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The Mixolydian Mode – What is it?

Modes are often the most confusing aspects of music theory for a beginner. But once you grasp how musical modes are formed and how they are used, they become much easier.

They can make a real difference to the sound of music, and the Mixolydian Mode is well-known for that. It is used widely in jazz, blues as well as pop and rock music. It has a range of uses and a very distinctive sound. So, let’s have a closer look at it, but first, let’s clarify exactly what modes are and how you can explore them and play them.

What are Musical Modes?

What are Musical Modes

Modes are seven different Diatonic scales. Each has its formula, and each generates a very unique sound. They are all uniquely different, but they are all based on a major scale. The formula to create them is based on a series of tones and semitones, or steps and half steps. Modes can be played in any key using the formula to create them.

Each mode has a different commencement note. A good way of experimenting with musical modes is to play a single octave using just the white keys on a piano. But each time, you start on a different note. The note you start on is the root note for a different mode.

Furthermore, modes were in use before there were such things as major and minor keys. They are given Greek names because they first evolved in that area of the ancient world. The seven modes are:

  • Ionian.
  • Dorian. 
  • Phrygian. 
  • Lydian. 
  • Mixolydian. 
  • Aeolian. 
  • Locrian.

If you play all the white keys on your piano from C to C, that is the Ionian mode. Likewise, play all the white notes from D to D, and you have the Dorian mode. For the Mixolydian, you play all the white notes from G to G.

What is the Mixolydian Mode?

This is what we call the fifth note of the major scale. So-called because it commences on the 5th note of the major scale. Sometimes people refer to it as the dominant. This is because the dominant is the fifth note or degree of the major scale.

Mixolydian Formulas…

If you want to know how to play a Mixolydian scale, simply play all the white keys from G to G on the piano. The notes are G – A – B – C – D – E – F.

You can create a Mixolydian scale in any key by using the formula of tones and semitones. That formula is, T– T– S– T– T– S and T. Or if you prefer in whole steps and half steps, W– W– H– W– W– H and W. As I said, you can create the scale in any key just by using the formula.

Using the Same Notes

You may recognize that using the Ionian Mode of C to C on the white keys; you will use the same notes as the G to G of the Mixolydian. Here they are both modes from the C major scale. They do have the same notes. But they have different starting points.

The Degrees of the Mixolydian scale

The Degrees of the Mixolydian scale

I made a comparison with the Ionian mode on purpose. The Mixolydian mode and Ionian modes are very similar. The difference is that the Mixolydian mode has the seventh degree, or note, flattened by a semitone or half step.

Here are the notes or scale degrees of the Mixolydian mode:

  • The Root note of G.
  • Major second.
  • Major third.
  • Perfect fourth.
  • Perfect fifth.
  • Major sixth.
  • Minor seventh.

This mode will give us the triad chord of degrees 1, 3, and 5. And also a Dominant seventh chord with notes of 1, 3, 5, and 7.

Genres for the Mixolydian Mode

This is not a series of notes in a scale that pops up only now and then. It is widely used in a variety of genres, and it is widely used in Jazz and Blues music. But it also has its place in Pop and Rock, as well as in the past with the Classical composers.

Music Written in the Mixolydian Mode

As I said, the Mixolydian Mode is a very widely used scale in pop and jazz music. Likewise, it is one of the key sounds of blues and jazz music. The song “All Blues” by Miles Davis is a good jazz example of the Mixolydian Mode. And John Coltrane was a great advocate of modal playing.

But it has also found its way into modern music culture. Here are few songs that were written in the Mixolydian mode:

  • Dear Prudence – The Beatles (John Lennon).
  • Within You Without You- The Beatles (George Harrison).
  • Norwegian Wood- The Beatles (John Lennon).
  • If I Needed Someone- The Beatles (George Harrison).
  • Sweet Home Alabama- Lynyrd Skynyrd.
  • Let it Loose- The Rolling Stones.
  • L.A. Woman- The Doors.
  • Seven Bridges Road – written by Steve Young but most known as performed by The Eagles.

Classical Music had its notables as well. Chopin was well-known for using modes in his writing, as was Schubert and Bach.

If you are interested in learning about Musical Modes in greater detail, these are some excellent resources.

Understanding Modes

Understanding Modes

These “quasi-cryptic” modes in music don’t need to frighten the student, old or young. But to understand modes, first, you need to understand scales. This is because Modes are built from scales.

A mode is only a scale pattern. It can be major or minor, though I have concentrated here on the major scale. It starts not just on the root but anywhere. And where you start dictates its name but, more importantly, its sound.

Variations on Scales

Modes are simply variations on scales. They make up an important part of understanding tonal music. Understanding them will make you appreciate music more. And that will translate into your performance, especially if you are composing.

Want to Improve your Music Theory Skills?

Our experts can help you with that. Have a look at our handy guides to The Minor ScalesThe Scale Degree Names ExplainedA Complete Guide To Major ScalesA Quick Guide To Species CounterpointDiatonic Scales, and the Best Music Theory Apps for more useful information.

You may also benefit from an instrument upgrade. Check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Tenor Saxophones, the Best Alto Saxophones, the Best Cremona Violins, the Best Trumpet, the Best Flute, the Best Portable Keyboard Pianos, or the Best Digital Grand Piano that you can buy in 2023.

The Mixolydian Mode – Final Thoughts

It will not be easy at first, but you will come to understand. One day it will be like someone has just turned a light on, and all is clear. Then you will probably ask yourself what all the fuss was about.

Until next time, let your music play.

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