Songwriting basics and tips 18: Modes – Moody Mixolydian

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Bob Leslie is an Independent Scottish Songwriter, Singer, and Recording Artist

 

Making a statement …

Mixolydian mode is as popular a mode for songwriting as major or minor. It’s the scale based on the note that corresponds to the Soh  note in the major scale.

So, a couple of octaves of it using the notes of the C major scale would be G Mixolydian and would look like this:

G  A  B  C  D  E  F  G  A  B  C  D  E  F  G

Following our usual I, IV, V group of chords (to cover all the notes in the mode), we get the following:

  • G  B  D = G major
  • C  E  G = C major
  • D  F  A = D minor

To these we can add the VII chord –  F  A  C = F major – as the strongest chord that identifies the mode.

In fact the progression G majorF majorC major, G major has a very dramatic, powerful feel to it. Try playing it in various tempos and rhythms, and I’m sure a whole bunch of well-known tunes will pop into your head.

Other commonly-occurring chords in the mode  are the ones based on the 2nd-noteAm, and the 6th-noteEm.

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Let me tell you about my baby …

Among the rock classics that use the mode, there is the relentless rolling rhythm of Van Morrison’s  Gloria – the B-side of classic ’60s hit Baby, Please Don’t Go by Them, which bashes its way through an E mixolydian pattern of  E  D  A.patti.gif

It was played by every band in the land, urging audiences to yell out the one-word hook at the top of their voices. It was covered by a host of artists including The Doors, R.E.M., and Patti Smith, amongst others.

The Rolling Stones had a big hit in the 60s with the R’n’B song The Last Time, which, like Gloria, is played over E  D  and A.

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JamalongaJerry …

jerry.gifMixolydian is great to jam over, so the world’s greatest rock jam band, The Grateful Dead, used it all the time. Possibly their best known jam vehicle, Dark Star, is a musically dramatic piece in A mixolydian using the chords A  G  Em as its base. 

But they also used the mode for lots of their more orthodoxly structured songs:

And their San Francisco compatriots The Jefferson Airplane weren’t averse to a bit of mixolydianing it up either – as seen in their song Volunteers.

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Folkin’ around …

Mixolydian  is central to a huge number of folk songs too. The following are only a few examples:

silkie.gif

She Moves through the Fair

Sally Free and Easy

The Great Silkie 

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Blues in the mix …

An interesting variation on Mixolydian that you might want to experiment with – either blues.gif writing or just jamming – is the Mixolydian-Blues scale. 

It’s odd, in that it has 9 notes instead of the usual as it adds a flattened 3rd-note and a flattened 5th-note to the mixolydian scale.

So, G Mixolydian-Blues scale would look like this:

G  A  Bb  B  C  Db  D  E  F

Chord-wise, that would let you slip in G minor as well as G major, A major as well as A minor, and a Bb major chord – as well as a bunch of jazzy diminished options.

That great Steppenwolf song Born to be Wild squeezes into this mode-variation too (E Mixolydian-Blues – chords E major  D major A major G major)!

Play around with it, have fun!

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Next time, a few minor points about Aeolian  mode!

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Bob Leslie – Scottish – Traditional – Songwriter

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