How to Play Mixolydian Mode on the Guitar - dummies

By Desi Serna

On the guitar, Mixolydian is the fifth mode of the major scale. It’s the sound you hear when the 5th scale degree is functioning as the tonic. Because it features a major 3rd and centers on a major chord, it’s considered a major mode. And because the 5th scale degree of the major scale is named the dominant, the fifth mode is also called the dominant scale.

Drawing from the G major scale, Mixolydian mode looks like this:

G major





D Mixolydian





You can think of Mixolydian as a major scale with a flattened 7th. This f7th is the most defining characteristic of Mixolydian mode, both as it occurs in the scale and as a fVII chord.

Here is how to view the fretboard in D Mixolydian mode, using the notes and chords of G major. The only difference is that the 5th degree, D, is now the tonic and counted as number 1. If you want to play a Mixolydian scale, play 1 to 1.

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

This is just one example of how you can view the fretboard. You can play in any manner you like; whatever you do, it’ll always be D Mixolydian as long as you’re using notes and chords from the G major scale and the 5th degree, D, is functioning as the tonic. You can play in other Mixolydian keys by centering music on the 5th degree of other major scales.

In order to properly produce the Mixolydian sound, you need to use some type of accompaniment, like the one shown here. This V-IV-I-V chord progression in G becomes I-fVII-IV-I when you start on D.

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

You can play along with G major scale notes to produce the sound of D Mixolydian mode in D Mixolydian Play-Along Track.

Because Mixolydian mode centers on a major chord, most lead guitar players prefer to approach it with major pentatonic scale patterns. You can see how to put together D major pentatonic and G major scale patterns here.

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

You can think of Mixolydian mode as being the major pentatonic with an added 4th and f7th. Coincidentally, D Mixolydian and B Phrygian use the same pattern combinations because D major and B minor pentatonic are relative to one another.

It’s recommended that you at least play through the combination set in D major pentatonic pattern 1 beginning at the 7th fret of the 6th string (it starts on B; D is located at the 10th fret). The key of D Mixolydian is just a starting point. Move the same patterns around to play Mixolydian mode in other keys.

Any time a piece of music uses the major scale and centers on the 5th degree, chord V, it’s Mixolydian mode. Some song examples that are either entirely based in Mixolydian mode or at least have a Mixolydian section include the following:

“Seven Bridges Road” by the Eagles (D Mixolydian)

“Southern Cross” by Crosby, Stills and Nash (A Mixolydian)

“Nothing But a Good Time” by Poison (A Mixolydian)

“What I Like About You” by The Romantics (A Mixolydian)

“Third Stone From the Sun” by Jimi Hendrix (E Mixolydian)

“No Rain” by Blind Melon (E Mixolydian)

“I’m So Glad” by Cream (E Mixolydian)

“Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” by The Beatles (E Mixolydian)

“Cinnamon Girl” by Neil Young (D Mixolydian)

“Tequila” by The Champs (F Mixolydian)

“Get Down Tonight” by KC and The Sunshine Band (F Mixolydian)

“Cult of Personality” by Living Colour (G Mixolydian)

“Two Tickets to Paradise” by Eddie Money (A Mixolydian)

“Fire on the Mountain” by Grateful Dead (B Mixolydian)

“But Anyway” by Blues Traveler (B Mixolydian)

“On Broadway” by The Drifters (Af Mixolydian)

Any one of these songs is good for playing along with and practicing Mixolydian mode. You can also put together your own tracks by centering a progression around the 5th degree and chord from the major scale.