Once you’ve started working on guitar scales, you’ll undoubtedly discover that the array of scales and modes out there is much more vast than you initially thought. The Mixolydian scale or Mixolydian mode is one of the most useful modes of the major scale. It’s commonly found in pop, jazz, and blues music, although it’s also used in rock and other genres. Though it can be a challenge to learn, it’s well worth it — the Mixolydian scale can revolutionize your playing.
How to Learn the Mixolydian Scale: A Guide
Before we dive in, keep in mind that every guitarist has a slightly different path when it comes to learning new scales and modes. But if you’re looking for a suggested roadmap to learning the Mixolydian mode, you can use our list as a guide!
1. First, Understand Modes
You might already be familiar with the major scale on guitar. Each note of the major scale is an interval. The intervals go in the order I (the root note), II, III, IV, V, VI, and VII. So if you’re playing the C major scale ascending, you would play seven notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B. Since C is the root note, D would be interval II, E would be interval III, and so on.
A “mode” is simply a variation of the major scale that creates a distinctive sonic flavor. Each mode is a scale that starts on one of the intervals of the major scale. Therefore, there are seven different modes of the major scale:
- Ionian — Starts on I; sounds happy and bright
- Dorian — Starts on II; sounds dark and a little sweet
- Phrygian — Starts on III; sounds exotic and a little dark
- Lydian — Starts on IV; sounds mysterious yet bright
- Mixolydian — Starts on V; sounds bright yet tense
- Aeolian — Starts on VI; sounds sad and dark
- Locrian — Starts on VII; sounds dark and dissonant
The Mixolydian mode has a flattened (minor) seventh, which explains why its character is sometimes referred to as “tense.” To see exactly how changing the mode in which a song is played can change how it sounds, check out this cool video (below left).
It plays “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in each of the modes of the major scale. If you want to learn a little more about modes, check out this brief yet thorough video introduction (above right).
2. Find The Approach That Works For You
So now that you have an understanding of where the Mixolydian mode fits into the world of modes, how do you go about learning it? If you’ve spent any time searching online for advice on learning the Mixolydian mode, you may have found that every guitarist seems to have a different suggestion. And though it can seem confusing, that variety is part of the beauty of learning guitar.
If one approach isn’t clicking, you can always try another. For example, this video shows you a way to quickly learn and master the Mixolydian mode by playing it over the minor pentatonic scale. In the video, the instructor takes the minor pentatonic scale and adds intervals to it until you have the Mixolydian mode of the major scale.
Another method follows the way many of us learned the minor pentatonic scale: breaking it into five patterns. This handy visual shows you the five different patterns. This is the method we’ll go through here.
3. Learn The First Pattern
With this particular pattern, the root note is easy enough to find; it’s the first note you play. But before you begin learning, it’s important to remember that this scale may take a little longer to learn than the pentatonic scale, as you often end up playing three notes per string. If you learned the blues scale after the pentatonic scales, you have some experience with this already.
To start this pattern, we’ll begin on the low E string at the third fret. This is G, the root note. (For this list, we’ll be going through the Mixolydian scale in the key of G.) From there, fret the low E string at the fifth fret. Now, we’ll jump to the fifth string.
Fret this one at the second, then third, and then the fifth fret. Fret the notes on the fourth string the same way. This can take some getting used to, as your fingers will need to stretch over the fretboard more than they usually do with some other scales.
At the third string, fret the notes at the second, fourth, and fifth frets. The second string requires you to move in the opposite direction; fret the notes at the third, fifth, and then sixth frets. And finally, fret the high E string just like the low E: at the third and fifth frets. If you’d like an introduction to learning the Mixolydian mode by breaking it into five patterns like we’re doing here, check out this helpful video lesson.
4. Work On The Second Pattern
As you’ll see as we go through the different patterns, there’s a good bit of overlap between them. This will make it easier to connect them when you’re improvising and writing solos.
On the second pattern, start at the fifth fret of the sixth string, and then fret at the seventh and eighth frets as well. Fret the fifth string the same way. Then, fret the fourth string at the fifth and seventh frets. On the third string, fret first at the fourth fret, and then at the fifth and seventh frets.
Then, moving to the second string, fret at the fifth, sixth, and eighth frets. Lastly, for the first string, fret at the fifth, seventh, and eighth frets. Part of the fun of learning each pattern of the Mixolydian scale (or any other scale) is creating licks. This video lesson can get you started with some helpful lick-making ideas.
