Phrygian Chords

The Phrygian chord is an interesting inbetween sort of sound being an altered and suspended dominant at the same time. In this lesson I want to give you some voicings to play that sound and demonstrate some of the melodic devices I use on that kind of sound.

Chord and voicings

The Phrygian Dominant in jazz is a term used for a sus4(b9) chord. It’s a great chord to give a song a twist by adding this in a cadence or using it as an intro or interlude pedal point. I’ve chosen to do all examples in this lesson with an A7sus4(b9), mainly because it makes it a bit easier to play the chord voicings over the open A string in the examples.

Phrygian dominants are often notated in other ways such so you might come across our A7sus4(b9) notated as Bbmaj7(b5)/A or Gm/A, both gives you a good idea about how to play the chord but makes it difficult to understand the place of the chord in the key.

Here are a few voicings that I might use.

Phrygian Chords  Ex 1

The first one is the Bbmaj7(b5)/A voicing which is a great clear way to play the sound of this type of chord. The next two examples are coming more out of the Gm/A thinking as the first is a Gm triad over A and in the second I am playing a Gm/A but exchanged the G in the triad with an A. In bar 3 I am using a BbMaj shell voicing and then a stack of 4ths over the A. The 4th bar is using one of the cluster like voicings I talk about here:  Jazz Chord Essentials – 3 note 7th chords part 2 The 2nd chord in that bar is a Gm7(13) over A.

Soloing over a Dom7sus4(b9)

The next thing we need to look at is what scales and arpeggios can be applied to this type of chord.

As the name of the chord suggests the primary scale choice is the phrygian mode of a major scale so that would be an F major scale on the A7sus4(b9) chord in these examples. This is the first scale in example 2. The second scale is in fact the a G minor melodic scale, which would give us a A7sus4(b9) but with a natural 13th (F#) This is a valid choice for improvising over the chord but in this lesson I will be more concerned with the phrygian mode.

Phrygian Chords  Ex 2

The third option that seems relevant to discuss is Dm harmonic. Since the A7sus4(b9) is a chord that one might naturally associate with D minor that scale would seem a natural choice. I don’t use it mainly because when I play the sus4 sound I don’t really want to have the major third in there since that is likely to sound like I am a resolving the sus4 to a 3 and therefore dragging towards resolving the whole chord. That is of course mostly a question of taste so you could experiment with it too.

In this part of the lesson I’ve included 3 examples of arpeggios and tried to give you some ideas on how to use them to make lines that sound like a Phrygian Chord.

Phrygian Chords  Ex 3

In example 3 I am first showing a way to play a BbMaj7(b5) arpeggio and then a short line using that arpeggio. The BbMaj7(b5) will of course work well since it is also a great voicing for the Phrygian chord sound. The way I play the arpeggio is a good example of a guitaristic arpeggio where the fingering is the same every 2 sets of strings, which makes it easy to play.

The line uses the middle part of the arpeggio before it ends on the 5th(E) of the chord.

Phrygian Chords  Ex 4

Example 4 uses an Em7b5 arpeggio. The Arpeggio fingering in the beginning of the example is quite common so you should learn it if you don’t already know it. The line is for the most part the arpeggio played in triplets and then a short melody using a Dsus4 triad and ending on the A. Dom7th and Dom7thsus4 chords are some of the only chords where you can get away with resting on the root.

Phrygian Chords  Ex 5

The last example is using a Gm triad. As I demonstrated in example 1 you can use a Gm triad over an A bass note to play the A7sus4(b9) chord, so using the triad in solos is of course also a good idea.  The triad fingering is stretching a few positions simply because I often practice them like that. I guess inspired in part by Pat Metheny and by Kreutzer etudes.

The line ascends on the Gm triad and then again uses the Dsus4 triad to make a melody that ends on the 4th(D) of the chord. In the video I often add a chord to the last note in the example just to convey the sound of the line and where it ends a bit better.

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Phrygian Chords

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