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Welcome to my Harmony and Theory Bible series.

These articles will aim to teach you how to approach theory and harmony in a fun and creative way. Here you will find everything from beginners' areas like intervals, chords, scale construction and modes, to more complex harmony analysis and soloing approaches. Whether you are total beginner or somebody looking to recap on some knowledge, this is the place for you.

In today’s article we are focusing on the 5th mode of the major scale – Mixolydian mode.



Mixolydian mode

Last time we discussed Lydian mode and its harmony. Today we are focusing on Mixolydian mode which is original major scale/Ionian played from the 5th scale degree. We will cover formula of this mode as well as cadences (chord progressions) that describe Mixolydian mode. By the end of this article you will have an improvisation example of my approach over G Mixolydian mode. Let’s get started.

G Mixolydian mode is C major scale played from the 5th scale degree. For example, C major scale has following notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C (as octave). G Mixolydian mode in C major scale is its 5th mode starting from G note. We therefore end up with C major scale starting on 5th note - G A B C D E F and G. Notice how G Mixolydian mode has different order of half and whole steps. This is what essentially makes each mode unique and interesting. G Mixolydian mode is associated with major type chord (major triad or dominant7th chord) simply because these chords exist on the 5th scale degree of any major scale. Mode itself has very bluesy sound and is used in all styles of music especially in blues music. Very important thing to remember here is to associate Mixolydian mode with major type chords. Why? Simply because it is mode built on the 5th scale degree of major scale and our chord on that same scale degree is major triad, if harmonised into 3 note chord, or dominant 7th, if harmonised into 4 note chord. So remember, every time you see major chord , major 6th, dominant 7th or dominant 9th chord with tensions 9, 11 or 13, you can play Mixolydian mode. 11th has a different tension over dominant 7th chord so you can use it if you play dominant 7sus4 chord. Let’s now move onto construction formulas of Mixolydian mode.


Here are 3 types of formulas for Mixolydian mode:


  • Interval formula from Root of the mode: Root, Major 2nd, Major 3rd, Perfect 4th, Perfect 5th, Major 6th, Minor 7th and Octave
  • Formula using whole and half steps: Root, W, W, H, W, W, H and W
  • Formula using numbering system: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, b7 and 8 (same as 1)


Mixolydian Cadence

In one of the previous articles we have covered the importance of a cadence. For those of you who missed that out, short and quick version is following: Cadence is chord progression that describes given scale or mode. We have also covered 3 chord families where everything falls in. Those families are Tonic, Subdominant and Dominant. Any chord from major scale falls under one of those 3 chord families. In order to have a strong cadence, we have to use chords that contain Tonic, Subdominant and Dominant sound. If we just want to have simplified version of the cadence we would have Tonic and Dominant sound. When you think about Tonic functioning chords, your ear should tell you it feels like a home harmony. Subdominant functioning chords go a little but out while Dominant functioning chords are really out there and have tendency to resolve back to Tonic functioning chords. Think of those 3 chord families as different levels of consonance and dissonance. Tonic being the most consonant and pleasant to Subdominant which is in the middle while Dominant is the most dissonant of all.

One final thing worth mentioning is following: Every mode has characteristic note or notes! Those notes must be contained in the chord progressions (cadence) as they give complete sound to given scale or mode. Mixolydian mode has minor 7th (b7) and perfect 4th as characteristic notes. How do we know this? Well simply by checking interval formula for all major type modes. Ionian, Lydian and Mixolydian modes are all major type modes (major triad is assigned to all of them). Difference between those modes lies in the type of 4th or 7th they have. Ionian has perfect 4th and major 7th, Lydian has augmented 4th (or #4) and major 7th while Mixolydian has perfect 4th and minor 7th (or b7).  All the other notes in those modes are common or the same. In other words, difference between C Lydian and C Mixolydian is the fact that one has F# and B (Lydian) while the other has F and Bb (Mixolydian). By using this method, we came to know characteristic note(s) of the mode.

We will now look at G Mixolydian cadence using Tonic type chord and chord containing tensions with characteristic note(s) of the mode. Characteristic note of G Mixolydian mode is F so our characteristic chord should contain F in it. Another important note (not as important as minor 7th in the mode though) is perfect 4th which is C note. By following that rule, we should try to use F and C notes in our characteristic chord. Here are a couple of examples using Tonic type chord with characteristic chord.

Example 1a (3 part harmony)

//: G maj / F maj ://


Example 1b (4 part harmony)

//: G7 / F maj7 ://

Both examples 1a and 1b use Tonic type chord first (G maj chord describes that we are using some sort of major mode in G) while chord with characteristic notes gives us rest of important information of that mode (F maj or F maj7 both contain F and C notes which are minor 7th and perfect 4th from G – essential notes for G Mixolydian mode). Let’s look at two more examples now:


Example 2a (3 part harmony)

//: G maj / D min ://


Example 2b (4 part harmony)

//: G7 / D min7 ://

Here we see how D min or D min7 contain F and C notes (minor 7th and perfect 4th) which fully describe sound of our G Mixolydian mode along with G maj or G7 chord. Notice how these were all chord progressions using only two chords! Feel free to mix them up or extend them by adding some more harmonic rhythm (G7 to D min7 and G7 to Fmaj7 for example).


Improvisation and Assignment

We have now reached the final chapter where I am providing you with my improvisation in G Mixolydian mode. Notice how I used example 1b as a backing track and improvised using G Mixolydian mode. Perfect assignment for all of you is to:

  • Transcribe my improvisation and analyze what I did
  • Record your own improvisation, transcribe it and analyze what you are doing right or wrong.

My improvisation example

With all this information I will leave you to enjoy audio examples of G Mixolydian cadences and my improvisation. Study each cadence carefully and try to apply it in your playing/improvising/accompanying/composing.

Feel free to leave comments, ask any questions you might have or simply share your opinion regarding this article. I will be happy to respond and help everybody.

Have fun studying this material and I will see you in part 10 where we will focus on A Aeolian mode.

Pedja Simovic


Related articles:

Harmony and theory bible (part 8) - Lydian Mode

Harmony and theory bible (part 7) - Phrygian Mode

Harmony and theory bible (part 6) - Dorian Mode

Harmony and theory bible (part 5) - Ionian Mode

Harmony and theory bible (part 4) - Major Scale modes

Harmony and theory bible (part 3) - Major Scale

Harmony and Theory Bible (part 2) - Chords (Triads and 4 Note Chords)

Harmony and theory bible (part 1) - Introduction to intervals and chromatic scale