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Guitar Mode Patterns

Question by John Orlofsky
(West Hempstead, NY)

I am little confused by the guitar mode patterns. I know all the shapes of the major scale, now does that mean that I automatically know the shape of Mixolydian as well? Does Mixolydian have its own pattern?

Answer

Yes and no! Let me try and explain.

If you know the major scale, you automatically know its modes. This is because the modes are themselves derived from the intervals of the major scale.

Some people think of modes as "starting" on different degrees of the major scale.

Think of the major scale as the "parent scale". Its 7 "children" are its modes. Each mode is rooted on a degree of the major scale.

It's just a case of identifying the corresponding major scale degree to the mode you want to play, and visualising the pattern from that degree's root.

For example, here are the major scale's intervals...

1 w 2 w 3 h 4 w 5 w 6 w 7 h 1

Since Mixolydian is the 5th mode, its root will be on the 5th degree of the major scale. We continue the major scale's intervals from that new root position.

5 w 6 w 7 h 1 w 2 w 3 h 4 w 5

becomes...

1 w 2 w 3 h 4 w 5 w 6 h b7 w 1

The b7 (flat 7th) is what the 4th of the major scale becomes when used in the context of its 5th mode.

Here is the most commonly used "box" pattern for Mixolydian...

mixolydian mode 1st position pattern

But as you can see below, all we're really doing is playing the relative major scale from its 5th degree...

major scale 5th position pattern

You can confirm this by playing the above pattern, first from the A string 1 note to the G string 1 note (it'll sound like the major scale), and then the low E string 5 note to the D string 5 note (it'll sound like Mixolydian).

So, you could rightly call that Mixolydian pattern the "5th position pattern of the major scale".

That's why, in the major scale positions lesson, the 5th position pattern is exactly the same as... Mixolydian!

What makes it distinctly Mixolydian is the musical context in which that pattern is played, and that's all covered in my guitar modes series.

As a side note...

Why the 4th of the major scale becomes the b7 of Mixolydian

First, the major scale's intervals:

1 w 2 w 3 h 4 w 5 w 6 w 7 h 1

We can see what these intervals become for its 5th mode by identifying the 5th degree and starting the major scale from that degree...

5 w 6 w 7 h 1 w 2 w 3 h 4 w 5

The 5 becomes the new root (1) and the intervals are now referenced in relation to that root, rather than the major scale's root...

1 w 2 w 3 h 4 w 5 w 6 h b7 w 1

The whole steps and half steps tell us what the intervals are for this mode.

For example...

A whole step from the 7th scale degree note to the root is a b7 (minor 7th) interval, whereas a half step from the 7th to root would be a 7 (major 7th) interval.

So, the 4 W 5 of the major scale becomes the b7 W 1 of Mixolydian (because we know 5 is the root of Mixolydian, therefore 4 becomes the 7th degree).

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4th of major - flat 7
By: Anonymous

can you please tell me why the 4th of the major scale becomes b7 (flat 7th) when used in the context of its 5th mode??

I've added an explanation
By: Mike

I've added an explanation to the end of the answer above on how the 4th of the major scale becomes the b7 of its 5th mode Mixolydian.

Cheers

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