Mixolydian Mode for Guitarists

 

This post was originally published on the Roland Australia Blog

Background

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 your self 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.

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 (usually blues) when improvising.

Sneak Peek

If you want to jump straight in and hear how it sounds, click on the video below. However, if you want to understand the theory and learn  exactly when to play the mode, read on…

The Theory

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:

Mixolydian Mode | Roland UK

Since the G Mixolydian mode contains exactly the same notes of 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

gmajmix

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 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 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, 3rd, 5th and 7th 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 resolves themselves on the V chord

Chord progressions like V-IV-I-V are perfect because it fulfills 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.

Video Example

In the video below, guitarist Marc Bergeron demonstrates the power of the Mixolydian mode.

Download the Backing Track and Chord Chart for FREE!

Thanks to Coffee Break Grooves, from now until 31st December 2014, you can download the backing track used in the video here  “Funk 2-8 F 128bpm F Mixolydian”

The track is in the key of Bb and, as you can see from the Chord Chart, has chord progressions that revolve around the V chord in the key (F) , so soloing in the F Mixolydian mode is perfect.

All Coffee Break Grooves tracks contain real musicians playing real instruments and go for about 15 minutes.

Try it out for Yourself!

Now it’s your turn. Below are the basic hand positions on the fretboard for the F Mixolydian mode.

Download your free Coffee Break Grooves backing track (Funk 2-8 F 128bpm F Mixolydian), then impress the world with your tasty new solos.

Mixolydian Chord Chart

 

Chord Chart pdf

F-Mixolydian

 

Marc Bergeron used the following gear in the video;

Gibson Les Paul

BOSS ME-80 (Preset Patch 5-3)

Roland Cube-80GX

Coffee Break Grooves backing track “Funk 2-8 F 128bpm F Mixolydian”

Others in the series;

Introduction to Modes

Dorian Mode

Aeolian Mode

Ionian Mode

Phrygian Mode

Lydian Mode

Locrian Mode