Introducing the Spanish Phrygian Scale | Music Theory | Composition | Berklee Online
Articles Blog

Introducing the Spanish Phrygian Scale | Music Theory | Composition | Berklee Online

August 23, 2019


[PIANO MUSIC] Today’s lesson, we’re going to talk
about a couple of different scales. But in this demonstration,
I’d like to just focus on one. It’s called the Spanish Phrygian scale. As the name implies, it has
attributes of the Phrygian scale. But it has an extra bonus note,
which adds a little bit of color both in terms of harmony and gives
us some melodic alternatives as we’re exploring the tones of the scale. As you’re dealing with these
individually exotic scales this week, I’d like to encourage you to
write little sketches just in the world of each scale and to think
of it as, again, a mood or a setting or a landscape or a
spacescape, if you want to, an underwater scape in the case
of some scales, the dream state, if you want to. Let your imagination go wild. And try to come to some sort of
emblematic association in your own mind with the scales. That’s when they really
become powerful because you can use them in your own language
to help with storytelling. Now the Spanish Phrygian
scale is very interesting. Of course, we know the Phrygian
scale starting on C is 1– [PLAYING SCALE] –flat 2, flat 3, 4,
5, flat 6, flat 7, 1. And at this point, you’ve
written a Phrygian piece and have explored it inside and out
both in terms of melody and harmony. Now the Spanish Phrygian
is really interesting because we get a bonus note. We have not only a
minor third, but we also have a major third
included in the scale. So Spanish Phrygian sounds like this– [PLAYING SCALE] So we’ve got– [SINGING RHYTHM] Very interesting collection. Incidentally, it’s the same collection
as the mixolydian flat 9 sharp 9 flat 13 scale, which you’ve learned to
associate with dominant seventh chords, which move to minor target chords. Now it’s the same collection
of notes, but we’re going to orient it very differently. Rather than think about the basic triad
and seventh chord as a dominant chord which resolves to a minor tonic chord,
we’re going to think about the basic 1, or the root note triad– [PLAYING SCALE] –as being the tonic chord
of this particular scale. That’s kind of an interesting concept. Let me play you something that I
think you’ll find very familiar. [PLAYING PIANO] Sound familiar? A flamenco cadence, or what we refer
to as the Phrygian cadence in music. Even though it sounds like– [PLAYING PIANO] –we’re in a loop that
moves back to that chord, we’re really thinking of
this triad, the tonic triad, as being the center of the scale. That’s going to be the
chord of resolution. So it’s kind of like a
dominant scale, which is being turned on its head in a way, so
if you can wrap your mind around that. It’s very energetic, has a dark color. But it also has this festive
tonic major triad that we can use. Let’s take a look at the scale in
terms of its melodic possibilities. So I’m going to just
hold the tonic triad. [PLAYING CHORD] And I’m going to work through
the tones of the scale. [PLAYING SCALE] Visions of bullfights and old Spain. [PLAYING PIANO] Now the fact that we have two
thirds, both a Me and a Mi, gives us melodic cadential
options or a melodic alternative. So we can come down the
scale or move up the scale, skipping Me and going from Ra to Mi and
getting a very exotic sort of Arabic or Turkic sounding melodic gesture. [PLAYING PIANO] Got a lot of nice potential. [PLAYING PIANO] Or we can use the flat third as well. [PLAYING PIANO] And that really comes into
conflict with that tonic triad. Doesn’t it? [PLAYING PIANO] Because we get that sharp 9 tension that
we’ve come to understand in the blues. [PLAYING PIANO] So within the Spanish
Phrygian scale, you have the potential for two
melodic alternative thirds. We want to think of the major third
as being our tonic triad sound. But we can decorate with either the
sharp 9 sound of the minor third or have the augmented second skip of Ra
to Mi as a potential melodic delight. [PLAYING PIANO] Or even both of them in combination. [PLAYING PIANO] Possible elaborate decoration there. [PLAYING PIANO] So that’s up for you to explore
and just find your own style in Spanish Phrygian. Spanish Phrygian is a favorite
of the film composer Jeff Beale. Actually, he is more
associated with television. He’s done a lot of work for HBO. He’s done the HBO series, Rome,
also, House of Cards for Netflix. And he’s done a number of
made-for-television movies. And the Spanish Phrygian sound
is his characteristic sound. So I’d urge you to check
out some of his work and see how he’s using it
in his sound cues for media. Let’s look at the Spanish Phrygian
scale from a harmonic perspective. We have the tonic triad C major. [PLAYING CHORD] We have the cadence chord flat 2 major– [PLAYING CHORD] –from the Phrygian character. [PLAYING CHORD] We have the potential for
flat 3 major as an approach. [PLAYING CHORDS] And then the subdominant chord within
the key is going to be F minor– [PLAYING CHORD] –which gives us another stable area. But again, we have to be very
careful to treat it as subdominant and to give emphasis to the tonic so
that we’re not tonicizing the 4 chord. Again, this scale has a lot of
potential to sound like a dominant. And we have to flip it
on its head and make sure that we’re hearing the tonic
triad in its appropriate position. On the top half of the scale, we have
the flat 7 minor chord familiar to us from the Phrygian mode
as a cadence chord. [PLAYING CHORDS] We have flat 6 major, which can
work as an approach chord to flat 7. [PLAYING PIANO] Isn’t it wonderful? Really bold. You know, it just sounds
like black and red to me. [PLAYING PIANO] And then also within the scale, we
have a couple of unstable chords. We have the 3 diminished triad– [PLAYING CHORD] –and by extension– [PLAYING CHORD] –the 3 diminished
seventh chord, which is handy for an approach
to the subdominant. [PLAYING PIANO] 3 diminished 7. [PLAYING PIANO] And then we also have
the 5 minor 7 flat 5 and the 5 diminished chord, which
is an approach to the flat 6. [PLAYING PIANO] So once again now, we have a scale which
is more complex than the Phrygian mode. It has the potential for possible
tonicization of the 4 chord. So you have to be very careful
in how you treat it temporally. Give lots of emphasis to
the tonic major triad. Embellish it often. Cadence with the typical
Phrygian cadence chords. And then also, when you’re writing
in Spanish Phrygian melody, you have those two melodic
alternatives, the flat 3 and the 3, which can be used to
different colorful advantages. So enjoy yourself. And explore the Spanish Phrygian mode. Write a small piece. Explore the harmonic possibilities. Explore the melodic possibilities. And increase your
compositional vocabulary.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Hi, I'm at college in the uk, not studying music but am mega interested in music theory and getting to grips with modes and theory on guitar and found this pretty interesting albeit very advanced for my current understanding. I was wondering if you've got any more material like this on your channel for other modes, like I say I'm getting into modes and started writing some material, love the content you upload, keep up the great work. Hoping I can make something of all this one day.

