How to Harness the Psychadelic Openness of the Mixolydian Scale

The Mixolydian Mode is a great sounding scale, but it's often misunderstood and underutilized by songwriters. 

It's not that the Mixolydian Mode is complicated to use. It's just that most people are unaware of its existence or are turned off by music theory. However, not utilizing the unique sonic color of Mixolydian is doing a disservice to your songs.

Mixolydian Scale

This article will give you everything you need to know about this elusive musical concept so that you can start using it in your songs today!

Let’s get started!

The topic of Music Theory is vast and complicated. It doesn’t have to be complicated and I’ve created a resource that goes through everything you need to know to be a competent musician, songwriter, and producer. I would highly recommend checking out that article as a primer to the rest of this article and other theory posts I have on this site. It’s titled “The Ultimate Guide on Music Theory for Musicians Who Dislike Theory.

Mixolydian Scale vs. Mixolydian Mode

Quick answer: the Mixolydian Scale and Mixolydian Mode are the same things.

However, it’s technically inaccurate to call the Mixolydian Mode a Mixolydian Scale. But we aren’t going to be stuffy about it, and it’s actually easier to conceptualize modes as a type of scale.

So music theory purists, you are allowed to flame me in the comments, but I think it would be a better use of your time to go make some music and post your work instead 🙂

What Are Scales?

A musical scale is a set of notes that represent a musical key.

It’s important to understand that there are different types of scales such as Major, Minor, Bebop, Pentatonic, and many more.

Different scales have different feels, but the most popular is the Major Scale.

The general feeling of the Major Scale is happy. However, you can make a Major Scale sound sad by utilizing the minor chords associated with it.

Because most modern songs are written from the Major Scale, this article will be discussing concepts based on the Major Scale.

For more in-depth information on the Major Scale, please check out my article here.

What Are Modes?

A mode is a diatonic scale. A diatonic scale means there are 5 whole steps and 2 half steps in the scale. This is the same as a major scale, but modes have different colors. They get their color from the difference in intervals (distance between notes).

A mode’s root note is derived from differing scale degrees of its accompanying major scale. Because there are seven notes (scale degrees) in the major scale, there are seven modes.

For example, if you are playing the C Major Scale, the notes would be: C D E F G A B

If you moved your tonic note to the fifth scale degree, you would be playing a G Mixolydian Mode, which notes would be: G A B C D E F

G Mixolydian Notes and Intervals

For a full overhead view of all the major scale modes, please check out my article on music modes here!

What is the Mixolydian Mode?

The Mixolydian Mode is a scale that has a flattened 7th scale degree (note).

In the Major Scale, the 7th scale degree is also called the “leading tone.” The leading tone has a very unstable sound and wants to resolve the first scale degree.

Leading Note = Tension.

Feel the Tension When I Hold the 7th

When this note gets flattened, it loses tension and gives the Mixolydian Mode its unique flavor.

The Mixolydian Scale is considered a Major Mode. However, because its root note is derived from the fifth scale degree of the Major Scale, it can also be referred to as a dominant scale.

What Does the Mixolydian Scale Sound Like?

When you play the Mixolydian Mode, you are essentially playing a darker version of the Major Scale.

The Mixolydian Mode can be described as psychedelic, ambiguous, open, and relaxed.

Color Tones

Mixolydian is a “Darker Shade” of the Major Scale

When you utilize modes in your music, you are essentially “coloring” the scale. You are either making it brighter or darker.

Sharp Notes = Brighter

Flat Notes = Darker

I have found this visual helpful for understanding how to harness modal colors like Mixolydian in my songwriting.

Because the Mixolydian Scale uses a flat 7, your “color tone” darkens your Major Scale.

Vice Versa, if you were playing a Lydian Mode, you would sharp the 4th scale degree. This would brighten your Major Scale.

Vibe

The vibe the Mixolydian Mode creates is one of rock, punk, and blues. However, because of the lack of the seventh scale degree tension, you get a more open and “free-flowing” vibe.

Playing Mixolydian Scales

Writing melodies and lead lines from the Mixolydian Scale is pretty straightforward. Simply play the Major Scale and lower the seventh note a half step.

C Mixolydian. It’s the Same Notes as C Major, but the B is Flattened.

On Guitar

Below are Diagrams of the Major CAGED guitar patterns with the Mixolydian flat 7 added:

C Form Mixolydian in D Major
A Form Mixolydian in C Major
G Form Mixolydian in A Major
E Form Mixolydian in G Major
D Form Mixolydian in F Major

The Chords in Mixolydian

Chord NumeralChord Type (Triad)
IMajor
iiMinor
iiiºDiminished
IVMajor
vMinor
viMinor
VIIMajor

There are three primary chords you can play around with when writing in the Mixolydian Scale.

We will use C Major as our Key Signature:

b7 chords

Bb Major

Bb Major is a 7 Chord in C Mixolydian instead of B Dim in C Major

Minor Fifth Chords

G Minor

G Minor is the Five Chord in C Mixolydian instead of G Major in C Major
C Major Chords
C Mixolydian Chords. Notice The Lack of Tension in the Seven Chord.

Playing Pentatonics with Mixolydian Mode

Pentatonic scales are five-note scales derived from the Major Scales. There are both major and minor pentatonic scales. 

These scales are very popular because it’s great for improvisation and hard to make sound bad.

If you want to get a deep dive into Pentatonic Scales, please check out my article on the subject here.

Incorporating the Mixolydian Mode can be a great way to add an extra flair to your music and melodies.

If you add in the Mixolydian “Color Note,” technically, you no longer play a pentatonic scale but a hexatonic scale. But who cares when it sounds good!

Remember that the Mixolydian Mode is in the Major family, so add in the flat 7th when playing Major Pentatonics to get it to sound best.

We will look at the CAGED system for guitar, but this time for Major Pentatonics with Mixolydian colors added in.

C Form Pentatonic in D Major
A Form Pentatonic in C Major
G Form Pentatonic in A Major
E Form Pentatonic in G Major
D Form Pentatonic in F Major

The Notes of the Mixolydian Scale

Disclaimer: I’m combining enharmonic scales (same notes/different names) and leaving out modes that have double sharps or double flats (it’s impractical for this lesson).

ModeNotesRelative Major
C Mixolydian ModeC D E F G A Bb CF Major
C#/Db Mixolydian Mode
(Enharmonic Scales)
Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb Cb Db
C# D# E# F# G# A# B C#
Gb Major for Db Mixolydian
F# Major for C# Mixolydian
D Mixolydian ModeD E F# G A B C DG Major
Eb Mixolydian ModeEb F G Ab Bb C Db EbAb Major
E Mixolydian ModeE F# G# A B C# D EA Major
F Mixolydian ModeF G A Bb C D Eb FBb Major
Gb/F# Mixolydian Mode
(Enharmonic Scales)
Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb Fb Gb
F# G# A# B C# D# E F#
Cb Major for Gb Mixolydian
B Major for F# Mixolydian
G Mixolydian ModeG A B C D E F GC Major
Ab Mixolydian ModeAb Bb C Db Eb F Gb AbDb Major
A Mixolydian ModeA B C# D E F# G AD Major
Bb Mixolydian ModeBb C D Eb F G Ab BbEb Major
B Mixolydian ModeB C# D# E F# G# A BE Major for B Mixolydian

What to Do Next?

The best way to understand the Mixolydian Scale is to go practice.

You don’t have to stick with just Mixolydian for adding colors. You can always mix and match!

Try using Mixolydian and other modes to create interesting melodies for your next song. If you struggle to write great melodies you must go read my article on How to Write a Melody today!

Thanks for reading, and now go make some music!

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