The Mixolydian mode is amazing and inspiring! This musical mode is the fundament of many different styles and can convey deep emotions. The options are almost limitless. But how do you write Mixolydian chord progressions or melodies? Let’s find out and let’s get creative!
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Rock artists, film composers, jazz musicians, and singer-songwriters have all used the Mixolydian mode. And with great success. The music can be as heavy or sweet and intimate as you like, as you will see from my examples. But what is the Mixolydian mode and how do you start writing music with it?
Video Tutorial: Make Mixolydian Progressions and Melodies
If you want to hear all these examples with real music, then check out my video on the Mixolydian mode. It has all kinds of examples ranging from Rock to Classical music. I guarantee it will not disappoint!
Modes made easy: Many people see the musical modes as being part of a bigger mode or parent scale, which is the Ionian mode. But 90% of the time I don’t approach it this way. I like to see each mode as a separate scale. So it’s not part of something bigger. Mixolydian is what it is and not some kind of small brother from the major scale.
I will explain how you make a Mixolydian scale and chord progression. And even you can use this for writing beautiful melodies and full songs. Just follow these three steps below.
How to write music in the Mixolydian mode:
- Take a major scale and lower the 7th note half a step
- Create a chord/triad on each scale degree
- Focus your chords and melody on the lowered 7th-scale degree, root, and major 3rd
How do you make a Mixolydian scale?
When we talk about music being in a certain key. We actually refer to the notes that are being or can be used in our song. And these notes often, if not always, form a scale. So to start our journey we have to make a scale and find the Mixolydian mode formula.
C Major: To start we have to make a major scale. And I hear you thinking “but you just said Mixolydian is a separate scale?”. Yes, it is, but for clarity, I like to refer to the major scale. Just bear with me.
All the musical modes or church modes as they’re sometimes called can be referred to as being major or minor-oriented. What this means, is that the 3rd note in the scale is major or minor. The major-oriented modes we derive from the major scale and the minor-oriented modes we derive from the natural minor scale.
How do you make a Major scale?
The Major scale consists of 7 unique tones. To make a major scale in any key you need to follow this fixed formula of whole and half steps. Whole Step – Whole Step – Half Step – Whole Step – Whole Step – Whole Step – Half Step. Just keep in mind when naming the notes, that each step needs to be a different letter from the alphabet. So you cannot have C and Cb or A and A#. It should be C and B or A and Bb.
How do you make a Mixolydian scale?
Remember our C major scale from above? To make the C Mixolydian scale, you just lower the 7th note or the note on the 7th scale degree with half a step. The rest of the notes in the scale stay the same! So the formula for making a Mixolydian scale is: Whole Step – Whole Step – Half Step – Whole Step – Whole Step – Half Step – Whole Step
Here is another example. The A major scale contains the following notes: A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G#
The A Mixolydian scale contains these notes: A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G. So as you can see they only differ by half a step. It is the note on the 7th scale degree.
How To Make Mixolydian Mode Chord Progressions
We will use the Mixolydian scale to find out what chords you can play or what chords you have in this musical mode. You need to create a chord or triad on each scale degree. And you do this by only using notes from the scale!
How do you make a triad? When you make a chord, just skip one scale tone and choose the next one. So for example in A Mixolydian, the chord on the first scale degree is A major. And the notes are A-C#-E. We skipped the tones B and D.
Making seventh chords:
Chord Progression No.1 In D Mixolydian
The following example has been used in classic rock countless times. And if you watch my tutorial, you will understand why. Classic rock and the Mixolydian mode go hand in hand. Especially the chord progression that goes from the 1st to the 7th and then the 4th scale degree. I bet that when you play it you will recognize the sound immediately.
In D Mixolydian the chords on these scale degrees are D major – C major – G Major. It is a progression that has a lot of power and brightness due to all of the major chords.
Chord Progression No.2 in G Mixolydian
The next progression shows a very typical and beautiful aspect of a Mixolydian chord progression. The most notable is the movement from the major tonic chord to the minor dominant chord. The juxtaposition of major and minor sounds absolutely amazing if you ask me!
The second thing is the minor 7th which is played on the major tonic chord. Especially when it is approached in a stepwise descending motion from the tonic/root. It is a very recognizable Mixolydian melody or melodic movement.
Chord Progression No.3 in C Mixolydian
This tip is a more general tip that you can follow whenever you question how to get the Mixolydian mode sound in your chord progression. You mostly want to play chords that have the lowered 7th scale degree, which is unique to the Mixolydian mode, in it. Together with your tonic, you want these chords to represent at least half of your chord progression.
In this example, we have mainly 7th chords. But not on the tonic chord. The sound of a dominant 7 as a tonic can be too strong or colourful for many styles of music. That’s why I did not use it here but did mention it. A Mixolydian chord progression like this creates a beautiful starting point for soft and intimate melodies. In my video tutorial you can hear a beautiful Mixolydian piano example.
