Mixolydian mode (scale)

Recall that wse defined scale as:
a group of notes within an octave (and any octaves of those notes) usually played one at a time.

We can describe (define) a scale in any of these ways:
- by letters (representing specific pitches)
- by numbers (representing specific intervals)
- by step pattern (describing intervals from note to note)

So for example the major scale (ionian mode) can be described/ defined as/by:
C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C (in the key of C),
1,2,3,4,5,6,7, and W-W-1/2-W-W-W-1/2.

We define a major scale as a scale containing the notes (intervals) 1,3,5. (In other words, using the notes in the scale we can construct a major chord off the root note)

What is a mode? (of a scale)
- I will have a lesson on modes next time, but for now...

Let us define a mode as a scale within a family of scales that are related by their step patterns. We can derive the modes of a scale by moving the first step of a step pattern to the end, and repeating until we return to the first scale we started with.

As a practical example we will derive the modes of the major scale (major scale = WW1/2WWW1/2). We remember that we sometimes call the major scale the ionian mode (or ionian scale), and we sometimes call the minor scale the aeolian mode.

WW1/2WWW1/2 = Ionian
W1/2WWW1/2W = Dorian
1/2WWW1/2WW = Phrygian
WWW1/2WW1/2 = Lydian
WW1/2WW1/2W = Mixolydian
W1/2WW1/2WW = Aeolian
1/2WW1/2WWW = Locrian

So we note that the mixolydian mode is the 5th mode of the major scale, and that its step pattern is WW1/2WW1/2W.

Another way to explain modes (more commonly seen) is to rotate through the pitches to derive modes.

In the key of C:
C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C = C-Ionian
D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D = D-Dorian
E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E = E-Phrygian
F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F = F-Lydian
G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G = G-Mixolydian
A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A = A-Aeolian
B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B = B-Locrian

So we note that the mixolydian mode is the 5th mode of the major scale. We also note that the pitches (letters) are the same, so the modes share the same key (and key signature).

From either Mixolydian = WW1/2WW1/2W, or G-Mixolydian = G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G we can find the intervals (from the root note) to be 1,2,3,4,5,6,b7.

Looking at the numbers, we can deduce that the mixolydian mode is a major scale (not THE major scale everyone talks about - that would be the ionian mode, but a major scale none-the-less). that is, it contains the notes 1,3,5.

We also note that it is very similar to THE major scale. The ionian mode (THE major scale) has the intervals 1,2,3,4,5,6,7; and the mixolydian mode has the intervals 1,2,3,4,5,6,b7. So we could view the mixolydian mode/scale as an ionain scale with a flatted seventh ( a minor seventh in place of a major seventh)[ionian b7]. We can use this idea as a stepping stone to learning the scale. If you already know the ionain scale (THE major scale), then you could play those patterns , replacing the 7 with the b7. this idea of thinking of one scale as being another scale with altered notes (e.g. ionianb7, lydianb7, etc.) or with missing notes (e.g. pentatonic major, etc.) occurs from time to time, and may give some perspective/context/comfort in learning new scales.

Recall that the pentatonic major scale is made of the notes 1,2,3,5,6. We could use the pent. maj. scale to substitute for both the mixolydian mode (1,2,3,4,5,6,b7), and the ionian mode (1,2,3,4,5,6,7). It's a possibility, but we will lose some of the flavor (which is probably why we're using mixolydian in the first place).

So lets look at some patterns (moveable shapes) with which we can play the mixolydian scale.


mixolydian mode "E-shape" (root note on the 6th string)


Mixolydian mode "D-shape" (root note on the 4th string)


Mixolydian mode "C-shape" (root note on the 5th string)


Mixolydian mode "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)


Mixolydian mode "G-shape" (root note on the 6th string)


By combining two or three shapes together we can come up with lead patterns ( a way of moving up and down the neck in a scale rather than just across the neck). So you could learn these as a way to travel between two unconnected shapes (just one example of their use).



Going further, we could break them down to two adjacent strings and find that (because of standard tuning) there are two patterns for playing a pent.maj. scale within an octave. One for strings 6 to 5, 5 to 4, 4 to 3, and 2 to 1 [based on the tuning of a perfect fourth]. The other pattern for strings 3 to 2 [based on the tuning of a major third]. Here you go.

