Phrygian Mode

The Phrygian mode is Mode 3 of the church modes used in Gregorian chant. In modern terms, it is most easily described as the scale from E to E using only the white notes of the piano. In order to construct the scale starting on other notes, follow the pattern ascending from tonic: half step – whole step – whole step – whole step – half step – whole step – whole step.

A handout showing the mode starting from all twelve notes is available here.

The Phrygian mode is considered a minor mode because of the minor third above the tonic. It differs from the natural minor scale by having a lowered second degree. This makes the chord built on the dominant a diminished triad, so final cadences tend to be vii – i or iv – i. While named for an original Greek mode, the ecclesiastical Phrygian mode actually resembles the Greek Dorian mode (and vice versa).

For suggested ways to practice a mode, please read the newsletter issue on Learning Modes.

Some themes in the Phrygian mode include:

Pange lingua

PangeLinguaPange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium is a hymn written by St Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) for the Feast of Corpus Christi. It is also sung on Holy Thursday, during the procession from the church to the place where the Blessed Sacrament is kept until Good Friday. The last two stanzas, called separately Tantum Ergo, are sung at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The chant is in the Phrygian mode.

See a list of other popular chant themes here.

Aart de Kort – Grands Jeux sur le Pange Lingua – Orgue Isnard (1774) de la Basilique St. Marie-Madeleine à St. Maximin (Provence)
Anthony Hammond – Improvisation on “Pange Lingua” – Bradford Cathedral