Bored of soloing with the major scale or the minor pentatonic? Looking for something new to help expand your musical palette? The Mixolydian mode might just be the thing. This mode can be a great tool for improvising in blues, jazz, rock, or practically any other style.
Here’s something cool: If you know the major scale, then you have easy access to the Mixolydian mode. The major scale contains seven modes, and Mixolydian is the one based on the fifth note of the scale. For example, play the C-major scale, starting on the fifth note, G, and you’ve got the G-Mixolydian mode. In other words, the G-Mixolydian mode is essentially a reordering of the C-major scale. Another way of looking at the Mixolydian mode is that it’s like a major scale, but with a flatted seventh. The G-major scale, for example, is spelled G A B C D E FG, while the G-Mixolydian mode is G A B C D E F. That one note makes a big difference, as you’ll hear in this modal workout.
Ex. 1a is a two-octave E-Mixolydian mode (E FG GG A B CG D) in first position. It’s important to learn scale and mode patterns, but it’s equally important—if not more so—to create musical phrases from them. Examples 1b–1d show you how to do this with three different phrases derived from Ex. 1a. One way to develop your soloing acuity is to lay down a simple backing track, like the one shown in Ex. 2. You can loop this one-chord pattern and experiment with different phrases and licks. Keep track of what sounds good and add that to your lick vocabulary. Try to create some of your own phrases using a variety of different techniques: hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, and string skipping.
Beginners’ Tip #1
Backing Tracks: Creating your own backing track does not have to be complicated. Simply use GarageBand or any other DAW to record yourself. It will help you on two levels: 1) make you play consistent rhythm over a given period of time and; 2) give you made-to-order background for practicing solos.
Work up the neck in two new positions. Ex. 3 is a two-octave A-major scale. This pattern starts and ends on A. In Ex. 4, you’ll find a two-octave pattern than begins and ends on B, the second note of the A-major scale, for example, the B-Dorian mode. But over an E7 chord, it is really E Mixolydian. One of the cool aspects of this pattern is that it has a “box” shape that stretches between the seventh and ninth frets on each string, as shown in Ex. 4a. Using these frets as reference points, you can create some cool licks with adjacent notes.
In Ex. 5, bend in half steps and release on strings 1–4 to build a sinewy lick. In Ex. 6, pick the seventh-fret D once, then hammer on, pull off, and slide down to CG before moving the pattern to the fourth string. Ex. 7 ascends the strings using box-pattern double stops, then descends using diatonic thirds. Ex. 8 uses a series of triplet-based double pull-offs that first descend strings 1, 2, and 3 and then 4, 5, and 6, with a short chromatic run at the end. In Ex. 9, use the double pull offs that resolve to the open 1st and 2nd strings to produce a fast lick that is repeatable.
Beginners’ Tip #2
Alternate picking: When I practice scales, I usually use alternate picking (down/up/down/up…); this helps with right- and left-hand coordination.
One of the great things about the Mixolydian mode is that if you’re playing a series of dominant seventh chords (1 3 5 H7), like in many blues and jazz songs, you can outline the progression using different Mixolydian patterns. For instance, if you’re playing a blues in E, negotiate the I, IV, and V chords (E7, A7, and B7) using the E-, A-, and B-Mixolydian modes, respectively.
For example: Ex. 10 and Ex. 11 are two-octave A- and B-Mixolydian modes starting and ending on the root note. Ex 12 is a jazzy-sounding lick drawn from A Mixolydian. Ex. 13 uses B Mixolydian and starts out by hitting the flatted seventh a couple of times as it slides up and descends to a resolution on the tonic, B7.
Beginners’ Tip #3
Hammer-ons, pull-offs, and bends: Like any other technique, these slurs need to be practiced as exercises. For example, a double pull-off, as in Ex. 8, requires that you have three fingers on the string so that when you pull one finger off, the next one will be there to sound the note. That might seem obvious, but I have watched many students struggle with this technique.
Now put it all together. Flesh out the rhythm from Week 1 to an eight-bar sequence using the I, IV, and V (E7, A7, and B) chords. These intervals are harmonized sixths that climb up and down the neck via the Mixolydian mode. In Ex. 14, the E chord sequence from Week 1 and the A chord sequence are similar.
It’s best to record yourself playing this rhythm slowly, so you can use it to practice the solo (“Mixed-o-Lydian”) in Ex. 15.
The solo starts with a sweep-picked ascending run that flows into a half-step bend. In the second bar, play a couple of four-note slurs like those in Ex. 6 and then a descending run to the flatted seventh, D. This sets up the jazzy run over the A7 chord that you used in Ex. 12. Use a single pick stroke for the bend—which toggles between the sixth (FG) and the flatted seventh (G)—over the next three beats of bar 4. Play a run similar to Ex. 13 under the B7 chord, but then ascend to the root note. Use a short chromatic run on the first and second strings, followed by a bounce between the major third (DG) and fifth (FG) of the B7, before resolving with another chromatic run down from the root to the flatted seven. Finally, there is another pseudo sweep outlining an E chord that ascends to the fourth (A). A couple of hammer-on/pull-off licks help descend to a final run that resolves to E. This eight-bar solo utilizes adjacent Mixolydian patterns: E, A, and B, played between the fifth and tenth frets.
You can also navigate the Mixolydian mode horizontally—on one or more strings, as well as a matrix of other possibilities. As you experiment with the mode over different chord patterns, try to target specific chord tones for a richer and more focused sound. Hopefully, your creativity and musical expression will be stimulated in the process.
Beginners’ Tip #4
Phrasing: Let your everyday speech patterns inform your phrasing on the guitar. You speak with cadences, inflections, stops, starts, and exclamations. Let your solos do the same.
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.
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