Lesson 5
The Mixolydain mode

  1. Basic Improvisation Principle
  2. The Mixolydian mode
  3. Mixolydian Blues
  4. Critical Tones
  5. Paseo (Song)
  6. Improvisation - Rhythm Patterns 21 to 25
  7. The Woodshed
  8. The Mixolydian mode Ruler
  9. Quiz and Quiz Answers
  10. Practice Materials

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Im 5.1 - Basic Improvisation Principle

There is a basic guide to improvisation that says :

Any scale that contains the chord tones of a chord,
can be used for improvisation over that chord.

There are a few rare exceptions to this rule. Notably the use of the Minor pentatonic and Blues scales over the whole blues progression (as we have seen in Lesson 4). But in general this guide holds true.

For improvisation over the dominant 7th chord, the most commonly used scale is the Mixolydian mode.
The Mixolydian mode is easiest described as a major scale with a flattened 7th note.

Audio 5.1

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Im 5.2 - The Mixolydian mode

When you have a closer look at the C Mixolydian mode, you may notice that it consists of exactly the same notes as the F major scale. It simply starts with a different tonic note (C).

Audio 5.2

Likewise the F Mixolydian mode consists of the same notes as the Bb major scale.

Audio 5.3

And the G Mixolydian mode uses the same notes as the C major scale.

Audio 5.4

Therefore a Mixolydian mode can be formed from any major scale by starting on the 5th note on that scale. Although the major scale and related Mixolydian mode use the same notes, they still sound different because the semitone intervals of the scale occur at different points in relation to the tonic. This is a vital difference.

Audio 5.4

In a major scale the semitones are between notes 3 and 4, and between 7 and 1.

In the Mixolydian mode they occur between 3 and 4, and between 6 and b7.

You may find it easiest to think of a Mixolydian mode as a Major scale (on the same tonic note) with a b7. In time you perhaps become comfortable with the idea of a displaced tonic.

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Im 5.3 - Mixolydian Blues

In Mixolydian Blues the appropriate Mixolydian mode is used for each chord.
For the Blues in C use :

  • over C7 the C Mixolydian mode : C D E F G A Bb C

  • over F7 the F Mixolydian mode : F G A Bb C D Eb F

  • over G7 the G Mixolydian mode : G A B C D E F G

Audio 5.5

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Im 5.4 - Critical Tones

Let us compare the C- and F-Mixolydian modes for the Blues in C.


A practical person might say : "Look, both scales have the C D F G A and Bb in common. I will stick with these notes for my improvisation over all the C7 and F7 chords and don't have to worry about anything else."

This is true, but it ignores the essential point of improvisation, which is to reflect the chord changes in your improvisation !

You should identify the notes that are different from one scale to the next and focus on those in your improvisation.

Going from the C- to the F-Mixolydian mode or vice versa these (what I call) critical tones are the E and Eb.


Going from the C- to the G-Mixolydian mode or vice versa the critical tones are the Bb and B.


Going from the G- to the F-Mixolydian mode or vice versa the critical tones are the B to Bb, and E to Eb.


Therefore in an entire Mixolydian Blues chorus there are only two notes that change.

For the Blues in C :   E - Eb   and   Bb - B

You can easily identify these notes for the blues in any key, for they are the 3rd and b7th of the I chord.
The 3rd is flattened and the b7th is raised :


For the Blues in F the Critical tones are :


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Im 5.5 - Paseo (Song)

As a young student I used to spend 2 or 3 months in Spain each year to do fieldwork for my Masters Degree in Geology way back in the late 50s and early 60s. I carried out Geology studies in the Pyrenees, Asturias and Galicia, and generally had a fantastic time there.

Tall, rather thin and with a crooked nose I was called 'Don Quijote'. I still am very proud of this nickname, for Don Quijote has been the ultimate Spanish hero ever since his creation by Cervantes some 600 years ago. He will remain so as long as Spanish culture exists.

One of the daily events I enjoyed most was the paseo (meaning 'walk' in Spanish). After their siesta the inhabitants of most cities in Spain dress up and go for a stroll up and down the main street. Groups of girls walk arm in arm past the many street walk cafes where they are eagerly observed and admired by the young male patrons.