For two strings seperated by a P4:


For two strings seperated by a M3:


And finally, regardless of tuning we could play on a single string:


(this is useful for tapping, or playing any fretted instrument in any tuning)

We recall, that we can derive chords by harmonizing scales. We've previously harmonized the major scale in thirds to get triads, and seventh chords (see August 19th's, and august 16th's lessons)

We found for the major scale (ionian mode) The following triads:
and 7th chords:

Recalling from above that the mixolydian mode contains the same notes (pitches) as the ionian mode, it also contains the same chords (starting with the 5th chord of the ionain mode). So we have the following triads for the mixolydian modes:
and the following 7th chords:

We note that the mixolydian scale has a dominant seventh chord built off its root note, and also that it contains a p4. We call such scales (with a I7 and a p4) "mixolydian-related" scales. We could substitute such scales for mixolydian (giving us a context to begin exploring "outside" playing).

We can create "mixolydian" progressions. Doing so will give us a framework to analyze songs, and find good opportunities to employ the mixolydian mode. it's also good practice for songwriting, etc.
We see above the following chords for Mixolydian:
in triads: I-ii-iiio-IV-v-vi-bVII
in 7th chords: I7-ii7-iii7b5-IVmaj7-v7-vi7-bVIImaj7
(in 9th chords: I9-ii9-iii7b9b5-IVmaj9-v9-vi7b9-bVIImaj9)
(in 11th chords: I11-ii11-iii11b9b5-IVmaj11-v11-vi11b9-bVIImaj9#11)
(in 13th chords:
I've not covered the extensions in parenthesis yet, but I've listed them for those who would find such info useful.

So we could take any of the chords in the above paragraph and create a mixolydian progression out of it. We really should include some type of I chord (I, I7, I7sus4, I9, etc.) and it should be the predominant chord in our progression, with a feeling of resolution when we come back to it.

Take a minute to compare and contrast the chords from the Ionian, and Mixolydian modes.
Ionian = I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi-viio
Mixolydian = I-ii-iiio-IV-v-vi-bVII

They share the following chords (triads) in common: I,ii,IV,vi.
Creating a progression using only these chords would be slightly ambiguous, and could be interpreted as either Ionian or Mixolydian. In fact, such a progression would be a good one to record (or have a friend play) and solo over to uderstand the subtle differences between Ionian and Mixolydian (try switching from I-Ionian to I-Mixolydian and back, etc. over such a progression and see what different moods are created).

If on the other hand, you want to create a progression that has a more mixolydian character, you should include at least one of the other 3 chords (iiio,v,bVII) not found in ionian.

Where/when does one usually decide to use mixolydian?
- some would use it over the V7 chord in the major scale/key context (play V-mixolydian over V7)
- many jazz players use mixolydian (or a mixolydian related scale) over any/every dom7 chord that pops up (ex. play C-mixolydian over C7, etc.)
- over several chords that fit within a mixolydian context (see above chords for mixolydian). ex. over G-Am-Dm-F (I-ii-vi-IV) you could play G-mixolydian.
- over a related modal progression, use the relative mixolydian scale (ex. over an ionian progression i.e. I-IV-V, play the V-mixolydian; over a Dorian progression i.e. i-IV, play the IV-mixolydian)

As easy as it would be to think of mixolydian in a key context (i.e. that it's the major scale with emphasis on a different note). I would make a plea that you take the time to get to know the mixolydian scale for its own sake. Consider that both pink and crimson are shades of red, but there are times you want to use one and not the other (you wouldn't have a new born baby wearing crimson or a vampire wearing pink).

Likewise there are times when you want to use ionian or mixolydian. make sure you become familiar with the subtleties between the two. It takes time to breed familiarity with any scale/chord/rhythm/progression/effect/genre.

Or as they say...
the deeper you look into the abyss,
the deeper it looks into you.

We can increase our familiarity by singing every note as we practice our scales/soloing. In previous lessons on scales i've given some basic pointers on starting to solo. Those things transfer here too. Just replace the scale in question with the mixolydian scale (see lessons from May 24th, june 7th, july 5th, and august 2nd).

Christopher Roberts

How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/guitar/8theory3.html

Back to the Scale lessons index
Next lesson - Modes of the major Scale, pt.1
Previous lesson - Single string technique

Last updated January 1, 2003
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