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The Mixolydian mode is simply a standard major scale with the major 7th flattened to a minor 7th. Being essentially a major scale, it doesn’t get too much use in dance music, but its minor 7th makes it more employable in many situations than the standard Ionian mode.
In C a Mixolydian mode is C, D, E, F, G, A, Bb, C, and sounds like this:
On a theoretical level, one of the key factors to the sound of this mode is the tritone interval between the 3rd and the 7th (highlighted). Playing a C dominant 7 chord (C, E, G, Bb) can help us hear the effect of this interval:
Mixolydian Mode Case Study: Todd Terje – ‘Inspector Norse’
For a great example of the Mixolydian mode in dance music, have a listen to Todd Terje’s track ‘Inspector Norse’:
We can hear the piece is in F Mixolydian, because of its use of the minor 7th, Eb, instead of a major 7th, E, in both the bassline and keys.
The major 3rd aspect of the Mixolydian mode here gives the track its fun, almost surreal quality, with the flattened 7th stopping it sounding too predictable.
(An interesting point worth noting is that the chord playing over the F in the bass in ‘Inspector Norse’, is made up of the notes F, A, C, D, which are the notes of a D minor 7 chord. D is the relative minor of an F major, but the F in the bass changes the context of this chord to an F major add 6, with the D now forming the 6th of F major, the other notes forming an F major triad. Because of this, the same chord fits nicely over the D in the bassline, the synth changing to an Eb major 7 over the Eb in the bass. Changing the context of chords using basslines is something we’ll be looking at in greater detail soon.)
All four modes in practice
Below is a simple 4 bar loop, duplicated in the 4 different modes. We can hear how the different modes alter the character of the loop. Played in Ionian mode, the melody is bright, happy and frankly quite cheesy. The Aeolian mode version is, as expected, less cheerful thanks to the minor 3rd and 7th.
The flattened 2nd in the Phrygian version of the loop instantly gives it a more sinister, dark tonal quality than the standard Aeolian mode/natural minor. Similarly, the use of the minor 7th, Bb, in the Mixolydian version keeps the loop from becoming as predictable and as cheery sounding as in the Ionian mode.
Here is the loop transcribed below in its Ionian/major scale form.
We’ll be referring back to the concept of modes in forthcoming Passing Notes and Breakdown articles. Keep an eye on the comments thread below for links to other articles which draw on this theory.
If you enjoyed this tutorial you might find our book ‘The Secrets of Dance Music Production’ a helpful resource for similar tutorials.
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