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Mastering Modes: Phrygian (Guitar Lesson)


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Kris Norris

Mastering Modes: Phrygian

Kris explains the basics of the Phrygian mode, which is a minor sounding mode of the major scale. He shows you the target tones of the mode and also plays Phrygian licks over a backing track so you can hear what it sounds like.

Taught by Kris Norris in Kris Norris Artist Series seriesLength: 7:43Difficulty: 2.0 of 5
Chapter 1: (01:45) Introduction & About Phrygian Kris kicks off lesson 20 by improvising in the E Phrygian tonality. Next, he introduces us to this more "exotic" minor mode.

Phrygian is a minor mode, but it's not the minor scale. By taking the minor scale (W-H-W-W-H-W-W, or 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7 using scale degrees) and lowering the second note, we get the Phrygian mode. In E, this means F# becomes F natural. This change gives Phrygian its sound or "flavor," which is noticeably darker than the minor scale.

Phrygian can also be viewed as the third mode of the major scale. If we refer back to to E major (or E Ionian: E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, and D#), since that was our starting point in Lesson 18, Phrygian begins on the note G#. The G# Phrygian mode is spelled as G#, A, B, C#, D#, E, and F#.

Kris mentions he likes to call Phrygian the "Metallica mode;" they have used Phrygian often, such as the main riff to "Wherever I May Roam," the riff after the solo in "Creeping Death," during the intro to "Harvester of Sorrow," and the intro to "Dyer's Eve." Sometimes they will apply the E natural minor scale, but they will occasionally throw in an F5 chord just to darken the mood. Megadeth is another band known to use this mode from time to time, notably in the main riff to "Symphony of Destruction." Most metal bands have a Phrygian riff somewhere, whether they know if it was composed in the Phrygian tonality or not. Popular composer Danny Elfman also uses Phrygian in some of his film scores.

The 5th interval above the 5th scale degree is diminished, or flattened. For example, in E Phrygian, the fifth scale degree is B. The diatonic fifth interval above B in E Phrygian is an F natural. From B to F is only 3 steps. This interval is frequently altered to a perfect 5th, or 3 1/2 steps, by raising the higher note. In this case, making F an F#. All the notes of Phrygian are then usable as the root note for power chords, which in E would be: E5 (E-B), F5 (F-C), G5 (G-D), A5 (A-E), B5 (B-F#, this is the altered chord just mentioned), C5 (C-G), and D5 (D-A).

At 1:21, Kris demonstrates how Phrygian can create an exotic or ethnic sound. He focuses on the notes E, F, A, B, and C, before adding a D at the end. If you've watched Lesson 15: Exotic Embellishments in the Style of Marty Friedman, than you've heard this sound before. Kris is playing the Chinese scale used in that lesson. In Lesson 15, he started on B, which gave us B, C, E, F#, and G. The scale degrees for this scale are 1-b2-4-5-b6, all of which are in Phrygian! This note grouping is also available in the Scale Library under the "Exotic" category, only it's labeled "Japanese Pentatonic." Just set the key to E and it will show you where you can play this unique sound all over the fretboard. The notes in the E Chinese/Japanese scale (E, F, A, B, and C) can also be considered an Fma7(#11) arpeggio.
Chapter 2: (05:58) Phrygian Target Tones Kris begins by describing the most significant harmonic difference between the minor scale and Phrygian. In E minor, the ii chord is F#o (F#-A-C), which can be expanded to a half-diminished 7th chord, F#mi7(b5), spelled F#-A-C-E. For more on this chord, please see Lesson 19: Mastering Modes: Dorian, Chapter 3 description. In E Phrygian, however, the II chord is F, spelled F-A-C. Our primary triads for this mode are Em (the i chord), F (the II chord), and Dm (the vii chord). Similar to the Dorian tonality, the chord built on the fifth note B (which in this mode would create Bo or could be expanded to Bmi7(b5)) is not used. In the case of Phrygian, the chord built on the fifth is a diminished triad, which is inherently unstable. It doesn't resolve satisfactorily to the i chord, Em. However, the II chord (F major), being only a half step above the tonic (Em), has a strong urge to resolve downward to i. In this regard, it acts like a V chord.

The chords Kris plays from 0:55 to 1:17 can be found in Supplemental Content, under "E Phrygian Notation." However, these chords are listed in a different order.

