What is the Mixolydian Mode: A Complete Music Theory Guide

what-is-the-mixolydian-modeIn the rich tapestry of musical modes that have colored compositions across genres and epochs, the Mixolydian mode holds a distinctive place.

Known for its spirited, bluesy character, the Mixolydian mode weaves a complex harmonic texture that has been a cornerstone in the development of Western music, from the folk tunes of ancient times to the rock anthems of the modern era.

This comprehensive guide explores the Mixolydian mode, its structure, historical significance, and its enduring influence on contemporary music composition and improvisation.

What is the Mixolydian Mode

The Mixolydian mode is the fifth mode of the major scale, starting from the fifth degree and following the scale back to the same note an octave higher. It is characterized by a sequence of intervals: Whole-Whole-Half-Whole-Whole-Half-Whole (W-W-H-W-W-H-W).

This pattern distinguishes the Mixolydian mode with its major tonality but with a flattened seventh degree, setting it apart from the Ionian mode (the major scale).

For example, the G Mixolydian mode (derived from the C major scale) consists of the notes G, A, B, C, D, E, F, G. The presence of F instead of F# (as would be in the G major scale) gives the Mixolydian mode its unique flavor.

Degrees of the Mixolydian Mode

The Mixolydian mode is the fifth mode of the major scale, characterized by its distinctive flattened seventh degree. Here are the scale degrees of the Mixolydian mode, each with its own role and function within the mode:

Tonic (1st Degree): The root note of the mode, serving as the foundational pitch from which the mode is built and to which it ultimately resolves.

Supertonic (2nd Degree): A whole step above the tonic, this degree adds to the mode’s sense of progression and movement.

Mediant (3rd Degree): Also a whole step above the supertonic, the mediant helps establish the mode’s major character by being a major third above the tonic.

Subdominant (4th Degree): A whole step above the mediant, the subdominant degree reinforces the mode’s stability and offers harmonic variety.

Dominant (5th Degree): A whole step above the subdominant, the dominant is crucial for creating tension and driving the music back towards the tonic.

Submediant (6th Degree): A whole step above the dominant, the submediant degree adds to the mode’s melodic and harmonic richness.

Subtonic (Flat 7th Degree): A whole step above the submediant and a half step below the octave, the flattened seventh is the defining characteristic of the Mixolydian mode, giving it a unique sound that differs from the major scale. This degree introduces a bluesy or folksy feel, providing the Mixolydian mode with its distinctive unresolved tension.

For example, in G Mixolydian, the scale would be G (Tonic), A (Supertonic), B (Mediant), C (Subdominant), D (Dominant), E (Submediant), F (Subtonic), and back to G. The presence of F instead of F# (as it would appear in the G major scale) marks the crucial difference, imbuing the Mixolydian mode with its signature sound.

List of Mixolydian Modes

Below is a list of the Lydian modes for all twelve notes in Western music. Each Lydian mode is constructed using the interval pattern Whole-Whole-Whole-Half-Whole-Whole-Half (W-W-W-H-W-W-H), starting from its respective root note:

  • C Lydian: C, D, E, F#, G, A, B, C
  • C# Lydian or Db Lydian: C#, D#, F, G#, A#, C, D#, C# or Db, Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C, Db
  • D Lydian: D, E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D
  • Eb Lydian: Eb, F, G, A, Bb, C, D, Eb
  • E Lydian: E, F#, G#, A#, B, C#, D#, E
  • F Lydian: F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F
  • F# Lydian or Gb Lydian: F#, G#, A#, C, C#, D#, F, F# or Gb, Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, Gb
  • G Lydian: G, A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G
  • Ab Lydian: Ab, Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, Ab
  • A Lydian: A, B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A
  • Bb Lydian: Bb, C, D, E, F, G, A, Bb
  • B Lydian: B, C#, D#, E#, F#, G#, A#, B

Each of these Lydian modes emphasizes the raised fourth degree (augmented fourth), which is the defining feature of the Lydian mode, giving it a distinctively bright, open, and somewhat unresolved sound.

