How to Play the Guitar in Mixolydian Mode

Mixolydian is the fifth mode of the major scale — when the 5th scale degree functions as the tonic on the guitar. It centers on a major chord, so it’s considered a major key. It’s also called the dominant scale because the 5th degree of the major scale is named the dominant pitch and forms a dominant 7th chord.

This mode is fairly common, almost as much as the relative major and minor. Here you see what happens to the G major scale when you reorganize its notes and chords, beginning with the 5th degree, D, to produce D Mixolydian mode:

G major

1-2-3-4-5-6-7

G-A-B-C-D-E-F♯

I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi-vii♭ó5

G-Am-Bm-C-D-Em-F♯m♭ó5

D Mixolydian

1-2-3-4-5-6-♭ó7

D-E-F♯-G-A-B-C

I-ii-iii♭ó5-IV-v-vi-♭óVII

D-Em-F♯m♭ó5-G-Am-Bm-C

Mixolydian mode is often thought of as a major scale with a flattened 7th, its most defining characteristic. Mixolydian also features a ♭óVII chord, a major chord one whole step below the tonic. This is the D Mixolydian taken from its parent major scale, G.

[Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

You can play D Mixolydian anywhere on the fretboard as long as you use notes and chords from the G major scale and center on D. You can also move the pattern around the fretboard to play Mixolydian mode in other keys.

This puts you in a new major scale pattern that begins on the 5th string. Here the parent major scale is C and the mode is G Mixolydian. Of course, you find the same notes and chords elsewhere on the fretboard, so you can move this pattern around to play in other keys, too.

[Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna]
Credit: Illustration courtesy of Desi Serna

Here are some sample chord progressions and songs based on the 5th degree of the major scale:

“Seven Bridges Road” by the Eagles

D-C-G-D

I-♭óVII-IV-I in D Mixolydian (V-IV-I-V in the G major scale)

“Southern Cross” by Crosby, Stills & Nash

A-G-D-A

I-♭óVII-IV-I in A Mixolydian (V-IV-I-V in the D major scale)

“Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen

A-D-Em-D

I-IV-v-IV in A Mixolydian (V-I-ii-I in the D major scale)

“What I Like about You” by the Romantics

E-A-D-A

I-IV-♭óVII-IV in E Mixolydian (V-I-IV-I in the A major scale)

“Cinnamon Girl” by Neil Young

D-Am7-C-G

I-v-♭óVII-IV in D Mixolydian (V-ii-IV-I in the G major scale)

Another important feature of the Mixolydian mode is the minor chord on the 5th degree. You hear it used in the song “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen. Many musicians mistake this song for being a common I-IV-V chord progression in A major.

If you listen carefully to the recording, however, you can clearly hear the chords A, D, and Em, not E major. This progression is actually I-IV-v with a minor v chord. That’s Mixolydian mode!

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