Kris' suggested target tones are E, F, C, and D. These are almost all the notes essential to Phrygian; the only other is G. Remember from Lesson 18 that target tones sound most consonant when used at the right time. For example, targeting C over an F chord (F-A-C) would work very well since C is the 5th of that chord. Targeting C over an Emi chord (E-G-B) will create a strong dissonance, since it is a half step above the 5th of the chord. The level of tension created is directly proportional to how long this note is held over an Em chord.

This tension can be resolved with an effective resolution, in this case, moving down a half step to B. Resolving elsewhere, such as D, would sound weak since D is also not in the chord. Resolving to E or G would sound better than D, but listen for yourself to the difference between C moving down to B as compared to C moving up or down to E or G over an Em chord. Have someone else play an Em chord on guitar or a keyboard instrument, or record an Emi chord yourself, or just try to play the notes quickly as Kris plays the chord in this scene. Notes that are a half step apart have a strong urge to resolve. This same situation happens when targeting F over an Em chord. The F note has a natural tendency to go "home" to the E.

Beginning at 2:02, Kris discusses the importance of the harmonies underneath a solo. E Phrygian is the third mode of C major (C, D, E, F, G, A, and B). If you were to play E Phrygian over a C major chord progression such as I to V (C to G), the overall sound created will still be C major, due to the prevailing harmony of the proression. By switching our harmonic focus to the Em chord, though, the mood of E Phrygian can easily be established.

At 3:07, Kris demonstrates the progression used in the backing track. This chord progression is listed at the bottom of the "E Phrygian Notation" page in the Supplemental Content.

Kris then switches between E minor (E, F#, G, A, B, C, and D) and E Phrygian (F instead of F#) at 3:55. He only uses E minor over the Em chord; over the Dm and F chords he uses E Phrygian. Notice how smoothly Kris makes the change between tonalities. This makes the changes between the two sounds easier to hear. Soloing like this takes time, since you must be completely comfortable with the modes you wish to use and all of their possible fingereings, so that you can make the change from one tonality to another without getting lost in your playing.

Finally, at 5:01, Kris improvises solely in E Phrygian to really demonstrate the sound of this mode. Notice all of the different rhythms he uses in his solo as well as the different articulations (hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, muting, staccato). Also, notice the spaces! He is not playing ALL the time, there are several examples of different lengths of resting. Yes, actual resting! Keep these factors in mind when improvising yourself, whether in practice or performance.

Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.


alexaffectsalexaffects replied on March 25th, 2012

he said phrygian has the same notes as cmajor scale but the shape isn't close to cmajor

liqid13liqid13 replied on April 12th, 2011

sorry but since you did not stay consistent in the key of EMajor thru all the modes I just can`t seem to grasp anything your talking about.Is there any way you could do this all in a key that way I can understand the theory and apply it to all keys later.

f3l18ipsk8ermf3l18ipsk8erm replied on February 23rd, 2011

really great lesson - i learned all the modes in another series but this is really helping me to learn how to apply them to backing tracks and songs

Kris Norris Artist Series

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Kris Norris kicks off the JamPlay.com Artist Series with a wide array of ideas and lessons; from changing strings on a floyd rose, to advanced sweeping / legato techniques and soloing applications.



Lesson 1

Changing Strings - Floyd Rose Style

Kris Norris demonstrates how to install new strings on a guitar equipped with a Floyd Rose tremolo system.

Length: 13:43 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 2

Warm-up Exercises with Kris

Kris Norris shows you his favorite warm-up exercises. These exercises will prepare you to play the guitar from a physical and mental standpoint.

Length: 12:16 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 3

Scalar Exercises: Left and Right Hand Synchronization

Kris covers chromatic and scale pattern exercises. Also, he explains some variations on these exercise and provides you with the knowledge to create your own variations. Now you don't have any excuse...

Length: 20:23 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 4

Scalar Exercises: Legato

Kris shows you the in's and out's of legato playing. These examples will benefit beginners and and advanced players alike. The patterns Kris uses in this lesson are based on the examples shown in "Scalar...

Length: 11:01 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 5

Chuggin' n Skippin'

Kris covers right hand techniques such as palm muting, tremolo, palm muted string skipping, and upstroke accents.

Length: 13:26 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Lesson 6

Advanced Sweep Picking Applications

Kris covers the right and left hand components of sweep picking separately. Then, he shows you how to synchronize the two. Three string arpeggios and five string arpeggios with hammer-ons are both included...

Length: 35:40 Difficulty: 4.5 Members Only
Lesson 7

Remaining Foolish: Arpeggios & Scalar Lines

Kris presents excerpts from his song "Remaining Foolish" from Icons of the Illogical. He explains the arpeggio patterns used in various parts of the song and also talks about alternate picked arpeggios....