Paseo is a 12 bar blues format in Bossa style. Play therefore all quavers straight (not in swing style). The melody is composed of Mixolydian modes. Note how the Critical tones (E, Eb, B, Bb) are covered in the melody.

Audio 5.6

Paseo : Swapping 4s.

  1. Track 1 (6 choruses) - : I play the first 4 bars, you play the following 4 bars.

  2. Track 2 (6 choruses) - : You play the first 4 bars, I follow.

    Improvise using the C, F and G Mixolydian modes only.

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Im 5.6 - Improvisation - Rhythm Patterns 21 to 25

Defining and using the Critical tones in the chord progression of a song is a most important in selecting the notes in your improvisation. It applies to all songs that are composed of more than one scale.

The Blues is a good vehicle to start practising the Critical tones concept.
First play Critical tones only.

Audio 5.7

Then, when you have the sound of this progression in your ear, start with simple improvisations that contain these Critical tones.
Start with the Blues in C. Then do the same for the Blues in G, F and Bb.

You can also have a go at (what I call) the Embellished Blues format.
This adds the IV7 chord in bars 2 and 10, and uses a V7 chord as a so called "Turnaround" in bar 12.

Audio 5.8

Play-alongs for both the Basics Blues and Embellished Blues are on the Main page for you to use.

Here are also five more Rhythm Patterns.
Play them first with a single note to get the Jazz rhythm. Then apply them to critical tones only, and finally in your improvisation.

Audio 5.9

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Im 5.7 - The Woodshed

Start practice on the Mixolydian mode in all keys.
First priority are the Mixolydian modes in A, D, G, C, F and Bb. Then add the others : Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, B, E.
Work on the following exercise :

Audio 5.10

Take special note of the one note that is different from the major scale, the b7 (Bb in C Mixolydian mode).

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Im 5.8 - The Mixolydian mode Ruler

The Mixolydian mode Ruler works in the same way as the Major scale Ruler. Use the strips below to find the notes of the Mixolydian mode in any key.

Align the Tonic note of the required Mixolydian mode on the Letter strip with the '1' on the Mixolydian mode strip.


For example, to find the A Mixolydian mode and A7 chord : align A on the Letter strip with 1 on the Mixolydian mode strip.



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Im 5.9 - Quiz

  1. Convert these major scale into Mixolydian modes with the same tonic note (1st note) by altering one note of the scale.
    1. F G A Bb C D E F
    2. D E F# G A B C# D
    3. Bb C D Eb F G A Bb
    4. G A B C D E F# G
    5. E F# G# A B C# D# E
    6. A B C# D E F# G# A

  2. Convert these major scales into Mixolydian modes by using all the same notes and placing them in the correct order.
    1. F G A Bb C D E F
    2. D E F# G A B C# D
    3. Bb C D Eb F G A Bb
    4. G A B C D E F# G
    5. E F# G# A B C# D# E

  3. Which Mixolydian mode consists of white notes on the keyboard only ?

  4. Fill in the missing notes in these Mixolydian modes.
    1. A B ? D E F# ? A
    2. D E ? G A B ? D
    3. F G ? Bb C D ? F
    4. Eb F ? Ab Bb C ? Eb
    5. B C# ? E F# G# ? B

  5. Write down the chord progressions for the Embellished Blues in G.

  6. Write down the chord progressions for the Embellished Blues in F.

  7. Write down the chord progressions for the Embellished Blues in Bb.

  8. Which chord tones represent the critical tones for the Basic and Embellished blues ?

  9. What are the critical tones for the Mixolydian blues
    1. in the key of G
    2. in the key of C
    3. in the key of F
    4. in the key of Bb


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Im 5.10 Practice Materials

Paseo Lead sheet Melody & Impro Play-along
Swapping 4s Track a Track b Demo
Rhythm Patterns Notation Demo
The Woodshed Mixolydian modes Demo Play-along
Ruler Mixolydian mode Ruler

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Copyright © 1997 - 2007 Michael Furstner.