5. Try The Third Pattern
The third pattern is a little more straightforward and easier to remember, as you repeat the same fretting patterns a few times. Fret the sixth and fifth strings the same way: play at the seventh, then the eighth, and then the tenth fret. On the fourth and third strings, follow a slightly different pattern: play at the seventh, then ninth, and then the tenth fret. On the second string, play at the eighth and then the tenth fret.
And finally, play the first string just like the sixth string: the seventh fret, then the eighth fret, and then the tenth fret. Sometimes, as you progress through learning the patterns of the Mixolydian mode or any other mode, it can be helpful to hear different guitar instructors’ perspectives. This video is geared toward those new to the Mixolydian mode.
6. Move To The Fourth Pattern
The fourth pattern involves somewhat less movement between frets. For this one, start out on the sixth string at the tenth fret. Then, fret the note at the twelfth fret and then the thirteenth. On the fifth string, fret the note at the tenth fret and then the twelfth. On the fourth and third string, fret the notes at the ninth, tenth, and twelfth frets. And finally, on the first and second strings, fret at the tenth, twelfth, and thirteenth frets.
Because it doesn’t require a whole lot of hand stretching and because it’s further up the neck where the frets are smaller, this is a good pattern to use if you’re working on building speed. But just like you did when you were learning your chord changes, make sure you take it slowly when building your speed.
Making sure you can play accurately at slower speeds will help ensure that you don’t run into issues when you start playing faster. And as an added bonus, if you have smaller hands, you’ll likely find it a lot easier to develop your ability to play quickly. As you get faster with this pattern, you may want to work on developing speed down the neck where the frets are wider.
Getting good at playing the scale ascending and descending is one thing, but being able to incorporate it into your playing will open up a world of possibilities. Since you’ve now progressed through many of the Mixolydian patterns, you may be looking for some ideas on how to use them. This helpful video offers some suggestions for incorporating this mode into your playing.
7. Master The Fifth Pattern
Now we come to the fifth and final pattern of the Mixolydian mode. Starting with the sixth string, fret the notes at the twelfth, thirteenth, and fifteenth frets. For the fifth and fourth strings, you’ll need to repeat the same pattern twice; play at the twelfth, fourteenth, and fifteenth frets.
Next, on the third string, you only need to play two notes: one at the twelfth fret and one at the fourteenth. And finally, at the second and first strings, play just like you did on the sixth string — at the twelfth, thirteenth, and fifteenth frets.
Of course, now that you’ve worked through all five patterns, you probably want to make sure you can connect them up the neck. Learning the Mixolydian mode or any scale in smaller patterns is an excellent tool, but teaching yourself to connect and think outside of those boxes presents a new challenge. This video workshop offers detailed and useful guidance that will help you do so.
8. Practice Improvising Leads
Just like with any other scale or mode, the Mixolydian scale will only really help your playing if you learn how to use it. Working on integrating the Mixolydian mode from the start tends to make this easier. That means that, rather than learning to play the scale in sequence up and down the neck and then working on playing it musically, you can start incorporating it as you learn different patterns.
Often, this looks like playing a pattern at a time over a backing track or song in the appropriate key. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t sound great at first. Getting good at improvisation takes time. But with some steady practice, you’re sure to see your skills improve. That said, you’ll probably find more success if you gain an understanding of some of the more established ways to build solos before you start.
While developing your own playing and writing style is always an admirable goal, it can help to listen to some pointers from more experienced guitarists who have been in your shoes. If you’d like some guidance on how to use the Mixolydian scale to improvise leads, check out this very useful video.
Need Some Guidance?
As mentioned above, the Mixolydian mode can be explained in seemingly endless ways. And because it can be tougher to master by learning yourself than pentatonic scales, you might find that guidance from a professional instructor is helpful.
With an online guitar course, you can get that professional guidance without needing to leave your home or pay the full price of in-person guitar lessons. Many guitar learning sites have entire courses dedicated to teaching you scales and modes. And with these courses, you’ll get the base knowledge you need, along with tips and tricks for committing each scale to memory and using it in your music.
We hope that you now have a grasp of the Mixolydian scale — an understanding of both its definition and how to start learning it. Remember to be patient with yourself and to be willing to put in the practice, and you’ll be rewarded with a new tool to help you grow as a guitarist. But what do you think? Did we leave out any helpful guidance for learning it? Let us know in the comments, and please don’t forget to like and share if you found our list useful!