Length: 17:40 Difficulty: 4.0 Members Only
Lesson 8

Sweep Exercises Based on Canon in D

Kris uses Pachelbel's "Canon In D" as a way to practice arpeggio sweeps. He shows how to sweep and alternate pick arpeggios.

Length: 10:08 Difficulty: 4.5 Members Only
Lesson 9

Counterpoint: A Shift In Normalcy

This lesson is about the concept of counterpoint and harmony. Kris explores contrapuntal examples from his song "A Shift In Normalcy" off of his solo record Icons of the Illogical.

Length: 8:52 Difficulty: 4.5 Members Only
Lesson 10

A Closer Look At Pick Thickness

Kris analyzes different pick sizes and their effect on his playing. Using a slow motion camera, he is able to point out the differences in pick thickness.

Length: 32:24 Difficulty: 0.5 FREE
Lesson 11

Satriani Inspired Tapping

Kris Norris explains how to play a Joe Satriani inspired tapping etude.

Length: 11:13 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Lesson 12

Extending Your Musical Reach With 8 String Guitars

Kris Norris takes a look at 8 string guitars and their possibilities. He demonstrates the versatility of an 8 string with jazz and metal applications. Kris also performs a short improv jam at the end.

Length: 10:34 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 13

Neoclassical Inspirations

Kris teaches neoclassical examples from three of his favorite guitar players.

Length: 29:17 Difficulty: 5.0 Members Only
Lesson 14

Rock & Metal Chicken Pickin'

Kris displays some adventurous ways to use chicken pickin' in a rock and metal environment.

Length: 15:25 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 15

Exotic Embellishments In The Style Of Marty Friedman

Kris teaches arpeggio examples that use notes outside of a scale. He also demonstrates an example using the Chinese scale.

Length: 12:19 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 16

Connecting Scale Patterns

Kris shows you how to connect the patterns of a G major scale together.

Length: 15:28 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 17

Mastering Modes: Basic Scale Theory Primer

This is the first lesson in the "Mastering Modes" mini series. Here Kris explains the fundamentals of scale basics.

Length: 19:08 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 18

Mastering Modes: Ionian

In this lesson, Kris explains the history behind the modes and then explains the Ionian mode.

Length: 9:59 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 19

Mastering Modes: Dorian

In this lesson, Kris covers the Dorian mode, which is the second mode of the major scale.

Length: 13:39 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 20

Mastering Modes: Phrygian

Kris explains the basics of the Phrygian mode, which is a minor sounding mode of the major scale.

Length: 7:43 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 21

Mastering Modes: Lydian

In this installment of the "Mastering Modes" mini-series, Kris covers the Lydian mode. This is the fourth mode of the major scale.

Length: 9:47 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 22

Mastering Modes: Mixolydian

Kris explains the basics of the Mixolydian mode, which is a major sounding mode of the major scale.

Length: 10:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 23

Mastering Modes: Aeolian

Kris explains Aeolian, which is the 6th mode of the major scale. This is also known as the natural minor scale.

Length: 7:32 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Lesson 24

Mastering Modes: Locrian

Kris covers the Locrian mode, which is the 7th mode of the major scale.

Length: 5:48 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Lesson 25

Song Workshop Experiment

Aaron Miller sits down with Kris in the JamPlay studio to discuss songwriting techniques.

Length: 78:38 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 26

Song Workshop Experiment - Finale

Kris Norris and Aaron Miller are back to finish up what they started. Get ready for more songwriting, playing tips, and inside information. Enjoy

Length: 32:00 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 27

Picking Practice With Drum Rudiments

Kris shows how some drum rudiments can be used to make exercises for your right hand.

Length: 18:33 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 28

Sliding Arpeggios

Kris teaches how to use sliding techniques with arpeggios. He uses an example in the Lydian mode and also plays over a backing.

Length: 15:11 Difficulty: 4.0 Members Only
Lesson 29

Left Hand Finger Independence

Kris teaches exercises focused on getting the left hand fingers to be more independent.

Length: 26:19 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Lesson 30

Building Triad Arpeggios

Kris explains root triad arpeggios and their first and second inversions.

Length: 25:12 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 31

Practicing Triad Arpeggios Chromatically

This lesson focuses on sweep picking major, minor, and diminished triad arpeggios chromatically.

Length: 16:33 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 32

Re-voicing Progressions with Inversions

Kris shows you how inversions can be used to create smooth voice leading within a progression.

