SMG Guitar Lesson #16: Mixolydian Mode

The notion of the Mixolydian mode dates back to the music theory of ancient Greece. However, the Mixolydian mode that we know today is very different than that of the Greeks. Modern day Mixolydian mode didn’t begin to take shape until around the middle ages through various translations, mistranslations, and alterations at the dawn of Gregorian chant. In other words, medieval music theorists kind of pulled this one out of the blue. You might as well say that Mixolydian means “mixed-up-lydian” mode. Ironically enough, modern day Mixolydian mode is very closely associated with rock n’ roll and hard rock music.

Using the musical compass, a Mixolydian scale is constructed by turning the dial to the desired root note and selecting the intervals root, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and b7 (or “dominant seven”) so you can think of it as being like a major scale but with a flatted seventh interval.


Below is the major scale pattern most closely associated with Mixolydian mode, as the lowest note of the scale pattern is also the fifth degree of the major scale from which Mixolydian mode is based. Notice that there are two duplicate notes, so you’ll tend to play one on the way up and the other on the way down. Also notice that the root note of the parent key is found embedded within the pattern in the fourth octave position.

Here’s the scale pattern built on D Mixolydian, the fifth degree of the parent key of G Major.

As with all scale patterns, it’s important to learn them in a way that is musical, so that you’ll have some ideas to build upon when you’re improvising. Here’s an exercise that does just that:

Scales tend to be one-dimensional while chord progressions tend to be more colorful and multi-dimensional. Chord progressions based on the degree of the key the mode is constructed upon tend to bring out more of the color and flavor of the mode. Here’s a couple examples of a G Mixolydian chord progression from the parent key of C Major. First we’ll start off with a straight forward example:

Now we’ll study how a Mixolydian progression can be made more colorful by using borrowed chords from nearby keys to add extra color and movement:

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