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Mixolydian Mode

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.

20th November, 2012

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Spitfire Audio

Spitfire Audio is a British company founded by two film composers looking to revolutionise sampling.

They set about recording the world’s finest players in the best locations in order to capture samples of unrivalled quality. Used across the music, gaming and film industry, Spitfire has become the go-to for producers and composers looking to add truly authentic sounds to their works.

With offices in Central London and a growing workforce of experienced music, film and recording professionals, their revolution continues.

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Comments

  • Another awesome column!

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  • Thank you so much for this article !

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  • I’m so glad I found this site. Thanks again for another interesting article!

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  • those this modes had thier own harmony progressions, or i can use them over any minor or major “functional” harmony??
    thanks for this column, its great to discuss on this matter and the magazine is great. thanks!!

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  • Hey Julian,

    Yes, the modes will have slightly different chord progressions depending on any flattened / sharpened notes in the mode.

    For instance, if we’re using a Phrygian mode in A, the 2nd interval of the scale will be Bb, rather than the B we have as the 2nd interval of the natural minor scale.

    This means that the 2nd triad chord we can make from an A Phrygian mode will be a Bb major triad (Bb, D, F) rather than the B diminished triad (B, D, F) that we’d get from the natural minor scale.
    Hope this helps!
    Cheers,

    Oliver

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  • Great site. please keep up the good work!

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  • thanks for the response oliver. it did helps a lot.
    cheers.

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  • This tutorial is a real gem. Amazing.

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  • This is the best explanation of modes I’ve ever read.

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  • All your music theory explanations (not just this one) are so helpful and well done! It confirms a lot of stuff I have been doing intuitively by trial and error, but it also gives me inspiration for composing new and better music! So thanks!

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  • I really like your explanations on theory but just wished they go a bit further. Its just a bit brief and at a basic level generally available…I dont mean to be strongly critical but just that it seems like you guys have the understanding to discuss a lot more and Id love to read more…

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  • Steve – thanks for the feedback. There’s obviously a fine line between something which is too basic to be useful and something which is too advanced for some people to understand. We know that a lot of dance producers don’t have any background in theory so we want to make sure we don’t turn anybody off by jumping straight in at the deep end. As we continue with this series we’ll certainly be looking at some more advanced theory and getting deeper into some of the ideas we’ve already discussed. We hope you’ll stick with us.

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  • I have been trawling the web for some good dance music production help for a while now but yours is by far the best. Clear and concise, gets the point across exactly how it should be done. Thank you very much.

    I would like to echo that i want to see more advanced stuff having a strong background in music theory being classically trained. I have just found it very hard making the jump into making dance music. Whilst i have been an avid listener for many years now i have never known where to start. But so many of your tutorials are so helpful and i can’t wait to see more. Keep it up!

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  • Clear and simple, perfect for begginers!

    Greetings from Spain!

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  • Great article, I think its the best break down I read so far.

    Keep it up

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  • Thank you very much for this, this is very useful for me. What a great site, so much inspiring articles. Im a beginner and this anwsers allot of questions for me.

    Thanks!

    Greetings from Holland

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  • Best site ever

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  • I experimented myself one month ago improvising with modes over a constant drone bass note, and found that in that context, mixolydian sounded very much like celtic music, phrygian was more like arab / sinister thing, dorian sounded like in your face rock solos… i think it was a very nice exercise to do, i recommend everybody to do it!

    Your article is very good and gave me another great take on the subject, thank you very much!

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  • Amazing side and tutorials. Big thx !!

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  • thanxs! this was inspiring!

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  • I know this is an old article and all, but isn’t the last picture Mixolydian rather than Ionian (because of the Bb) ? i’m new to music theory so maybe i’m missing something :> this is a great website btw <3

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  • Great tutorial. Are the last set of audio files correct though?

    Mixolydian and Lonian sound exactly the same. Aeolian and Phrygian do too.

    I even laid both pairs on top of each other in Live and they sound identical when played together, no notes clash or harmonize differently.

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  • Ah nevermind hear it now.

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  • This is really kick-ass stuff! Respect!
    Thank you for this kind of content!
    Keep it up.

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  • Lads,

    Can you explain this a bit more clearly please? Not making sense to me.

    ‘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. ‘

    B

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  • I have an exam tomorrow and you saved my life! thank you!

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  • Hi Attack,

    Can I ask something that is pretty stupid (probably) –

    But in the context of a track that is composed solely in the minor key, by default that’s in Aeolian, right? Unless you employ one of the more complex minor modes, if you just pick up the C minor scale to make melody and chords from, that’s by default Aeolian – am i right in thinking that?

    Just trying to string together the important for minor scales for dance music and the Aeolian mode mentioned in this article.

    Cheers!

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  • Hello Attack,
    Thank you so much for this very simply explained article. Being a beginner I found it rather easy to understand. Greetings from Calcutta INDIA.

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  • What’s the practical difference between saying e.g. C Aeolian and the D# major scale? are the accompanying chords different in some way? I think I’m missing something valuable here! Thanks!

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  • Ionian mode mode cheesy?,this is the problem with all of you guys who study music theory to the nth degree,and believe the text books,this is a classic quote from them,do you think the audience is going to hear that as “cheesy”?,of course not!

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