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Using Modes to Compose: Mixolydian

Updated: Feb 27

Hello there!


Thanks for visiting this blog to learn more about the Mixolydian mode.


If you’re a complete beginner in learning about modes, you might want to read this article where I cover the basics about what a mode is and start with the first one, Ionian.


You can also listen to a podcast about the Mixolydian Mode here!


MIXOLYDIAN


Mixolydian is the fifth mode in the order of the modes:


Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, MIXOLYDIAN, Aeolian, and Locrian.


Mixolydian is mostly made up of a major scale, the only difference in being the flat seventh scale degree.








While Mixolydian only has a one note difference from a major scale, that one note has all of the power to make the scale sound and feel completely different. I would describe it as being:

  • funky- not the weird kind of funky, but the dance/cool type of funky

  • mellow- it mellows out the major scale so it’s not so completely “happy” sounding

Now that you have a little bit of background to this mode, here are some musical examples of how it sounds when used in writing music.


MUSIC WRITTEN IN MIXOLYDIAN MODE


1. The first piece of music is a melody that was originally written by Martin Luther, which dates back to 1524, based on the Ten Commandments. The piece is called Dies sind die heilgen zehn Gebot. A number of composers used this melody in different arrangements, but this video shows the piece arranged by Bach called Fughetta on Dies sind die heil'gen zehn Gebot.





2. The second piece is Canon Prelude in Mixolydian Mode by Alexei Stanchinsky, written between 1913 and 1914. As stated in the title, this prelude was written specifically for this mode.




3. Moving onto the jazz age of music, we have All Blues by Miles Davis, written in 1959.



4. In 1966, the new and popular TV series Star Trek was aired, with the main theme (composed by Alexander Courage) using the mixolyidan mode. It's official title is Theme From Star Trek.




5. Getting into more modern and popular music, the next song was written by The Shondells and released in 1987: I Think We’re Alone Now.




6. The last example of music written in the Mixolydian mode is Royals by Lorde, which was released in 2013.





The Mixolydian mode is extremely diverse in its use; it can feel serious, playful, happy, or even otherworldly. These pieces offer you the chance to hear how you can use this mode to express new things in your own music. Let’s talk about how you can actually construct this scale!


CONSTRUCTING MIXOLYDIAN SCALE


1. The first way to construct it is using a pattern of half and whole steps. Mixolydian’s pattern is:


W W H W W H W


You can use this pattern to build the scale starting on any note. The video below explains the process, starting on D:



2. The second method involves adjusting Major Scales (or Ionian Scales) to become Mixolydian Scales.


Using any major scale, you can use all of its notes, but simply lower the seventh scale degree by a half step.


For example, if you play an A major scale and you want to make it Mixolydian, you’d lower its seventh scale degree (G# to G natural).

Here’s a video explaining the process (using the major keys: A, Bb, and D):




3. The third method is how to find the Mixolydian Scale within a Major Key Signature.


In this case, using C Major as an example, you find the fifth scale degree of the major key, which would be G.


Next, you play a scale beginning and ending on G, using the notes of C Major.


This will give you a G Mixolydian Scale because in a normal G Major Scale, you would usually play an F#. However, when played with a C Major Key Signature, the G scale plays an F natural, which is its seventh scale degree lowered by a half step.


You can take any Major Key Signature and use this method to find a Mixolydian Scale within it.

PRACTICE


Practicing putting together a Mixolydian scale different ways helps you to understand the qualities of the mode, how it sounds, chords that can be used, and the relationship between the notes. Understanding these concepts will help you in your composition process!


There is a pdf below that has all of the Mixolydian scales written in every key, then all with accidentals (these correspond to either constructing the Mixolydian scale starting on the fifth scale degree of a major key, or by simply using the whole and half step pattern).


Have fun and enjoy composing!


Mixolydian Mode Scales
.pdf
Download PDF • 154KB

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