  2. RXRA's song "A Little Light Of Love" (from The Fifth Element's closing credits) is based on this scale, too.

    Really neat explanation of the theory, btw. Thank you for the lesson 🙂

  3. @2:40 That is not a Phrygian cadence. A Phrygian cadence is a iv6 – V.

    What you have here is a IV – bIII – bII – I which is known as the Andalusian cadence.

  4. It shares the same notes as the bebop major (Barry Harris 6th diminished scale).  It appears to be the 3rd mode of that bebop major scale.  C Spanish Phrygian = A flat Bebop Major.  So you could use all the "movement" techniques that Barry talks about as well, by alternating between an A flat 6th and B flat Diminished inversions.  Keeping in mind to only use them to accentuate the subdominant F minor or G diminished chords…I think…

  5. Funny, I "invented" this scale by myself on keyboard when I was a kid. Mine didn't have the minor 3rd though. To comp myself I used genderless chords (like power chords on guitar) of the 1, the flat 2 and the 7. It was intended to sound "arabic" (in a cheesy, western, kind of exotica way).

  6. This guy makes 99% of the musicians explaining shit on YouTube look like complete fucking morons… Well done.. A tad confusing though for me when you were talking about the chords and shit but it's all good..

  7. Mixolydian Sharp 9 flat 9 flat 13 scale associated with dominant 7th chord which move to minor target chord

  8. If you expand this mode -it becomes C:Eb;F;Bb;Db;E;Ab; So the tonic triad is not really C major – The first expansion of a C Major scale is C:E:G:B:D:F:A:C ..so the mode doesn't really fit neatly into a series of triads. It is always possible to make any of the notes the tonic of any chord of course, so in that sense you could use a C Major triad as a root chord –

  9. Thank you so much! I will definitely incorporate this scale into my GCSE composition which is a fusion of Latin and jazz music.

  10. I got here kind of by mistake. I happened to listen to the Concierto de Aranjuez, next to a brass-heavy version of la Virgin dela Macarena, and I thought to Google "What makes music sound Spanish?" After this lesson, I'm going to watch and read the whole series from the start!

  11. "You've already explored the phrygian scale and made a piece"… well I'm in the deep end now, too bad I'm a poor swimmer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *