? Are there any rules to apply to make a chord progression that should always be used?


2 Answers 2


For jazz in the Phrygian mode, listen to McCoy Tyner and Coltrane playing modally. C Phrygian derives from Ab major, so the notes are C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab and Bb. This means that the scale has no major 3rd. Instead the 4th (F) is emphasised. Another feature is the b2. In C Phrygian this is Db. Here's a typical Phrygian chord: C+Db+F+Bb. When improvising, don't think in conventional chord sequences. Try grounding this mode in your left hand with !+5 (C+G) and experiment in your right hand with single note runs plus clusters of notes sounded together. The result sounds ambiguous, with a tinge of Spanish. Listen to Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis.


  • Quite impressed by this reply: I like the C,Db,F,Bb chord, but non of my 'rule' for creating chords would produce it:) May 2, 2014 at 6:02
  • It's a minor 9th, or 2nd, Bb Db and F being a minor triad.
    – Tim
    May 2, 2014 at 6:12
  • The chord symbol for the chord I described would be C7susb9: b9 = Db, sus = 4 (replacing 3), 7 = Bb. learnjazzpianoonline.com May 2, 2014 at 15:01

A thing I noticed in 16th century music in phrygian is the heavy use of major VI harmonization -- in your case, that would be A-flat major.

I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, to the modern ear, it can very readily collapse the tonality of the piece into the relative major, losing all the nifty modality. On the other hand, it is awfully attractive. It sets up a nice contrast between the moody, darker phrygian and the brighter major.

So while I'm not sure what the complete answer is for your desired chord progression, you might find a judicious use of major VI chords in it gets you the soulful quality you are hunting.

  • In phrygian, the VI acts as a dominant. The chord on II also acts as dominant in phrygian. May 1, 2014 at 21:52
  • 1
    @Codeswitcher, FelicePollano it's both true - you're not at home, but they do have the tendency to return to the tonic. esp. II - it's tonic (minor 2nd degree) acts as a descending leading tone. A similar thing happens to the root of VI - that acts as a descending leading tone for the 5th degree. You can use this in a VI - i progression, letting the root of VI flow down into the fifth of the i triad. May 2, 2014 at 8:00

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