Breaking Down the Barriers: The Mixolydian Mode
In the last Breaking Down the Barriers article, I discussed the Lydian, or 4th mode, of the major scale. The Mixolydian mode is a very popular one, so you are bound to hear it more. It sounds great with many styles of music too, so you may easily find a use for it. You can hear this mode in such varied songs as ‘I Can’t Explain’ by The Who, ‘The Number of the Beast’ by Iron Maiden and ‘Louie Louie’ by the Kingsman.We know these are the notes in C Major:
C Major: C D E F G A B C
And to get to the 5th mode, we start on G:
G A B C D E F G
The 5th mode shares some things in common with the 4th mode. It is a good substitute for the plain ol’ major scale and there is only 1 note different when we compare the Mixolydian mode with its parallel major scale.
G Major: G A B C D E F# G
G Mixolydian: G A B C D E F G
If we translate this to numbers, we get:
G Major: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
G Mixolydian: 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7
That is right- the mixolydian mode is just like the major scale, except it has a flatted 7th note. This makes it especially suited to be played over dominant chords, which include the 1st, 3rd, 5th, & 7th notes of this mode. Check out this classic example:
A G7 chord contains the notes G, B, D, & F. So does this mode- perfect!
However, when faced with a G7 chord, most guitarists head right for the G minor pentatonic scale. You know, one of the first scales you have ever learned. It sounds good, it rocks, people will say you are awesome, and that feels good. But it is sort of predictable, and technically it has 1 note in it (a Bb) that doesn’t exist a G7 chord. For a fresher sound, try the mixolydian mode. Here is a common bluesy phrase, then, after a slight pause, the same phrase tweaked to use the mixolydian mode:
I just changed 1 note.
It sounds a little sweeter, and a little less predictable. It has a little happier feeling, because of the major 3rd (B) in there, yet still keeps the end resolution the same.
Here is a funky progression using G7 as the main chord:
Download the backing track and try it. Here is an improvised solo over that progression:
Another way to approach a progression for this mode is by having a simple bass line in G. Over that, I will then put the IV chord in the key of C (Fmaj7) as well as the V chord (G7).
Now I will play a solo:
Remember, the sound of each individual mode is only revealed when playing over specific harmony. Practicing modes outside of this is nice for a finger exercise, but you won’t really hear the modes unless they are practice over the right chords. I use a looping pedal for this, but any recording device will do. Or, if you wanna go it old school, teach a friend the chords.
Next time you are at a blues jam, throw this mode in. It adds a little country to your blues (due to the major 3rd). Remember, new scales or modes sound weird at first, but that is because we aren’t used to hearing them! It works so perfectly over dominant chords, you will wonder why it isn’t more popular.
Any other great examples of the mixolydian mode out there? Ever throw different scales into common tunes (because you wanted to, not because you didn’t know any better)? Mix (o) it up!