My question is: How would you go about writing a a chord progression properly using the circle of fifths in the Phrygian mode? I have seen many discuss the circle of fifths using Majors and minors but what about modes?

I have been writing a song in the Phrygian Mode in the key of F, and writing a chord progression for Phrygian mode is very tricky, so I've decided to use the circle of fifths instead to come up with progressions but even then it still seems tricky, so I'll kind of explain where I'm at now. We have F as our root note, the 5th interval of F is C, but with phrygian mode the 5th interval is always diminished or half-diminished, the diminished doesn't sound "good" or "right" in a progression. So lets say I start my progression off with "F minor F, Ab, C" then I move to "C Diminished C, Eb, Gb" it doesn't sound like it belongs in there. Honestly if I play F minor, then a C minor which is a triad of the C Phrygian mode then it sounds waaaay better, wouldn't you agree?

So I'm not really quite understanding the circle of fifths when it comes to modes, is there different methods using modes with the Circle of Fifths? How can I actually create a progression? If anyone could explain modes with the circle of fifths in an elaborate way would be super, I very much appreciate the help!

  • Cycle of 5ths is tonal, Phrygian is modal. You can't do it.
    – user21280
    Jul 12, 2015 at 8:26

2 Answers 2


You can write a circle of 5th's progression in the Phrygian mode, but it won't make the progression sound Phrygian.

This site shows you how to build a circle of 5th's progression in any key in any mode, but doesn't really explain what is going on. If you look at the progression for C Phrygian you will see:

Db - Ab - Eb - Bbm - Fm - Cm - Gdim

However, if you were to also look at the progression for Ab major you will also find:

Db - Ab - Eb - Bbm - Fm - Cm - Gdim

This is because Ab major and C Phrygian are relative modes and thus the longest possible progression by 5ths is the exact same.

When writing a modal progression you would want your progression to accent the "flavor" of the mode. What separates Phrygian from plain old minor is the second degree is lowered. To get the most out of this mode you would want to use chords that reflect this change. A very simple progression that uses this in C Phrygian is:

Cm - Db - Eb - Db

This progression uses the II chord (Db) to get away and comeback to the tonic chord as is very common in Phrygian progressions Play with other combinations as there are many others that work.

  • 1
    I think the author is asking for something like i-iv-vii-III-VI-II-v°-i.
    – user53472
    Jun 16, 2019 at 14:13

The cycle of fifths and the Phrygian mode are more or less orthogonal concepts. They're not mutually exclusive, but neither will do a good job supporting the other without support from other elements of the music. The Phrygian mode requires careful attention to establish the mode and its final (modal equivalent to a tonic), whereas a cycle of fifths progression doesn't establish a tonic at all until you break out of the sequence with a cadence. (Without intervention, it's the "Song that doesn't end.")

So you will need to work out where to start and break from the cycle, you will need to use a diatonic cycle of fifths (i.e., incorporating the diminished fifth to keep the cycle within the mode), and you will need to de-emphasise members of the cycle that might usurp the tonality from the Phrygian final (notably the relative major chord) and emphasise those elements which tonicise the final. Mercifully, if you start with the final, you can arrange for the relative to show up in the middle of the phrase.

Pace Prof Steve, it can be done, but it is certainly easier to write a less procedure-based progression in the Phrygian mode.

enter image description here

The bar numbering is bit peculiar because I used this sketch to check something else out. At any rate, the first four bars use a rising cycle of fifths from i to i, which means that m.4 essentially forms a plagal cadence, iv6-i, which is compatible with the Phrygian mode. The second phrase here uses a descending cycle of fifths until ♭ii, which is elaborated by the second inversion of v° and moves into a Phrygian cadence (♭vii6-I). The last two bars are fairly conventionally Phrygian, and follow quite naturally from the preceding three bars.

  • Some excellent points have been made, well done. I never really knew the diatonic circle of fifths even existed
    – Scott
    Aug 6, 2015 at 1:42
  • Quite commonly used, @Scott. It isn't always advantageous to let movement by fifths move out of a key (which is the tendency of a real cycle of fifths), so you harmonise according to the key and mode, and re-enter the tonality by using the key's characteristic tritone in place of a perfect fifth. In my C Phrygian example, the tritone is between G and D♭, which shows up between the last beat of the 1st bar of the example, and the first beat of the 2nd bar. (Both harmonies are in first inversion, which allows a strong bass.)
    – user16935
    Aug 6, 2015 at 16:05
  • Building a progression using Phrygian is challenging for sure, but adding inversions just makes it so much more simple.
    – Scott
    Aug 7, 2015 at 2:47
  • Inversions are your friends, Scott, even as "slash" chords in pop music. A lot of pop musicians tend to overlook their utility in getting from Point A to Point B smoothly, but when you deal with modes, you need to avoid the progressions that might lock you into the relative major or minor modes (at least in rhythmically strong spots), so getting to and moving between the progressions that confirm the mode needs that smoothness and flexibility.
    – user16935
    Aug 7, 2015 at 14:58
  • Ok to my understanding; a Half cadence is a progression of I-V-I and a plagal cadence is I-IV-I, right? So what exactly does "iv6" mean? For example, let's say IV is a D minor; iv6 is just D minor 6th? Just a bit confused and still learning!
    – Scott
    Aug 8, 2015 at 22:16

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