Finding Magic In The Mixolydian
Modes confuse people. Which causes many of us to avoid them. For me, if the terminology isn’t straightforward, I’m not interested in demystifying some obscure thought that’s hard to follow. For example, historian types may care that they are also known as church modes and that their genesis was somewhere between medieval times and the great renaissance. That doesn’t make them any easier to understand. The mixolydian mode however has helped me see the light, and the following words will be my best articulation of that revelation.
It started when I read that George Benson derived a lot of his vocabulary from the mixolydian. This alone provided an immediate challenge, yet inevitably some sense of how to make it work. The challenge is that mixolydian fits well with dominant seventh chords (incl. altered jazz extensions) … so it's more about making it fit with the right chords first. I grew up playing to minor chords, that’s where I go – so working it always starts off with the challenge of being new while you burn it in in a variety of ways until it becomes natural.
My interest in the mixolydian was revived with the diagrams that follow below. The first thing that caught my eye is that the patterns work for me – I know how to pull runs out of shapes that look like shapes I recognize. I have seen many other mixolydian diagrams that seemed way too difficult to integrate into my current state of technique and fretboard fluidity. So that’s the first plus in my view regarding these two patterns.
I also like that the intervals are called out. We always need the Root to find our position, the added interval callouts can be educational while developing your ear. I’ve been mindful of that as I work through them.
Assume this is in fact the top of the fretboard, which makes the mode on the left side - the G Mixolydian. It’s the G scale, except the 7th is flatted. You go for the F (b7) note as the emphasis note.
Here is the simple connection. Look at the first pattern and where the b7 falls on the first string. It’s the F of the open G7 chord. Dominant 7th chord – Mixolydian mode – the flatted 7th (F) is a chord tone – when you play it, you are playing an arpeggio – it will always work and sound sweet. Yet it is still a flatted dominant tone from a chord that crosses you over into a distinctively jazz blues sound. Land on it and lean on it often, it’s the one tone that makes it mixolydian in the first place. Dominant 7th chord – lock it in. Your ear will guide you the rest of the way. G7 chord – play G mixolydian scale = G scale with flatted F# (play F instead) = same as the C major scale – and you lean on F in a tasty way. Call it how you see it and whichever way is easiest for you to recall. Then transpose it to other keys...slowly.
On that note, the following is one of our tracks that can help you put this into practice.
Our “C7” track is built on a C dominant 7th chord (with an occasional C9 / C13 substitute).
It also has vocals. You can play with the vocals, over the vocals, in between the vocals – they act as a guide to potential motifs that may come to you. Be open to that. It makes for a classic jazz blues tune.
So let’s try the formula. The major scale is C Major – the 7th is B – the flatted 7th is Bb. When you take a C scale and play Bb instead of B … and then emphasize the Bb … you go modal when playing against a C dominant 7th chord and its extended variations. Or more simply, move the above patterns to where R = the C note position.
Let it soak in before going any further and you will find magic in the mixolydian mode. The sound is unmistakeable once you recognize it.
Stay with it. It will up your game. It's an intriguing sound with an element of mystery.
Think in short phrases and you're off to a good start.