Chord Progression No.4 in F Mixolydian
The following chord progression is not specifically Mixolydian. So things are still a bit ambiguous. In the singer-songwriter example in my video tutorial only in the melody we will have the Mixolydian mode. In F Mixolydian the tone that’s unique to the mode is E flat. You can use this note wherever you like. But in this example I used it as a tension note on the G minor, which is the chord on the second scale degree. This E flat creates an extra special character that otherwise would be missing!
Chord Progression No.5 in E Mixolydian
One of the best ways of actually playing with the sound of a mode is by doing it over pedal tone. It’s easy and it sounds great. But what is a pedal tone? A pedal tone is when you hold the bass note while the chords on top change. The bass note always stays the same and sounds constantly.
With modes it is important that you sustain the tonic note as a bass note. This way you really nail down the fundamental tone. And the other chords on top they change. In mixolydian this is extremely beautiful.
I really find that writing music in the Mixolydian mode is very interesting and exciting. It has some very strong characteristics, for example the juxtaposition of a major tonic and a minor dominant. It is also very suitable for rock, blues and jazz due to the dominant 7 chord that is on the 1st scale degree. Very often modes are used to explore different ways of making melodies. But from a chord to chord basis. Especially for the beginner musician, this can lead to boring melodies.
But can an entire song also be in for example the mixolydian mode? Yes it can! You just need to find the note that is unique to the mode that you want to create music in and find out which chords have this note in them.
Mainly use these chords and the tonic chord to strongly confirm the mode.
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Suggested Video Tutorial: Parallel Harmony / Harmonic Planing
The Mixolydian mode…
One of many different faces if you ask me.
In a songwriting sense i find it suitable for creating heartbreakingly beautiful music.
And to all the rockers blues players and jazz artists it will also sound familiar.
So let’s listen to some mixolydian chord progressions and let’s get creative!
To show how versatile the mixolydian mode actually is, i composed 5 different examples in 5 different styles.
In this episode there will be a Rock, Singer-songwriter, Indie, Classical Music and a Piano Music example.
First we need to dive into some quick but essential music theory.
The mixolydian mode is also referred to as being the dominant mode and this is because on the first scale degree we have a dominant seven chord. This is nice to know but where do we actually start?
To make a mixolydian scale you take a major scale of any key that you want to write in and just lower the 7th scale degree with half a step. Now to find out what chords we have in this mode we create a triad or even seventh chords on each scale degree and voila! We have our complete harmonic and melodic resource.
Classic rock and the mixolydian mode they seem to go hand in hand.
And especially the 1-7-4 progression is a favorite.
This chord progression lends itself for a party of classic rock guitar riffs.
This is because you have the brightness from all the major chords, but you have the power, the spice and the flavor of the dominant seventh chord on your first scale degree.
The following chord progression or riff as i should call it, focuses extensively on the note that’s unique to the mixolydian scale. Which in this case is the C.
Let’s check it out.
And this next example features two very recognizable sounds of the mixolydian mode.
First we have this very beautiful chord progression going from the major tonic to the minor dominant chord.
This juxtaposition of major and minor really lends itself for creating some beautiful and melancholic textures.
The second feature is the minor 7th that’s played on the tonic chord.
Especially the descending stepwise movement from the tonic to the minor 7th is a very recognizable mixolydian sound.
If you’ve seen my other videos on the lydian, phrygian and dorian chord progressions, then you know that i always like to add a piano music example. And of course this episode will not be an exception!
When you want to emphasize the mixolydian mode you mostly want to play chords that have the tone that’s unique to the mixolydian mode in it. And together with your tonic chord you want these chords to make up at least half of your chord progression.
In this example i mainly use seven chords, except for the tonic chord because i find the dominant seven sound to be a bit too strong for this example. And a mixolydian chord progression like this creates a harmonic bed for beautiful and soft melodies. This is especially the case when you embellish your chord progression with a nice arpeggio or picking pattern.
But what if you want to go for a very subtle mixolydian sound? Or what if your chords don’t outline the mixolydian mode? In this singer-songwriter example i will only use the tone that’s unique for the mixolydian mode in the melody. Which is e flat in this case. And not even on the tonic chord, i’m going to use it as a tension note on the G minor, which is the second scale degree. But don’t underestimate the power of this note because i find that it creates this extra special character that otherwise would be missing!
And finally one of the most tried and true ways of actually playing with the sound of a mode is by doing it over pedal tone. And what is a pedal tone? A pedal tone is when you hold the bass note or repeat it while the chords on top change. So the bass note stays the same.
With modes the idea is that you sustain or repeat the tonic note as a bass note while the other chords on top change. And in mixolydian this creates a very colorful and bright sound.
Check it out.
Here are some quick tips for you to remember:
To start writing in a certain mode it is important that you find the note that is unique to the mode that you want to create music in. So find out which note it is and which chords have this note in them. Mainly use these chords and the tonic chord to strongly confirm the mode.
And of course don’t underestimate the power of melody! Because by strategically planning how to play the minor seventh note in your melody, you can really communicate different messages, styles and emotions.
Or whenever necessary it can also strongly confirm the mode that you’re in. So spending time writing and playing music in the mixolydian mode is definitely time well spent!
I wish you many mixolydian adventures and for now…
See you next time!