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What is the Mixolydian Mode?

The Mixolydian mode is one of the most commonly used scales in music. It is the fifth mode of the major scale.

A mode, you may remember from the major scale lesson, is a scale derived from another scale. The mixolydian scale starts on the 5th note of the major scale and ends on the fifth note. For instance, the C major scale is C, D, E, F, G, A, B, and C. The fifth note of C major is G. Therefore the 5th mode of C major is G mixolydian: G, A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. It’s the same group of notes only starting and ending on G, the 5th.

The structure of the mixolydian mode is only different from the major scale by one note – the 7th. Compared to the major scale the mixolydian mode has a flatted 7th.

The scale degrees are R, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and b7.

Although it is only the difference of one note, the overall sound of the scale is very different. You will notice the sound of this scale contains tension and feels unresolved. It’s like a grittier version of the major scale.

What’s with the Funny Name?

The scale’s name is pronounced mix-OH-li-DEE-an. The modes of the major scale were given Greek names. Ancient Greece is the birthplace of scale theory and acoustics. If you’re interested you might read up on the philosopher/mathematician Pythagoras.

Whole-Step/Half-Step Construction of the Mixolydian Mode

Like all scales, this scale has its own unique whole- and half-step construction. Remember, a half-step is from one note to the very next. A whole-step is two half-steps. The mixolydian scale goes W W H W W H W. That is, there is a half-step between the 3rd and 4th notes and a half-step between the 6th and 7th notes of the scale. Everything else has a whole-step between them. Remember, this is the only scale with this configuration of whole-steps and half-steps.

Intervallic Construction of the Mixolydian Mode

The intervals for the mixolydian mode are M2, M3, P4, P5, M6, m7, and P8. The only difference compared to the major scale is the 7th is now minor 7th rather than major 7th.

One Octave Mixolydian Mode Fingering

To play the most common mixolydian mode fingering, just lower the 7th note of the major scale pattern you already learned by a half-step. Just as with any scale or chord pattern, you can play this pattern anywhere on the bass fretboard. In the diagrams you can see two examples - one on C and the other on G. You can start this scale on any note.

Applying the Mixolydian Mode

The most common chord to which the mixolydian mode is applied is the dominant 7th chord. If you take the root, 3rd, 5th, and 7th of the mixolydian scale, you’ll see this gives you a dominant 7th chord. For a C mixolydian scale, the associated chord would be a C7 chord. For a G mixolydian scale, the related chord would be a G7 chord.

The mixolydian scale works with the V chord (see diatonic chords in the harmony section), since it starts on the fifth note of the key. In this way, the mixolydian scale is said to go along with the V chord in a major key. Later we'll discuss modes applied to chords more thoroughly.

The mixolydian scale will work a lot of the time on dominant 7th chords especially in rock, blues, funk, soul, and R&B. Keep in mind that this is not the only scale you can apply to the dominant 7th chord (especially when it comes to jazz). There are many others! I stress this because I see a lot of books and lessons that, to beginners, make it seem like this scale always fits every dominant 7th when it doesn’t. As usual, it always comes down to what sounds best, not what you might think is theoretically correct.

Chord Meets Scale

It's essential that you don't forget your role of defining the notes of each chord by stressing the chord tones. If you overemphasize the non-chord tones in the scale, you will confuse the sound of the chord to peoples' ears. Instead think of the scale tones 2, 4, and 6 as a way to "melodicize" the notes of the chord R, 3, 5, and flat 7. This is really critical to building effective basslines! You can play the "correct" scale until you're blue in the face, but it'll sound weak if you're not stressing the essential chord tones.

Mixolydian Mode Example Usage

Here are some mixolydian-based examples for you to check out.

Mixolydian Mode Details
Whole-step/half-step construction: W W H W W H W
Intervallic construction: Root, M2, M3, P4, P5, M6, m7, P8
C mixolydian scale spelling: C, D, E, F, G, A, Bb, C