Phrygian Mode Songs

Phrygian Mode Songs

“Space Oddity” by David Bowie has a Phrygian Mode intro. The chord changes are Fmaj7#11/E to Em. Because these chords fit together in the C major scale, you use C major scale notes to play over them. I hear the Em chord as primary, which is the third of the C scale, hence Phrygian mode.

Phrygian Mode is created when the third degree of a major scale is functioning as the tonal center of the music. I have more examples below.

The following songs are either based entirely in Phrygian mode or at least feature a Phrygian mode section at some point (like the beginning).

“War” by Joe Satriani
E5-F5. E Phrygian.
iii-IV in C, or if you renumber: i-bII in E minor. (guitars tuned down one half-step to Eb)

“Symphony of Destruction” by Megadeath
E5-F5. E Phrygian.
iii-IV in C, or if you renumber: i-bII in E minor.

“Remember Tomorrow” by Iron Maiden
E5-F5. E Phrygian.
iii-IV in C, or if you renumber: i-bII in E minor.

“The Sails Of Charon” by Scorpions B5-C5.
B Phrygian.
iii-IV in G, or if you renumber: i-bII in B minor.


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About Desi Serna

Desi Serna guitar music theoryHailed as a “music-theory expert” by Rolling Stone magazine, guitarist Desi Serna is a music instructor and author who has written several books on guitar including Fretboard Theory, Fretboard Theory Volume II, Guitar Theory For Dummies, Guitar Rhythm and Technique For Dummies, and How To Teach Guitar and Start Your Own Music Instruction Business. He is known for his practical, hands-on approach to music teaching, with a focus on the guitar fretboard and emphasis on popular songs. Desi honed his craft through decades of teaching, performing, and publishing. He lives in the Nashville, Tennessee area, produces all the instruction featured in the GMT Members area, and is online everyday connecting with his subscribers and giving guitar players personalized training and support.

Comments ( 4 )

  • Love the song and was hoping to find Phrygian Mode here. I wish I could agree – I just hear the dominating C pitch too strongly. Maybe that’s just me.

    About 18 months ago, I swear there was a popular song on the radio that ended with a descending Phrygian scale, but I never could find it again after I began looking for it in earnest.

    • The C pitch doesn’t start until the vocal comes in. Before that, at the very beginning when the song first fades in, you only hear the chords Fmaj7 and Em. If that part were to resolve, I hear it resolving on Em.

    • Goran

      “About 18 months ago, I swear there was a popular song on the radio that ended with a descending Phrygian scale, but I never could find it again after I began looking for it in earnest.”

      I bealive that would be love etc by pet shop boys. Hope you will se this comment 2 yrs later 😀

  • Zemorah

    David Bowie often uses the Phrygian mode in his songs. THE album The man who sold the world is full of it. Lady grinning soul is maybe the best example.

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