Do you notice that using minor scales and major scales to solo over a major key starts to get boring? Do you wish you could find new ways to use notes and scales you already know? If so, learning to play in various modes just might be what you need. Today we’ll be taking a look at C Mixolydian mode!
What Is Mixolydian Mode?
Modes of music have mystified countless musicians the world over. Plenty of guitarists shy away from them entirely. But they aren’t nearly as complex and almost threatening as some players make them out to be.
To begin to make sense of modes, you need to understand that the only difference (or at least the primary difference) between them is the placement of the first note. In music, a “mode” is a version of the major scale played with a different starting point.
In essence, modes are often defined as different “flavors” of the major scale. Each one has its own particular feel. Each mode originated in ancient Greece, which explains the unique and archaic-sounding names they are called.
The Mixolydian mode is known as the fifth mode of the major scale. There are seven modes in total, one for each note in an octave of the major scale (the eighth note of an octave is just the first note repeating):
The Ionian mode is just the “standard” way of playing the major scale, but it is technically considered to be a mode. Modes toward the top of the above list tend to have a “brighter” sound, while those closer to the bottom sound “darker.” For example, songs in Locrian mode often have a tone between sad and scary. The cool video below will show you the familiar “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” played in all seven modes. It should also help you identify the general feel of the Mixolydian mode and understand the contrast between the different modes.
You can spend a while digging into the music theory around the Mixolydian scale, but we’ll try to stick to the knowledge you can apply. Here are the intervals of all scale degrees of the Mixolydian scale:
- Tonic/root note
- Major second
- Major third
- Perfect fourth
- Perfect fifth
- Minor seventh
But what does this all mean? The general character of a mode determines what type of music it’s used in. Thanks to its inclusion of a minor seventh, the Mixolydian mode works well in blues and jazz. But that seventh also gives you the opportunity to add (and then resolve) some tension between the notes, so it comes up in pop and rock as well!
What Is C Mixolydian?
We learned above that Mixolydian mode is the fifth mode of the major scale. We can use that knowledge to discover what notes are in it, although it’s a good idea to have some familiarity with major scales. To find the notes, you just need to know what major scale has C as its fifth note.
That scale is the F major scale, which is F – G – A – Bb – C – D – E. To create the C Mixolydian mode of the F major scale, we just need to start the scale at C. We get this:
C – D – E – F – G – A – Bb
That lines up with the above explanation of the Mixolydian mode, as the seventh note of the scale is flattened. And like any other scale, this one simply reaches an octave higher as it repeats.
There’s another way to construct the scale we need as well. With C as the root note (or tonic), you just need to devise the scale based on a formula of whole steps and half steps. That pattern is W – W – H – W – W – H – W. As you can see, applying this pattern starting at the tonic also gives us C – D – E – F – G – A – Bb, also known as the F major scale!
***You may have heard whole and half steps described as “tones.” A whole step is called a “tone,” while a half step is called a “semitone.”
Here are the note names in the context of the intervals of any Mixolydian scale:
- Tonic/root note: C
- Major second: D
- Major third: E
- Perfect fourth: F
- Perfect fifth: G
- Sixth: A
- Minor seventh: Bb
What Chords Go With C Mixolydian?
Now you have a pretty good feel for the notes that go with this mode. But what about chords? If you’ve written music or want to start writing it, it’s vital to know what chords to pair with what keys and modes.
It can’t hurt to have a chord chart like this one around when you’re trying to select chords for a progression. Here are some examples of chords that go with this mode, along with their intervals:
You likely noticed that these chords seem to at least roughly follow the line of notes in the C Mixolydian and F major scales. This makes sense, as chords are really just collections of multiple notes that you play at once.
But keep in mind that you don’t need to use each and every chord here if you’re putting together a piece of music. One popular example of a relevant chord progression is Dm/Gm/C7. Generally speaking, Mixolydian mode does especially well if you play it over seventh chords.
Why Explore Modes?
If you didn’t know before, you now understand that the Mixolydian scale or Mixolydian mode is effectively a way to use notes and chords you already know. So why take the time to learn modes and not just major and minor scales? Modes offer a unique sound and feel that can really set a solo or piece apart. Try it for yourself — you’ll find that a solo played using the C major scale vs C Mixolydian mode sounds very different!
Modes can take a bit of time and effort to grasp, so don’t worry if you forget some of the theory behind them! Here are some of the questions people commonly ask:
The C Mixolydian mode contains the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, and Bb. These are the exact same note names as the F major scale, but the Mixolydian mode just starts on a different note.
Sort of. Properly speaking, G Mixolydian is a mode of the C major scale. Both have the same notes, but the C major scale starts on C. The G Mixolydian mode of the scale starts on G. The context in which you’re using C major or G Mixolydian determines which one you’re using.
This is a similar concept to that of the major and minor pentatonic scales. Both the major and minor scales involve the same places on the fretboard, but their root notes are different. The way you’re using the patterns helps clarify whether you’re using the major or minor scale.