The Mixolydian Mode: A Complete (Fun) Guide

Welcome to your go-to-mode for dominant 7 chords.

Music without tension is boring. Life is about ups and downs, and music is a reflection of life. Add some tension to your music with the 5th mode of the major scale, the mixolydian mode. I can bet your lines will instantly become more interesting. Plus, the mixolydian mode just sounds cool (and bluesy). In this lesson I will show the easiest and most effective approach for improvising with the mixolydian mode.

Use this lesson to:

  • Learn basic modal theory.
  • Tune your ears to this mode’s unique sound.
  • Know how to improvise with it musically.
  • Have fun while you learn!

Mixolydian Mode example

mixolydian

Can you see how G mixolydian has the same notes as C major scale?

Visual Example

mixolydian
Play the white notes on a piano from G to G and you have G mixolydian, fifth mode of C major.

Real Life Example

chord progression
In this example G7 is the V chord in the key of C major. You can play G Mixolydian over this G7 chord.

Fingering

I recommend you start off by learning the mixolydian mode on the guitar in these two positions. A white circle means that note is the root note of the scale. Numbers indicate what finger to use (1: first finger, 2: second finger, etc). You can easily move this diagram up or down frets to play in any key you want (the magic of being jazz guitarist!).

mixolydian mode mixolydian mode

How to HEAR the Mixolydian Mode

To start off with, you can think of G mixolydian = C major scale. But to really HEAR the unique sound of any mode you need appreciate this scale as its own entity.

Try this:

  • Forget about C major.
  • Think of G mixolydian as the G major scale but having a flat 7 (b7).
  • Play a G7 chord and play through the scale slowly.
  • Accustom your ears to the sound of b7
  • Try this with all your modes, think of each mode as its own unique scale.

To sum up, modes are easy to learn because they share the same notes as each other. But to get your ears around them, think of each mode as a unique scale and key centre. I remember modes being confusing to me when I started out, let me know in the comment section below if this trick works for you!

When to Use the Mixolydian Mode

  • dom7 chords (also: dom9, dom11, dom13)
  • Sus7 (or dom7sus4)
  • All dom7 chords in 12 bar blues

How to Use the Mixolydian Mode

So now you know WHAT this mode is its time to learn HOW to use it. To get your fingers around the mixolydian mode, I recommend you check out, How to Practice Jazz Guitar Scales. Apply the patterns I use in that lesson to build your muscle memory of this mode.

To get your ears accustomed to the mixolydian mode, here are 6 tips:

  1. Mixolydian ‘inside’ notes: 1, 3, 5, b7
  2. Mixolydian color tones: 9, 13
  3. Avoid or pass over the 11th.
  4. Play around with sliding into the 3rd.
  5. Record yourself playing a dom7 chord. Listen to how each note of the scale sounds.
  6. Noodle. Improvise!

My II V I lesson is packed full of great tips to soloing over dom7 chords, check it out for some more ideas.

The Bebop Mixolydian Scale

A better option for more advanced jazz guitarists is the Bebop Mixolydian Scale. Here is why bebop scales better:

  • They add chromatic notes to your lines.
  • Your lines will sound fluid and more ‘jazzy.’
  • Most modern jazz guitarists use the bebop vocabulary is some way or another. Even if they aren’t PLAYING bebop, they USE bebop lines.
  • They just sound cool.

Bebop Mixolydian Scale

mixolydian mode bebop

The Blues and the Mixolydian Scale

The mixlydian mode has a ‘blusyness to it’. This comes from the b7. On a blues, you can use the mixolydian scale on all the dom7 chords. Cool, right?

For example, in a simple 12 bar blues in E, our chords would be:

E7 E7 E7 E7
A7 A7 E7 E7
B7 A7 E7 E7

  • You can use E mixolydian over any E7
  • You can use A mixolydian A7
  • Use B mixolydian over B7

To play any mixolydian Scale, simple use my scale diagrams above. Centre the white circle (root note) on the chord you want to play.

Here are 4 bluesy things to try out with on this mode:

  1. Slide or bend up to the 3rd.
  2. Slide or bend up to the b7 from the 6th.
  3. Land on the 9 or 13 to sound jazzy.
  4. Use the chromatic ‘blues note’ – #4.
  5. Ascend chromatically from the b3 to the 5th. I read on well know jazz guitar website that this really simple concept is the ‘#1 lick that every guitarist must know.’ Grab it!

Mixolydian Mode Summary

ScaleMixolydian Mode
ChordDom7, Dom9, Dom13, Dom7sus4, Dom11
NotesR, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7
C Major ScaleC, D, E, F, G, A, Bb
Chord/ Guide Tones3rd and b7
Color Tones9th, 13th,
Avoid Notes11
Sam's TipReally explore that b3 to major 3 bluesyness. Slide, bend, whatever! Also check out the lydian dominant scale (the hip older brother to this mode).

Further Learning

Free Major Scale Mode Lessons

  1. Ionian
  2. Dorian
  3. Phryigian
  4. Lydian
  5. Mixolydian
  6. Aeolian
  7. Locrian

Thanks for checking out this lesson, please feel free to leave a comment below with any suggestions or questions.

~ Sam Blakelock | pickupjazz.com

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