Understanding a little about scale modes will make your practice sessions more interesting, fun and productive. With that in mind, let’s learn a bit about the Mixolydian mode.

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Why bother with this?

Lots of old-time and Irish tunes use this mode. Practicing Mixolydian scales will help you to learn these tunes more easily.

You’ll also have a better feel for improvising.

This is a way to bring fresh energy to scale practice, making it more fun and interesting. Consistent scale practice will improve your technique and accelerate your learning.

Hearing the connection between a scale and a tune will help you to improvise.

How Mixolydian Scales Work

Mixolydian mode is built from the fifth step of a major scale. They have the same notes as the parent scale, but start and end in a different place.

Play a D Major scale with a D drone:

D0-1-2-3-A0-1-2-3 | A3-E0-1-L2-3-4

D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D | D-E-F#-G-A-B

Count up to the fifth note: D, E, F#, G, A. So using the same notes as D Major, we can play A Mixolydian with an A drone:



Old Joe Clarke and Red-Haired Boy are in A Mixolydian.

Another way to build a Mixolydian scale

Mixolydian is like a regular major scale, but the seventh step is flat. Knowing that, we can make a mixolydian scale from a regular major scale.

Play a D major scale again.

Lower the seventh step: C# (A2) becomes C natural (AL2). Now play D Mixolydian with a D drone:



OK! Now for the million dollar question. What major scale is D mixolydian derived from? Another way to ask is, what is the “parent major scale”?

Hint: Walk through the steps we took earlier. We played D Major, and then started the scale on the fifth step to get A mixolydian. So D is the the fifth step of what major scale?

Answer: G Major. Now play a two-octave G Major scale with a G drone:

For G Major, count up to the fifth note: G, A, B, C, D.

So using the same notes as G Major, we can play D Mixolydian: D0-1-2-3-A0-1-L2-3

The tune Kittypuss is in D mixolydian

Memorize Then Theorize

Is this confusing?

If so, don’t worry. A good rule of thumb with learning scales and theory is to just play with it. Get it out of your head and onto your instrument.

Another way to say this: Memorize Then Theorize. Simply memorize the scale and start fiddling with it. This strategy works for learning any theory. First just play something, then try to understand what’s happening. If you are stumped, just let it go and return to playing it. Have faith that it will sink in eventually.

Further practice

  • Practice alternating between D Major and A Mixolydian.
  • Practice alternating between D Major and D Mixolydian.
    • This is one of the best things you can practice
    • Use a drone
    • Kittypuss / D Mixolydian
    • Old Joe Clarke / A Mixolydian
    • Red-Haired Boy / A Mixolydian

Sheet music

Leave a Reply

6 responses to “Fiddling With The Mixolydian Mode

  1. Fiddlehed Marge wrote to me about an a-ha moment she had with the Mixolydian scale:

    Marge: So to play D mixolydian scale, I just flatten the 7th degree of D Major (C sharp to C natural), right? Could I also think of a D Dorian scale as just flatten the 3rd (F sharp to F natural) and 7th degrees, C sharp to C natural?

    My reply: Yes! That’s a way to think about Dorian scales. All the modes can be created by making similar alterations to the Major scale.

    Marge: Another ‘aha’ moment I had in this lesson was when you talked about finding the parent scale. My initial response was to visualise the staff, go down 2 lines or 2 spaces to find a fifth below the Mixolydian starting note. Then the beauty of the fiddle being tuned in 5ths dawned on me! Wow you just go down to the same finger position or open string to the left!

    Yes again. That’s a great alternative way to think about it. Sometimes it’s good to just notice patterns. 👍