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  • Writer's pictureJay EuDaly

The Phrygian Distinctive

Updated: May 18, 2021

We're continuing our Quick & Dirty approach to the modes by backdooring in from a scale you're most likely to know; the Minor Pentatonic. Here are two Minor Pentatonic Scale patterns; one with a 6th-string root, and one with a 5th-string root:

The number of each note is based on the notes of the Natural Minor Scale (don't worry about whether you know it or not). As you can see, there are two notes missing; the 2nd and the 6th.

You should drill the above two patterns in every key around the Circle.


If you don't know what I mean by, "around the Circle," stop right here and download the 5-Lesson Foundational Series. This series of lessons teaches the Circle of Keys as an organizational mechanism by which you ensure that whatever you learn is drilled in every key in all possible positions. It also gives you a method to find any note, anywhere, without memorizing note names on every string. That is a beautiful thing!

You can download the 5-Lesson Foundational Series right here for free with no further obligation or commitment:


Commensurate with the Quick & Dirty concept we're going to simplify things even more by only dealing with the upper octave, which is where most of the soloing activity occurs:

Between the Root and the 3rd there is room for two different 2nds; a major 2nd (a whole-step from the root) and a minor 2nd (a half-step from the root).

We're going to call the major 2nd the "Natural 2nd" because it's the 2nd note of the Natural Minor scale. The minor 2nd is a flatted Natural 2nd; we're going to call it a "Phrygian 2" because it's the distinctive note of the Phrygian Mode. So let's add the Natural 2nd (designated 2 in the violet circle) to the upper octave of the Minor Pentatonic scale:

Spend some time messing around with adding the Natural 2nd to your Minor Pentatonic licks. Internalize the sound/feeling/texture of it.

Now let's flat the Natural 2nd and make it a Phrygian 2:

Can you hear the difference? The Phrygian 2 gets into what I call, "snake charmer territory." It has an exotic, middle eastern quality.

The Phrygian mode is used in Spanish and Flamenco music. It‘s also used a lot in metal, such as

Adding the Phrygian 2 to the Minor Pentatonic scale does not constitute the whole Phrygian mode, but it gives a Phrygian quality to the Minor Pentatonic.

If you were to add the Phrygian 2 to your pentatonic "stuff" an educated listener might say that you're using the Phrygian mode, and they'd be right, but that's not the way we're thinking about it.

All we’re doing is adding a note to the Minor Pentatonic scale, namely, the minor 2nd, which gives the Pentatonic a Phrygian quality.


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