December 29, 2013

Eerie and Twisty Phrygian

This post is part of a series about the modes.

You can hear a Phrygian scale by playing the white keys from E to E. To start this mode on another note, play a minor scale with a lowered 2nd step. Example; E minor has one sharp, F. Since F is the 2nd step of the scale we play F natural when we start this scale on E.

Jazz and Classical music make use of Phrygian sometimes as do some stylized Central European, Persian and Spanish based tunes. It often is associated with "dark" or "mysterious" music. Phrygian can be a little tricky to get used to. If you aren't careful, the lowered 2nd can throw off the sound of the tonic which makes your tune sound simply wrong. But it also can create a nice bend to the melody line. I started out using it for moody or spooky tunes but I have gotten quite fond of using it with lively dance tunes. It makes them twist and slither about in fun ways. I like avoiding the lowered 2nd until the very end of a melody line and then letting that lowered note drag the tune down to the tonic.
One year, I was working on an energetic tune in Phrygian. Every time I played it, at least two bees began to fly around me (making the performances active indeed.) I eventually took the hint and named the song "Dancing with Bees." This appears to have appeased the honey makers. Seems to fit my view of this mode nicely too; cheerfully wild, unexpectedly mobile and with lots of ducking and weaving!

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