Join Julian Velard for an in-depth discussion in this video Dorian and Phrygian modes, part of Music Theory for Songwriters: Harmony.
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- The Dorian and Phrygian modes are built on the second and third degrees of the major scale. I'll discuss both here and hopefully you'll get a sense of each modes unique sound. I'll use C as the tonic note for both of them. By hearing each of these characteristic interval patterns with the same starting note, you can begin to get a better sense of their sound in comparison to each other. First off, for reference, let's hear the major, or Ionian mode, and the minor, or Aeolian mode, both in C.
Here is the C Ionian mode, or major mode and here's the C Aeolian mode, or minor mode. The Dorian mode is built on the second degree of the major scale. If we were using C major as the tonic of the Ionian mode, we could simply start on a D, and play all the white notes up.
But since we want to keep the tonic of C consistent across all of these modes, let's play the C Dorian mode which starts on the second note of the B flat major mode. So here's a B flat major scale. And if I play those same notes starting on the second degree, which is C, we'll have a C Dorian mode.
In relation to the C major mode, C Dorian has a flat at third, E flat, and a flat at seven, E flat. Here it is again in relation to the C major scale. C major right here. Now we're going to play C Dorian by taking the E and moving it to E flat and taking the B and moving it to B flat. Can you hear the difference in sound? The Dorian scale is pretty similar to the natural minor scale.
The difference between the two is the appearance of an A natural as opposed to the A flat of the minor scale. The natural sixth, appearing alongside the flatted seventh, gives Dorian it's own feel. And here's what that sounds like on guitar. The Dorian mode shows up quite a bit in songs.
We hear it clearly in the Beatles' Eleanor Rigby. If you listen to the second bar of the verse melody, Paul McCartney distinctly sings a D and a C sharp over an E minor chord which gives us the feel of an E Dorian mode, as opposed to a D sharp and C that we'd find in the E harmonic minor. Here's an E minor chord and I'll play D, C sharp, B which connotates the Dorian mode as opposed to the D sharp, C, B of the harmonic minor.
Can you hear the difference? I'll play it again. Here's Dorian. Here's harmonic minor. Other famous song examples of the Dorian mode are America's "Horse with No Name", The Doors' "Riders on the Storm", Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game", and Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk". The quality of the triads built off the scale degrees of the Dorian mode are as follows. Let's use C Dorian as our example. We'll start with a C minor chord which is a one minor triad.
We'll move to D minor which is a two minor triad. Then we'll move up to E flat major which is a three major triad then up to F major which is a four major triad then to G minor which is a five minor triad then to A diminished which is a six diminished triad and then the seven chord which is B flat major in this instance and it's a seven major triad.
A chord progression that firmly establishes Dorian is the cadance of a major four to a minor five to a minor one. This is a nice simple way to work a Dorian sound into a song. Let me show you this in C Dorian. We've got an F major chord to a G minor chord to a C minor. That's a Dorian sound. The sound of the natural minor mode would be like this, we'd have an F minor to a G minor to a C minor.
Compare that with the sound of the harmonic minor. We would have F minor to a G major to a C minor. I'll play all three in sequence and you can hear the difference in Dorian. Here's the Dorian. Here's the natural minor, and here's the harmonic minor.
It's a subtle difference but an important one. The Phrygian mode is created by using the third degree of the major scale as your tonic. In the world of C major, this would mean starting a scale on E and playing through the octave without any accidentals. Let's continue using the tonic of C and play the C Phrygian mode which is an A flat major scale starting on C.
Here's an A flat major scale. We're going to play the exact same notes starting on the third degree C. Here's the C Phrygian next to the C major scale so you can hear the difference distinctly. C major. C Phrygian.
The C Phrygian mode closely resembles a natural minor scale with it's flatted third, sixth, and seventh. The distinctive note is the flat two which is a D flat in the C Phrygian. Here's a C natural minor scale. If we take that flat two you can hear the difference in the C Phrygian. And here's what that sounds like on guitar.
We don't hear the Phrygian sound often in pop music. It largely has a jazz connotation and is associated with flamenco music. A Phrygian cliche we often hear is the chord progression of one minor to two major to three major to two major back to one minor. Here it is. The quality of the triads built off the scale degrees of the Phrygian mode are as follows. We use C Phrygian as the example and the one chord is a C minor.
The two chord is a major triad and it starts on D flat. The three chord is an E flat major triad, the four chord is an F minor triad, the five chord is a diminished triad on G, the sixth chord is an A flat major triad, and the seven chord is a B flat minor triad. One famous example of the Phrygian mode in pop music is the intro to Jefferson Airplanes' "White Rabbit".
It moves in and out of F sharp Phrygian. Changing between the A natural and the A sharp. Here's the progression. F sharp Phrygian comes from D major. Here's a D major scale. We'll play all the same notes, but start on a F sharp to get F sharp Phrygian. And here's the progression.
We're distinctly here in the F sharp Phrygian. But if we move the A to A sharp you'll hear a difference. We're out of Phrygian. and then back in with the A natural. The Phrygian sound is often associated with the Spanish field.
Now that I've shown you the Dorian and Phrygian modes, let's move on the modes built on the fourth and fifth degrees of the major scale.
In this installment, musician Julian Velard digs into more intermediate-level music theory topics. Starting with minor scales, he shows examples of classic songs in minor keys, and then explores the modes of the diatonic scale (e.g., the mixolydian mode). Next, Julian dives into chords with 4 or more notes, covering 7th chords, chord extensions (e.g., 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths), suspended chords, diminished chords, augmented chords, and inversions. Finally, he covers key centers, modulations, pedal points, alternate bass notes, and polychords. At the end of each chapter, Julian explains the techniques shown within the context of his own original songs.
- Working in minor scales
- Using Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, and Mixolydian modes to write songs
- Extending chords
- Using 7th chords in a song
- Transposing a song
- Building different harmonies from a single melody