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Mixolydian Mode on Guitar

If you've been going through the guitar modes series, you'll hopefully be getting used to the lesson structure, so I'll use the same for Mixolydian if that's ok with you! We'll start with the theory, then we'll look at the Mixolydian mode on the guitar fretboard, then we'll get a chance to experiment with it over the jam tracks.

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Mixolydian is the 5th mode of the major scale. Therefore, Mixolydian begins on the 5th degree of the major scale. Firstly, I just want to move your attention away from the peculiarity of the names of these modes. You can learn all about their semantic origins on sites like wikipedia. For now, let's just get to know the sound of Mixolydian.

Mixolydian mode intervals

1  W  2  W  3  H  4  W  5  W  6  H  b7  W  1

Hear it (G Mixolydian)

Don't know what the W's and H's mean? These are intervals. Spend some time studying fretboard theory if you're unsure.

Look at the intervals above - seem familiar? Mixolydian is exactly the same as Ionian, except for one tone - the 7th. Ionian includes the 7th in its natural position (the major 7th, a semitone/half step below the root/1st), whereas the 7th in Mixolydian is flattened one semitone to a minor 7th (b7).

So if you've been through the Ionian mode lesson, there's not much more to learn, apart from how that new minor 7th interval changes the flavour of the scale and which chords it'll work over.

By using the flat 7th in combination with the other intervals, you can get a very bluesy, country sound. Also, the flat 7th is seen as a staple tone in jazz music, which makes frequent use of dominant 7th chords.

Try building small phrases around the scale, making sure to include that flat 7th, so you can get some idea of the mode's flavour. For example:

1  3  5  6  b7  4  3  1 interval sequence - click to hear

Mixolydian mode on guitar

Just like in the previous mode lessons, let's first look at Mixolydian in its first position "boxed" pattern (which spans just 5 frets):

mixolydian mode first position pattern

So depending on where that root note (1) lies, that will be the key of the scale. For example, if the root note lies on the note G, and you play the scale around that position, it would be G Mixolydian.

Later, we'll learn how to expand out of this box and use more of the fretboard for fluid and effortless soloing.

Let's look at the standard fingering for this boxed pattern:
fret hand finger numbers
Mixolydian fingering

Mixolydian mode over chords

As mentioned earlier, apart from the minor 7th, Mixolydian uses exactly the same intervals as Ionian/major scale. Therefore, rather than me repeating a lot of what was covered in the Ionian lesson, I'll just focus on the main difference - the flat 7th.

Using the flat 7th over major chords 

The flat 7th is naturally a part of dominant 7th chords (major chords with a flat 7th - 1 3 5 b7).

First, it's important to make clear in your mind the difference between a major 7th, used in Ionian and Lydian modes, and the flat 7th used in Mixolydian. Take a listen:

Major 7th note over major chord

Flat 7th note over major chord

So by simply flattening the 7th just one fret/semitone, we create a very different sound. You need to really get to know this difference, as they both work over different types of chords and will sound incompatible if you play, for example, a major 7th over a dominant 7th chord, or a flat 7th over a major 7th chord.

Chord Type Tones Compatible Mode(s)
Major Triad 1, 3, 5 Any major mode
Major 7th chord (e.g. Cmaj7) 1, 3, 5, 7 Ionian, Lydian
Dominant 7th chord (e.g. C7) 1, 3, 5, b7 Mixolydian

Learn more about this distinction in the 7th chord theory lesson.

Mixolydian mode backing tracks

Right, let's experiment with some of our own ideas over the G Mixolydian backing track below.

Play around with different phrases from Mixolydian, trying that flat 7th in different places and sequences with the other tones in the scale.

Try skipping across the strings rather than just playing it in sequence from 1 to b7. Your ear will eventually pick up which phrases compliment the chord/progression most effectively. Think about starting notes and landing/finishing notes for your mini-phrases. I know - a lot to think about! Just give it your time and patience.

So, as this first track is in G major, our Mixolydian root note will lie on the note G. Using the pattern below, the low E string root note will be at the 3rd fret and an octave higher at the 15th fret.

mixolydian mode first position pattern
                       Fret 3
                     Fret 15

Download the Bb7 Mixolydian backing track

And here's a funky C# Mixolydian track. Simply move the root note to C# (9th fret) and play the scale from there...

Download the C# Mixolydian backing track

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