Welcome back to another round of Modes with Songbirds! So far, I’ve published blogs on the Dorian Mode and my personal favorite, the Phrygian Mode. Check them out if you haven’t already! This post is all about Mixolydian, a cool workhorse of a Mode with a distinct flavor. It’s also quite easy compared to the others!
Quick Status Check:
Let’s take a pause and see the progress that we’ve made (and where we still have to go). There are seven different musical Modes, and each one correlates with a note of a normal seven-note scale. Let’s pretend that we are in C Major. The seven notes of that scale are:
C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C (but we don’t count this C – it’s just a higher octave of the first C)
Using all of the fancy Mode names, the Modes correlate with the scale in this order. Modes that we have discussed in blog form are in bold:
Ionian – Dorian – Phrygian – Lydian – Mixolydian – Aeolian – Locrian
Now, keep in mind that Ionian is just the Major Scale as we know and love it. There aren’t any tricks. Likewise, Aeolian is the natural minor scale. We’ll discuss the different types of minor scales in a future post, but you probably are already familiar with some form of Aeolian. That means that, after this post, there are really only two unique Modes left – Lydian and Locrian!
All About Mixolydian:
Here’s the meat and potatoes of this post: The Mixolydian Mode. Like all other modes, Mixolydian borrows the same notes and accidentals (sharps and flats) of its parent scale. If we are playing in C Major, and want to use the Mixolydian scale that already lives in C, we would start our scale on the note G. All we have to do is play the notes of the C Major scale from G until we hit the next G. Those notes would be:
G – A – B – C – D – E – F – G
Take a second to try this on a nearby instrument. You’ll likely hear the strange note right away – we are so used to hearing a normal Major Scale that the “weird” F natural note jumps out! Our ears want to hear F#, but Mixolydian surprises us.
The Theory of Mixolydian:
Mixolydian Mode is very closely related to the Major Scale. All you have to do is find a Major Scale and then lower the seventh note, or leading tone, by one half step. In the above example, the G Major Scale was transformed into Mixolydian by lowering the normal F# to F natural. This applies to every major key.
For example, C Mixolydian would be:
C – D – E – F – G – A – Bb – C (notice the Bb, not B natural!)
How to Mixolydian:
Given that Mixolydian is just one note away from the Major Scale, it’s extremely easy and fun to “flirt” with that special seventh note. For example, you could use the F natural as a chromatic passing tone in a G Major solo. You can also over-accent the lowered seventh to give your performance a bluesy, folk-like feel.
Mixolydian works perfectly with songs in Major Keys. It’s just enough to make your listeners’ ears perk up and pay attention to what you’re saying!
You can also lean hard into the lowered seventh note and write songs with a lowered seventh chord. For example, in the key of G Major, the normal diatonic chords are as follows:
G – Am – Bm – C – D – E – F#dim – G
Using Mixolydian, the diatonic chords look like this:
G – Am – Bm – C – D – Em – F – G
Whoa, F Major instead of F# diminished? That’s something exciting! Using this chord immediately sounds like folk and bluegrass. It’s not as dramatic as some other, more exotic, chord substitutions, but it’s instantly recognizable and sounds good to every listener. It’s unique and powerful, but not too out-of-the-box.
A Popular Example of Mixolydian:
Take a listen to Clocks, the huge hit song by Coldplay. This song is actually in Mixolydian! The main piano lick is formed around the following chords:
Eb – Bbm – Fm
The song is in Eb Major, and we would expect to hear a Bb Major chord as the fifth diatonic chord. However, Clocks uses the minor five, the third of which is the note Db. That is the flat seventh note in the Eb Major scale – or in other terms, the secret spicy Mixolydian note!
Note: The minor four chord substitution is quite common and alluring in most music. This is NOT derived from Mixolydian. The Mixolydian substitution is the minor five chord.
Try It Out!
Mixolydian is a great Mode with very little risk. That lowered seventh tone doesn’t sound bad or like a mistake in most instances, and even if it sounds a little funky, repetition legitimizes. Try out Mixolydian the next time that you improvise a solo or write your own material! Stay tuned for future blog posts that discuss the remaining modes that we have yet to explore, and until then, read the other posts on our Knowledge Blog!