Let’s start out with a quick test, the term Mixolydian refers to:
1) A ‘Game of Thrones’ character?
2) The people that built Stonehenge?
3) An ancient Greek tribe?
If you picked (3) then give yourself a gold star. The Mixolydians were a group of people in ancient Greece who lived around 700 BC. They wrote their music using a specific pattern of notes, similar to how we use the Major Scale and Minor Scale today.
The modern Mixolydian mode is often referred to as the ‘dominant’ mode in English speaking countries.
Contributed by Mark Smith for the Roland Australia Blog
The Mixolydian Flavour
The Mixolydian mode has a major sound with a slightly bluesy feel. This makes it useful for nearly all genres of music. So what does it sound like? Well, it depends on how you approach it.
Classic song examples include ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ (Lynyrd Skynyrd), the ‘Hey Jude’ outro (The Beatles), Back in Black (AC/DC) and ‘Royals’ (Lorde). A quick Google search reveals plenty of examples of pure Mixolydian guitar riffs and solos, but most guitar players blend this mode with other scales (in this case, usually blues) when improvising.
Confused? Let’s go back two steps. Typically, a guitarist would do little more than simply work out the key of the song before starting to solo. However, using modes requires that you think a little differently – break down the song into sections (verse, chorus, middle, etc), take a look at the chord structure for each section and then
choose a mode. Why? Because the modes are far more than just a sequence of notes that you can use to solo – they get their unique flavour from the way they fit in with the underlying chord progressions.
I should point out that it is rare that a guitar player will stay on one mode for the entire duration of a solo, as the unique ‘flavour’ comes from the context of the underlying chords.
So, let’s get started. Dive straight in and have a read of the theory, then watch the video, listening for the section that contains the Mixolydian mode exclusively (as indicated). After this, download the backing track, chord chart and fretboard positions and try it out for yourself.
In the ‘Introduction to Modes’
article, we saw how the Mixolydian mode is the 5th mode of a relative major scale. This means it starts and ends on the 5th
note of that scale.
For example, if we are in the key of C, the notes of the major scale would be C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C
. The Mixolydian mode contains exactly the same notes, but starts and ends on the 5th
note (G), so the notes of the mode would be G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G
and would look like this:
Since the G Mixolydian mode contains exactly the same notes of the C major scale, why bother with a fancy name? Good question! Because the sound of the mode depends on the underlying chords.
If you are improvising with a G Mixolydian over a C major chord, it will pretty much sound like playing a C major scale – because it is. However, the magic happens when you play the G Mixolydian mode when the G major chord is at the heart of the progression.
Why? You need to understand how the Mixolydian mode compares to the relative major scale.
The G major scale is G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G.
The G Mixolydian mode contains the notes G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G.
You can see that the Mixolydian mode is exactly the same as the relative major scale – except the 7th
note has been flattened (F# becomes F) – and this gives it a totally unique flavour.
This is why the Mixolydian mode is often written as 1 2 3 4 5 6 ♭7.
When to Use the Mixolydian Mode
Most guitarists approach a solo by working out the key of a song, then selecting either a major, minor, pentatonic or blues scale as a basis for their solo. However, to get the most effective use of the modes, you have to think a bit differently. You need to think in terms of modal chord progressions and to not just simply see everything in terms of the parent key.
Since the Mixolydian mode in the key of C contains G A B C D E F G
, if we take the 1st
notes of the mode (G B D F
), we have a G7 chord. So, the magic of the Mixolydian mode happens when you are playing in the key of C, but the G (or G7) is at the heart of the progression. There are two things to look for to determine if/when you can use the Mixolydian mode.
1) Consecutive V-IV chords.
2) Chord progressions that resolve themselves on the V chord.
Chord progressions like V-IV-I-V are perfect because they fulfil both criteria. For example, in the key of C, if there was an underlying chord progression of G, F, C, G then the Mixolydian mode would be a perfect choice.
In the video below, guitarist Roberto Restuccia
demonstrates the power of the Mixolydian mode. As you can see from the chord charts, this is a classic slow blues (96 beats per minute in 6/8) with D9, G9 and A9 chords vamped. There is plenty of room for a tasteful solo, so you can hear the true flavour of the Mixolydian mode.
Roberto’s notes show he broke up the piece into smaller chunks and went with the following (approximate times).
04 secs – 18secs: D Mixolydian.
18 secs – 22 secs: G Mixolydian.
23 secs – 45 secs: D Mixolydian.
46 secs – 48 secs: E Mixolydian.
49 secs – 59 secs: D Mixolydian.
60 secs – 107 secs: Diminished (then G Mixolydian).
108 secs – 129 secs: D Mixolydian.
129 – end: Altered.
Try it Out for Yourself
Thanks to the good people at Coffee Break Grooves, you can download everything you need for free (backing track, chord chart and finger positions), then try it out for yourself. The full backing track goes for around 15 minutes so there is plenty of time for you to get your chops down without having to start/stop/rewind.
After a couple of practice runs, you will start to hear the flavour of the Mixolydian mode when used in context with the underlying chords, and you can also impress your bandmates at the next rehearsal by throwing fancy new words like ‘Mixolydian’ into the conversation!
DOWNLOAD► Backing Track
DOWNLOAD► Chord Chart
DOWNLOAD► Mixolydian Mode Finger Positions
Introduction To Modes