Length: 14:34 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 33

Dual Tonality Pentatonics

Kris shows how to combine pentatonic scales from different keys to form new and interesting sounds.

Length: 24:06 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 34

Betcha Can't Scale This

Kris shows you how to learn scales vertically and horizontally on the fretboard.

Length: 16:11 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 35

The Neapolitan Chord

Named after the "Neapolitan School" from the 18th century and not ice cream, this chord is a major chord built on the lowered 2nd scale degree.

Length: 7:13 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 36

Diatonic Chords In G Major

Kris shows the diatonic chords of G Major.

Length: 19:42 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 37

Diatonic 7th Arpeggios

Kris teaches you how to play diatonic 7th arpeggios and their inversions in the key of G major.

Length: 15:47 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 38

Tapping 7th Arpeggios

Kris shows you how to play seventh arpeggios with tapping, legato, and string skipping.

Length: 7:45 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Lesson 39

Popular Chord Progressions

Kris shows some common major and minor chord progressions.

Length: 27:24 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 40

Quick Connect EMG Active Pickups

Kris installs these new EMG pickups into his guitar.

Length: 26:15 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 41

Workshop With Chodypth

Kris Norris sat down with Chodypth, aka Cody, and this video is the result of a day of jamming and practicing.

Length: 77:35 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only

About Kris Norris View Full Biography Mr. Kris Norris was born August, 31 1978 in Canton, Ohio. He began playing around the age of 14. Early on the self-taught guitarist took an interest in metal and began playing in a local Virginia metal band. Kris' early influences were rooted in Swedish metal, bands include In Flames, Dark Tranquility, and Edge of Sanity. Norwegian Black metal also played a part in Kris' interest including early Mayhem, Emperor, and Ulver. Kris started Disinterment with future Darkest Hour bandmate Ryan Parrish. Disinterment lasted over 6 years and developed a local following in the Virginia metal by being some of the first players to incorporate Swedish metal and 3 guitar players.

College Days
When Kris was 17 he attended Virgina Commonwealth University School of Music (VCU). He studied Music composition and focused on film with world renowned composer Dika Newlin. Kris also studied classical guitar with John Patykula, prize student of Jesus Silva who was the prize student of Andre Segovia. Kris left the University after 6 years of studies. After college, he began his teaching career instructing private students and giving lessons at Mars Music. Kris' teaching career would eventually be put on hold to join Darkest Hour.

Darkest Hour Days
Kris' first album with Darkest Hour ,Hidden Hands Of A Sadist Nation, the 2005 release was recorded at Studio Fredman in Gothenburg, Sweden with producer Fredrik Nordstrom. Ironically, the same studio facilitated many of Kris' influences 10 years prior.

Darkest Hour's next release, Undoing Ruin allowed Kris to stretch his wings and show what he could truly do on the instrument with the addition of several solos. The record was produced by Canadian metal mastermind Devin Townsend (Strapping Young Lad, Steve Vai). Townsend was a big part of pushing Kris to his own musical potential on Undoing Ruin and even more so on the follow up record, Deliver Us.

Deliver Us was released in 2007 and debuted at 110 on the Billboard Chart. This would be the last Darkest Hour record with Kris as a member. The album like its predecessor was also produced by Devin Townsend, who was able to take a bigger hand in its production. Devin pushed Kris to experiment with his own playing and to hone in on his strongest abilities.

Kris' career with Darkest Hour spanned 6 years, 23 countries, 4 continents, countless tours, 3 albums, near 200,000 album sales, and many lifelong friendships made along the way. With the birth of his son in 2008, Kris felt he needed to take his career closer to home while still focusing on music and guitar. In order for Darkest Hour to devote 100% to their music and touring, Kris came to the decision to amicably part ways with the band.

His Future:
As of early 2009, Kris has full sponsorships from ESP, EMG, Peavey, DigiTech, InTune, and Morley. Currently, Kris is producing and mixing aspiring metal acts while also working for Final Symphony Studios out of Charlottesville, Virgina. Kris also edits records for James Murphy (Testament, Obituary, Death) at Safehouse Productions. Kris has released his first solo record through Magna Carta Records, entitled Icons Of The Illogical. His solo effort was recorded at Karma Productions with Cory Smoot (GWAR) and features vocals from Lamb Of God frontman Randy Blythe.

Kris is excited to be an addition to the JamPlay Instructor Roster. Lending his metal chops and thorough education to his lessons make him a valuable teacher. Kris is excited to be making lessons for JamPlay and just as stoked to learn new things from our other instructors. Check it out and stay Metal.

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