How to Write a Song in Mixolydian


 

Since I am half Greek I always found Greek modes fascinating, but I never had the change to dive into them and understand them properly. Today I decided to explore the Mixolydian mode and more specifically, how to write a song using that same mode.
Thus, if you want to write a song in Mixolydian you will have to:

    • Know the scale pattern (1 2 3 4 5 6 b7)
    • Pick a root key
    • Create harmony using the chords that are present in the scale
    • Create the lead melody line based on the scale notes and chord triads
    • Write lyrics to your creation

Bellow, I include information that I found important, plus, a songs list where the Mixolydian mode has been used!
Lets first get a grasp on what a mode is since there is a bit of confusion around the terminology.

 

What is a mode?

Start from the beginning, there are 7  different notes in a single octave and we use these 7 notes to form scales.
Each scale will have a different amount of flats and sharps or none at all, and all scales are formed from half steps (semitones) and whole steps (two semitones).

 

Now, each of these 7 notes can be used as the root note (home note) of an ascending sequence, and each sequence is what call a mode of that key.


Thus a mode is basically just a scale, examples are the C major scale, the A minor scale, the D Dorian mode or the C Mixolydian mode.

Now I hear you asking “ but why don’t we refer to all the modes as scales, and why do we have to distinguish the two between them?”

 

Honestly, I had this question myself and here is what I found out:  “A mode is actually a type of scale, all modes are scales, but not all scales are modes, an example would be the pentatonic scale which is not a mode.
Therefore a simple way of thinking about modes is that modes are ‘scales’ that start and finish on different degrees (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc) of a given scale such as the major scale. That’s it!

 

If you want to know more about modes or if you are interested in modal interchange and how to use this fabulous technique in pop songwriting please visit this post I have written.

 

How to write a song in a certain mode?

You may already know this, but songs that are written in a major scale generally sound happy while songs written in a minor scale sound more melancholic.

Just  remember the lyrics from the song hallelujah “the minor fall the major lift”

 

As an example let’s take the C major scale or its parallel minor which is the A minor scale. Both would be considered as a modal composition because we are exploring the sonic characteristics of a given mode of that scale. To keep things easy I will refer to them just as scales and not as modes.

 

A popular combination is the I-IV-V chord structure which in the C major scale would be C-F-G.
But use now the same compositional pattern on the A minor scale and you will notice that the result is very different. There is a more sad feeling compared to the C major scale we played before.

 

Also, we can write songs in certain modes that are not in the major or minor scale, this technique will expand your musical writing palette.

 

C Mixolydian or C major?

The C Mixolydian mode shares almost the same notes as the C major scale, the only difference is, instead of a B note we have an A# or Bb note. That means the scale goes like this:

C-D-E-F-G-A-Bb (1 2 3 4 5 6 b7)

 

Because of this one note change our G major chord will become a minor one, The G major triad is comprised of the notes G-B-D and the G minor triad includes the  G-Bb-D notes.

 

A weaker cadence

 Cadence means in Latin “To fall” and was originally referred to the stepwise descent of the tenor parts which are associated with formal endings, these descents can be found in certain types of late medieval polyphony compositions somewhere in the 14th century.

During the 17th century and later the cadence acquired a greater role in the chord based music. Today we still find cadences in pop music, an example of a cadence would be the V-I chord combination or the IV-I structure.

 

An easy way  to describe a cadence:
A cadence is a chord progression of at least two chords) that ends a music section or phrase.

 

A cadence is a bit like writing. We use question marks and other punctuation types in english grammar,  in this case, a cadence would be our “dot” since we use it as a closing tool.

 

The strongest cadence is the V7-I combination, but in our Mixolydian scale, since the B note goes one semitone down therefore becoming a Bb, our cadence (which would normally be V-I, that is G-C in a C major scale) now becomes v-I or otherwise a Gm-C.

 

Why does this matter?

Because a Gm chord creates a weaker cadence compared to a G major chord.

 

TIP: often in minor scales, major chord cadences are being borrowed from the equivalent major scales, that is if the melody line does not conflict with the underlying harmony. In our case that would make no sense since then, we would be using the chord structure of the C major scale, that is something we don’t want.

 

AC/DC and the Mixolydian

AC/DC, one of the greatest rock bands of all time uses the mixolydian mode in  many of their songs.
Take a guitar put some distortion on it, play the chords C-Bb-F, then add vocal lines that include a minor third and you will instantly sound like AC/DC.

Other popular bands & artists have used this mode such as The beatles with “Norwegian wood” and Lady Gaga on “Born this way”.

 

How to write a song in Mixolydian


Just a short history lesson the mixolydian has a greek origin, we find this scale in modern jazz and funk music, the pattern of the scale is 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7.

 

  • Here is my three step process for creating songs in Mixolydian
  • Know the scale pattern (1 2 3 4 5 6 b7)
  • Choose your root key
  • Create the underlying harmony using the chords that are present in the scale
  • Create the lead melody line based on the scale notes and chord triads 
  • Write lyrics to your creation

 

  • Choose your key

If I want to write a song I will most often look  at the vocal range of the singer for to determine the right key, generally ill try and make it easy for them to sing it.

  • Create the harmony

Since we want to write our song in mixolydian it will help if we first create the chord structure.
Let’s take D mixolydian, the scale chords will be:

D major
E minor
F# diminished
G major
A minor
B Minor
C major

Lets use the I-VII-IV structure which in this case will be D-C-G.

  • Create the lead melody

Now after Laying down our chords we can create our lead line, the easiest way of doing so while keeping ourselves in the scale is by using the scale notes and each of the chord triads.
This technique ensures that the notes we out down are not “fighting” our harmony in any way. If you are interested into finding more about this technique you can leave a comment and I will try and write a post about it!

 

Example of songs in Mixolydian

“Royals” by Lorde

“Theme from Star Trek

“Lay Lady Lay” by Bob Dylan

“Hey Jude” by the Beatles

“Clocks” by Coldplay

“You and I” by Lady Gaga

You can listen to the songs on the playlist I created

Spotify Playlist

 

Conclusion

Creating a song in Mixolydian can be quite easy once you understand how the scale and chords are constructed.
I recommend you listen to the the above playlist, then create your own songs as an exercise. Try composing at least two songs and make sure to try different root notes!

Check my post about modes here.

 

Happy (song) writing!

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