What's the Mixolydian Mode? - 139

blog podcast Aug 25, 2020

Getting into modes can be difficult to wrap your head around. Today, I get you started with the what, where, and how of the easiest mode to learn: The Mixolydian mode.

I've talked about modes in the past, But if you haven't checked out those podcasts yet, here is a quick explanation of what modes are.

Playing a mode is another way to get different sounds out of the scale patterns you already know, by changing the tonal center (strong note) to another note of the scale.

One of the most used modes is the Mixolydian mode.

Why, because it is based around a very widely used chord, the dominant chord. The b7 chord.
The dominant happens naturally in the most common major diatonic progressions, V7 to I.
But, you have also heard this sound in other uses as well. It happens by force in blues, rock, and funk music.

Don't worry, It is not a weird scale and it isn't a foreign sound to our ears.
Today, let's spend some time with a group of notes that deserve a lot of attention: The Mixolydian mode.

What is the Mixolydian mode?

Mixolydian mode is the fifth mode of the major scale. For example:
Lets' take the C major scale pattern one and start and end on G. When you listen to this sound, it's very major sounding. It's happy. Everything sounds familiar, until the last note. Check it out. There is something different going on here. We have a mostly tension free scale until the 7th.

The lowering of the last note in the scale adds something different than your regular happy and sad sounding chords. It becomes unsettled. It wants to go somewhere. And that in itself is tense. It's not at rest.

The lowered 7th occurs in the major scale naturally when you play from the fifth degree of the scale to the next fifth on any major scale.

The way to approach this scale has traditionally been by using parent and child scales.
C major in this instance being the parent and G mixolydian being the child. This requires a bit of thinking, and is probably why a lot of players tend to avoid modes.

The thinking is in two parts. I need to play my C major patterns. But, I need to have G be the new tonic.

In that case, some like to think of it differently. They think of it as a G major scale with one small change. Lowering the 7th. It can be much easier to think and see the mode this way.

One problem I see a lot is that some think that the scale pattern that starts with a G on the low E string is the only G mixolydian pattern. I think that this way of thinking may carry over from CAGED type thinking. Where each chord shape gets its own pattern. So modes must behave that way as well. I'm not sure, but I have a sneaking suspicion.

So lets create a G mixolydian mode both ways, in a few different patterns.

The first way is to use the parent scale and find the fifth.
So what I'm seeing and thinking is the C major scale with a new starting point.
The next is to lowering the 7th of a G major scale. in several patterns.
In the key of G, find the F# and lower it

So, what i'm seeing and thinking is the G major scale with a lowered 7th
Very different.

I find myself thinking this way in blues, funk, and modal jazz where the I chord is a Dominant.
Same sound but you see it away from the other diatonic chords in the key of C
I use the Parent/ child thinking when playing mixolydian over a dominant chord that is not the main one in a chord progression.

Where would you use the Mixolydian mode?

Let's go there for a minute. The Mixolydian is the mode that matches the harmony of a 5 chord (the dominant 7th chord) in major progressions.

It has been argued that the V to I progression is the strongest in music. It is very final
The dominant chord needs to go somewhere and the tonic chord gives it the strongest place to resolve.

So to play a melody over this dominant chord you would want your notes to match that tension by incorporating the b7 note.

How does this start for most people?

When you start playing over diatonic chords and realize that all you have to do is play the major scale and it works for all of the chords, its a game changer. It opens up the door to soloing. You are thinking and playing one thing, even though the chords underneath are changing. And it sound great!

Eventually you realize that the major scale's quality Depending on which chord is playing at the time. The C major scale sounds different when the G chord is playing,, as opposed to when the C chord is playing.

Your ear starts to develop and you take the first step towards thinking of playing chord to chord.

The strong notes and weak notes change depending on what chord is playing.
How this effects us is that when you are playing a major scale over a diatonic chord progression, Mixolydian happens when the V chord happens.

How about in our other scenario: In blues/funk/rock over a dominant chord> Where the Dominant chord is the one.

This is something that has happened over time. We have decided that we like the sound of the 7th chord. We like the tension that it brings. So much so that we have built whole styles of music that feature this sound. I happen to really like this approach.

The common practice of using a dominant chord in place of the I calls for the mixolydian mode. It becomes your inside sound. It's the sound that matches perfectly.

But, this may or may not be what you want to play. It's very common to add to that tension by playing relatively out kinds of sounds over top of it: The minor pentatonic scale for example.

But when you need a melody that perfectly matches this chord, Mixolydian is what you need. Take a listen to the melody of the Jeff Beck song: "Freeway Jam" for a great example of this.
In non modal Jazz, it is commonly played as part of a ii V I progression.

ii V I is the most common jazz progression and it is a major diatonic progression. So, you can play major scales over it all day long, and it will work. You will have the most inside sounds over your ii (dorian), V (mixolydian), and I (Ionian).

The problem is it is way too inside sounding for a lot of players. They will experiment with varying amounts of tension, especially over the V chord.

But, the standard mixolydian sound is always there if you want to go back inside over the V chord.


How would you start to use the mixolydian mode?

The first step is to include it as a part of your major scales and major progression practice.
Learn to practice mixolydian in all major positions starting and ending on the fifth (in our instance: G).

Next, find your dominant 7 arpeggios, in all positions and combine modes with arpeggios.
We are getting these under our fingers and training our ear at the same time.

Next build some licks using the other method, by lowering the 7th of the major scale.
This is a great first step for those who struggle to wrap their head around modes. Try taking major licks that you already know and lower the 7th. Big difference, right. Now play that lick over a 7th chord built off of the tonic.

One of the common jazz scales ist the bebop scale. It does this process as well, but still includes the major 7th as well (both 7ths).

The last tip for getting started using the mixolydian mode is to alternate it with the blues scale over a 7th chord.

Even though the mixolydian mode has the tension of the V-I sound, you could still add more. The minor pentatonic using the minor third along with the b7 is the next step outside.

The mixolydian matches the chord Its playing over perfectly, and the minor pentatonic uses the b3 to amp it up a bit. The sound of the blues scale over the V7 is awesome and going in and out is a sound that you have heard before.

So that is your intro into the mixolydian mode. I think it is the most accessible mode to get started with.

My assignment for you is to do some experimenting this week with the mixolydian mode and then make sure to download next weeks podcast where I will feature a bunch of mixolydian licks for you to start practicing. So, tune in next week.


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