Music theory is something a lot of guitarists tend to shy away from, but it doesn't need to be boring or complicated.
The Mixolydian mode is a perfect example of how a tiny piece of theory can go a long way.
If you already know the major scale, then learning Mixolydian is as easy as shifting one note by one fret!
In this article, we'll explore the unique sound of this mode and learn how and when to use. If that wasn’t enough, we’re also throwing in:
- Handy soloing tips
- Useful exercises
- Scale and chord diagrams
- Jam tracks
We know, our generosity knows no bounds – let’s get into it!
What is the Mixolydian mode?
The Mixolydian mode is one of seven diatonic modes. Like all modes, it has a distinctive sound that sets it apart from the rest.
It's easiest to think of Mixolydian as a major scale with a lowered seventh note. So if you already know your major scale (AKA Ionian mode) all you need to do is move one note down a fret – easy right?!
- When we talk about modes it’s useful to use numbers or ‘scale degrees’.
- The major scale is always our reference point – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.
- The Mixolydian mode has a lowered or flattened seventh, so the scale degrees become – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7.
Who said theory needs to be difficult?!
Major scale fretboard diagram
Let’s put these two scales side-by-side on the fretboard to compare, first the major scale:
Mixolydian fretboard diagram
Now here’s Mixolydian – not much difference in shape, but that b7 really gives it a unique character.
What does Mixolydian sound like?
Mixolydian is favored by blues players, jam bands, and jazz guitarists – it’s got a fun groovy sound. If you want the upbeat nature of a major scale but with a bluesy edge to it, this is the mode for you.
Listen to the modal maestro Miles Davis mix things up with this mode on the track All Blues:
Best chords for Mixolydian
To know what chords work, all we need to do is look at the scale. You probably already know that a major scale works over a major chord, and a minor scale works over a minor chord – modes aren’t any different.
- We build basic chords by going up through the scale and taking every other note e.g. 1, 3, 5, 7.
- Mixolydian doesn’t have a 7 it has a b7. So our chord will consist of 1, 3, 5, b7 – this is a dominant seventh chord.
If you look at the dom7 chord below you’ll notice how it fits perfectly within the Mixolydian pattern we just learned.
Note: when we talk about scales we use 1 to describe the first degree, when we talk about chords, we use R (root note).
- You may also notice there is no 5 in this chord.
- It’s okay to omit the fifth degree as it’s not essential to the quality of a chord.
- This is a common practice for making complex chords easier to play, they’re referred to as shell chords.
The fun doesn’t stop there! If you want to get really fancy with some extensions, just follow the same formula:
1, 3, 5, b7, 9, 11, 13
You can add any of these notes into your chord for some extra spice, here’s a C13 – Mixolydian sounds great over this chord.
When to use Mixolydian?
Mixolydian can work in a variety of musical styles – don’t be afraid to experiment!
That being said, here are a few contexts where this mode really shines.
- Add some modal magic to the classic 12-bar blues.
- Any time you see a dominant seventh in a progression.
- Make it funky! Throw the flat seventh into your major pentatonic scale for some extra mixo flavor.
When not to use Mixolydian
- It may sound dissonant over a maj7 I chord – for example, C Mixolydian over a Cmaj7 will clash because the 7 in the chord will clash with the b7 of the mode.
- There is a similar issue when playing Mixolydian over major IV chords because the 4th’s and 7th’s rub against each other.
- A little dissonance can be desirable in some musical situations – so never rule anything out.
Mixolydian exercises for guitar
Internalize the mode
You can learn sequences, patterns, and licks for every scale, but the real mastery comes from your ear – not your fingers.
- Focus on being able to really hear each scale degree and how it interacts with the root note.
- Better yet, practice singing the mode over a tonal center.
- You can do this by strumming a power chord from root, and slowly singing each note of the mode, up and down.
12-bar blues progression
Add some Mixolydian lines to your blues playing for some instant cool points. It’s super straightforward and sounds awesome.
Here’s a typical 12-bar blues progression in C:
C7 / C7 / C7 / C7
F7 / F7 / C7 / C7
G7 / F7 / C7 / C7
Playing Mixolydian over these chords couldn’t be easier
- C Mixolydian mode over any C7 chord
- F Mixolydian over F7
- G Mixolydian over G7
And you thought modal improvisation was only for jazz nerds!
Mixolydian jam tracks
Once you’re familiar with the sound and feel of the mode, start experimenting with it in different musical contexts.
- Don’t just run the scale mindlessly, play with intention and work on creating melodies and phrases.
- Singing the notes as you play them on the guitar can be a great way of making sure you’re tuned in to the music.
Here are some simple backing tracks for the Mixolydian mode, one in C and one in G.
If you want to practice in a specific style, search for ‘Mixolydian [insert genre] jam track’ on YouTube.
Tips for soloing in Mixolydian
- Slide into the major 3rd from a half step below for a funky, vocal-sounding move with lots of attitude – this tip applies to chord tones in general.
- Bend up from the b7 to the 1 for a nice suspense/resolve – try this out during groovy vamps.
- “Surrounding” the major 3rd interval with the #9 (below) & 4 (above) and manoeuvring between the three intervals gives us a lot to play with when comping or soloing.
- Think of Mixolydian and the Blues scale as one giant crayon box to play around with.
- Start with your pentatonic, add in the notes of Mixolydian, then mix in the remaining unique notes of the Blues Scale.
The Mixolydian mode is a versatile and powerful tool for all guitarists – regardless of their playing style. Its blend of upbeat major vibes, with that bluesy twist makes it a favorite for many genres.
Whether you're looking to add some modal magic to your 12-bar blues, navigate dominant seventh progressions, or add some funk to your solos, Mixolydian is always a great choice.
- Remember that theory doesn’t need to be a chore.
- Learning modes should be a rewarding and enjoyable experience – it’s more about listening and playing than staring at sheet music.
- Experiment with Mixolydian in various musical contexts, create melodies, and explore the unique nuances of this sound.
We’ll continue this series of articles and cover all the diatonic modes, so check back soon. If you can wait until then, take a look at our modes masterclass, we offer a 14-day free trial too!
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