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Mixolydian Scale – Guitar Chords, Shapes, and Licks

One of the most important scales in modern music, the Mixolydian Scale is used by rock, blues, jazz, funk, soul, R&B, pop, and country guitarists in their riffs and solos.

The fifth mode of the major scale, the Mixolydian scale is used to solo over dominant family chords such as the I7, IV7 and V7 chords of a blues progression.

In this lesson, you’ll learn how to build Mixolydian, how to use it in your solos, and study fingerings, patterns and Mixolydian licks in the style of Joe Pass and others.



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Mixolydian Scale Construction


The Mixolydian scale is the 5th mode of the major scale and is used to solo over dominant 7th and related chords on guitar.

It also has no sharps or flats when played from the root G, as this is the same as playing the C major scale from G to G.

This means that if you play G Mixolydian on the piano, you play the white keys, no black keys, on the keyboard.

These seven notes can be written a number of ways such as intervals:




Or you can think of them as specific intervals such as:




In this case, the legend for each symbol would be:


  • P = Perfect Interval
  • M = Major Interval
  • m = Minor Interval


While these intervals are commonly used, you can also think of the upper notes as extensions rather than lower notes.

This means that you think of the Mixolydian scale with this pattern:




I prefer this way of thinking as it allows you to visualize the upper chord extensions for any chord you’re soloing over.

Here’s how the G Mixolydian scale looks on the fretboard with both notes and intervals.


mixolydian scales 1


You can use either system, 2-4-6, 9-11-13, or a mixture of both depending on the musical situation.

Try both out and see which fits better for you, then go forward in your studies with that interval system.

Either way, Mixolydian has a b7, which is the characteristic note of the scale and distinguishes it from Ionian, which has a natural 7.

When soloing, highlighting the b7 note brings out the Mixolydian sound over that chord change, which you’ll hear and see in the licks below.



Mixolydian Scale Application


Now that you know how to build Mixolydian, take a look at how you can apply this important scale to a guitar soloing situation.

The Mixolydian scale can be used to solo over a number of chords in the dominant family.

These chords include:


  • 7th
  • 9th
  • 13th
  • 7sus4


These dominant family chords are all built from Mixolydian, and therefore the Mixolydian scale can be used to solo over these chords.

Here’s an example of a Mixolydian fingering and three chords derived from that scale to see how the two relate on paper and the fretboard.



mixolydian scales 2.1


To begin using this theory, put on backing track and solo over those changes whenever you learn a new Mixolydian fingering.

You can also solo over a jazz blues progression, using Mixolydian to outline the I7, IV7 and V7 chords.

To help you practice Mixolydian, here’s a backing track that you can use with any fingering, lick, or exercise in this lesson.


YouTube Preview Image





Mixolydian Chords




Next, here are four Mixolydian chords with the root on the 5th string that you can learn and add to your rhythm guitar playing.






Mixolydian Scale One Octave Fingerings


To help you take these must-know scales onto the fretboard, here are common one-octave Mixolydian shapes.

One-octave shapes come in handy when soloing over fast moving chord changes or at fast tempos.

There are three main groups of one-octave fingerings for Mixolydian, starting with shapes that use your index finger on the first note.

When learning these shapes, work them in 12 keys and solo over dominant chords using these shapes as the basis for your improvised lines.

This ensures that you’re working Mixolydian from both a technical and improvisational standpoint.


mixolydian scales 3


You can also learn Mixolydian scales with your middle finger on the first note of each one-octave shape.

Once you have these four shapes under your fingers, move between the first four and these four in both your practice routine.


mixolydian scales 4


Lastly, here are four Mixolydian shapes that begin with your pinky finger on the first note.

Again, work these shapes in 12 keys as well as solo over backing tracks in order to be creative with these scales in the woodshed.


mixolydian scales 5


Once you have these shapes under your fingers, move between these scales in your technical and improvisational practice routine.

Over time you might explore all 12 fingerings, but that doesn’t mean  you’ll always have these Mixolydian shapes under your fingers.

Over time you’ll pick your favorites and they’ll work their way into your playing, while others you might not use very much.

This is fine and is part of the learning process as you work through many technical items, picking ones that suit you and ditching ones that don’t suit your style.




Mixolydian Scale Two Octave Fingerings


As well as learning one-octave Mixolydian shapes, you can take these patterns a step further by learning two-octave shapes.

Two-octave Mixolydian scales come in handy when you’re soloing over longer chord changes or tunes that don’t change keys very often.

There are a number of ways that you can build two-octave Mixolydian shapes, here are four of my favorites to get you started.

Learn one of these shapes at a time, and then combine two or more in your guitar practice routine as you dig further into these important scales.


mixolydian scale 6.1





Mixolydian Scale Patterns


You’ll now check out scale patterns over any or all of the Mixolydian shapes you’ve learned so far.

To begin, here’s an ascending pattern that you can use to expand your technique.

The pattern is built by playing descending 3rds and repeating this pattern from each note in the scale, in this case ascending.

This means that you play 31, 42, 53, etc. as you work your way up the scale.

Go slow with this pattern, work it through both one and two-octave shapes and in different keys as you take this pattern around the fretboard.


Click to hear mixolydian scales 1




You can also work this pattern descending, such as down the G Mixolydian scale below.

Again, you’re playing every second note to create the pattern, 68, 57, 46, etc. as you work your way down the fingering.


Click to hear mixolydian scales 2




Once you have these patterns under your fingers, put on a backing track and add them to your solos.

You don’t have to play them in every line, but adding these patterns here and there spices up your improvised phrases.




3 Mixolydian Scale Licks


As well as learning Mixolydian patterns, you can study Mixolydian licks to build your understanding of this scale in a soloing context.

Let’s begin with a classic Joe Pass lick that outlines a G7 chord with a repeated-note pattern from the G Mixolydian scale.


Click to hear mixolydian scales 3




The next lick outlines a Dm7 arpeggio in the first 4 notes of the phrase, followed by a descending 3rds run down the G Mixolydian scale.

When doing so, you’re using a concept that Wes Montgomery loved to use in his solos, called the minor conversion concept.

This is where you see a V7 chord, but you play it’s related iim7 chord. In this case you’re playing Dm7 (iim7) over G7 (V7).

When doing so, you create a modal sound over the V7 chord, and bring a Wes vibe to your lines at the same time.


Click to hear mixolydian scales 4




The last lick is a bluesy double stop line over G7, reminiscent of jazz organ players such as Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, and Dr. Lonnie Smith.


Click to hear mixolydian scales 5




Once you have these licks down, write 3 Mixolydian lines of your own to build your soloing vocabulary further with this important scale.

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