This quality makes the Lydian mode especially appealing for creating lush, expansive harmonic landscapes and for compositions that seek to evoke a sense of etherealness or majesty.

Historical Background

The Mixolydian mode’s origins can be traced back to ancient Greece, though, like other medieval modes, its name and characteristics underwent significant transformation over the centuries.

In the Middle Ages, it became part of the ecclesiastical modes used in Gregorian chant, contributing to the development of early Western music.

Throughout the Renaissance and into the Baroque period, the understanding and usage of modes evolved, leading to the establishment of the major-minor tonality system, yet the Mixolydian mode continued to influence composers in various ways.

The Mixolydian Mode in Music Composition

The Mixolydian mode’s appeal lies in its versatile and slightly unresolved sound, due to the flattened seventh degree.

This unique characteristic makes it particularly suited for blues, rock, and folk music, where a sense of tension and release is pivotal.

In jazz, the Mixolydian mode is often used for improvisation over dominant seventh chords, offering a rich palette for melodic exploration.

Composers and songwriters leverage the Mixolydian mode to create melodies and harmonies that stand out for their warm, yet edgy quality. Its distinctive sound has colored works ranging from the classical compositions of Mozart and Beethoven to the rock songs of the Beatles and the Grateful Dead.

Practical Applications and Tips

For musicians looking to incorporate the Mixolydian mode into their playing, understanding its structure and relationship to the major scale is key.

Experimenting with the mode over different chord progressions can reveal its potential for creating intriguing melodies and solos. Guitarists, in particular, can explore the mode’s scale patterns across the fretboard to add a bluesy or folksy touch to their playing.

When improvising or composing with the Mixolydian mode, emphasize its characteristic flattened seventh degree to capture the mode’s essence. Pairing Mixolydian melodies with dominant seventh chords can enhance the music’s harmonic depth and create a cohesive modal sound.


The Mixolydian mode’s enduring legacy in music is a testament to its compelling sound and versatility. From the ancient melodies that first echoed in the Mediterranean to the jazz clubs and rock concerts of today, the Mixolydian mode continues to inspire musicians and composers with its unique blend of major brightness and bluesy tension.

Whether through the hands of a classical composer, a jazz improviser, or a rock guitarist, the Mixolydian mode enriches the musical landscape with its distinctive voice, inviting listeners into a world where tradition and innovation meet.

As we continue to explore the possibilities of music, the Mixolydian mode remains a vital tool for creative expression, bridging centuries of musical tradition with the ever-evolving sound of the present.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does the Mixolydian mode differ from the major scale in its harmonic function?

The Mixolydian mode differs from the major scale primarily due to its flattened seventh degree, which introduces a bluesy or folksy feel, unlike the pure major scale’s leading tone that strongly resolves to the tonic.

This unique feature gives the Mixolydian mode a more open, unresolved sound, making it versatile for various musical styles, especially in creating tension without the expectation of resolution found in major scale harmonies.

Can the Mixolydian mode be effectively used in modern pop music composition?

Yes, the Mixolydian mode can be effectively used in modern pop music compositions to add a distinctive, slightly edgy quality to melodies and chord progressions, thanks to its flattened seventh degree.

Its use can bring a fresh twist to pop harmonies, offering a blend of major scale brightness with an undercurrent of bluesy tension, ideal for crafting catchy yet complex musical passages.

What makes the Mixolydian mode a preferred choice for guitar solos in rock music?

The Mixolydian mode is favored for guitar solos in rock music because its flattened seventh degree adds a blues-inflected sound that complements the genre’s energetic and expressive aesthetic. This mode allows guitarists to weave between major-like optimism and the gritty tension of blues, creating solos that are both emotionally resonant and technically engaging.

How do composers utilize the Mixolydian mode to convey a sense of adventure or openness in film scores?

Composers utilize the Mixolydian mode in film scores to convey a sense of adventure or openness by capitalizing on its bright yet unresolved tonal quality, especially effective in scenes that depict grand landscapes or the thrill of exploration.

The mode’s unique interval structure, particularly the flattened seventh degree, supports musical narratives that evoke expansiveness and a hint of unpredictability, enriching the cinematic experience.

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