Most Western music structure is based on major or minor diatonic scales. Within the major scale, there are actually, seven distinct scales called modes that determine the feeling and texture of the musical composition.
These seven modes include Ionian, Phrygian, Dorian, Aeolian, Locrian, Lydian, and Mixolydian scales, each named after a specific geographical location in Ancient Greece.
Mixolydian mode can refer to a scale in ancient Greek harmonic tonial music, a modality in medieval church music, or a modern diatonic scale used in popular music.
This article examines musical works based on Mixolydian mode throughout history, from traditional medieval works to contemporary songs in pop, rock, and folk music, with examples taken from YouTube.
Quick Recap: What is the Mixolydian Mode?
The Mixolydian mode, also known as the dominant scale, is the fifth mode of the major scale.
It’s the same as the major scale except it has a flattened 7th note.
Mixolydian compositions often sound somewhat melancholy, making it popular for use in jazz and blues genres.
The Mixolydian mode uses this formula of half and whole steps:
W – W – H – W – W – H – W
Which in the key of C would be the notes: C – D – E – F – G – A – Bb – C
Now that we’ve recapped what it is, now let’s take a look at 12 examples of songs that use the Mixolydian mode.
1. Surgam et circuibo civitatem – Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina
Italian Renaissance composer Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina published a series of what, at the time, were considered experimental vocal motets in 1584.
Composers of the medieval period had only begun developing tonal theories during the 1500s, and this early collection featured compositions penned in five different diatonic scales, with eight of them in Mixolydian mode.
The piece “Surgam et circuibo civitatem” is reminiscent of the period’s monastic preference for Gregorian chant, when composers of religious music began experimenting with adding harmonics to single melodic lines.
2. Fughetta super: Dies sind die heilgen zehn Gebot – Johann Sebastian Bach
In 1739, Johann Sebastian Bach published the German Organ Mass, a collection of compositions for organ.
The Fughetta super, along with the choral prelude in Bach’s hymn, “These are the holy Ten Commandments,” is considered a rare example of the Mixolydian modality in Baroque music.
The Fughetta and the choral prelude are both written in standard G Mixolydian.
3. Concerto in Modo Misolidio, Moderato – Ottorino Respighi
By the beginning of the post-romantic period In the early 20th century, composers were well-versed in using modalities to create musical works.
Post-romantic Ottorino Respighi penned his “Concerto in modo misolidio” to translate the feeling and tonalities of medieval Gregorian chant into an orchestral setting.
The piano concerto is written using an Eb Mixolydian scale.
4. Dark Star – Grateful Dead
Most of Jerry Garcia’s guitar licks are written in Mixolydian mode.
The classic Mixolydian pattern is almost synonymous with the blues today, and early jazz and blues masters highly influenced the Grateful Dead’s music.
Whenever major/minor blues-based licks are layered atop minor 7th chords in modern music, the performers are usually using Mixolydian scales.
Dark Star uses bluesy Mixolydian riffs throughout the lengthy piece, showcasing the band’s affinity for the contrasting elements of Mixolydian mode.
Dark Star is written using an A Mixolydian scale, with an oscillating A – Em and the Mixolydian G in the third of the E minor chord.
5. Seven Bridges Road – The Eagles
Composer Steve Young penned the famous 1980s song, arranged by Iain Matthews, with a D Mixolydian progression.
The D-C-G-D or I–VII–IV–I chord pattern repeats throughout the song, accompanied by some of music’s most enchanting vocal harmonies.
The Mixolydian chord structure corresponds with the typical bluesy Mixolydian harmonic functions by beginning and ending on the tonic while inserting a dominant to subdominant progression.
6. Clocks – Coldplay
The iconic song that turned Coldplay into one of the world’s biggest bands and earned them a Grammy features an Eb Mixolydian chord progression throughout the verses and instrumental sections.
With a I-v-ii expressed as Eb-Bm-Fm through the song’s entirety, only the refrain “Nothing else compares” exits Mixolydian mode for a brief sequence where the major third (III) is diminished.
7. Raga Rageshri – Ravi Shankar
The Mixolydian mode is not confined to Western music compositions.
Indian and Middle Eastern music make wide use of the scale.
India’s counterpart to the Mixolydian progression is called Khamaj that.
The Khamaj that scale is often used within the framework of ragas.
The world-famous sitar player Ravi Shankar makes use of the Mixolydian scale in his Raga Rageshri, using a pentatonic version of a Mixolydian melodic progression.
8. When Johnny Comes Marching Home – Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore
The American Civil War Anthem, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home’ was written by Irish-American bandleader Patrick Gilmore under the pen name Louis Lambert in 1863.
Gilmore was such an accomplished musician that John Philip Sousa considered him the “Father of the American Band.”
The song is written in C Mixolydian using a C-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C scale.
Sung by both sides during the Civil War, the tune has been adapted for many other lyrics and interpretations since its creation in the mid-1800s.
9. Rock of Ages – Thomas Hastings
The Christian hymn “Rock of Ages,” written in 1762, uses the same chord progression as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”
The C Mixolydian pattern invokes the C-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C scale throughout the piece.
The lyrics were ostensibly written before the music by a Reverend Augustus M. Toplady while caught by surprise in a gorge by a fierce storm.
The composer Thomas Hastings wrote the music to accompany the apocryphal lyrics, using the Mixolydian modality to express the idea of faith in the face of fear.
10. L.A. Woman – The Doors
The classic rock song, “L.A. Woman,” by iconic rock group The Doors, is written in the key of A Major, but its use of D Major chords throughout most of the song gives it a Mixolydian progression.
Although D Major tones and chords are used as the basis for the song, A is the tonic.
Minor pentatonic scales are found throughout the song.
Mixolydian songs often include minor pentatonic scales.
Most notes from the major pentatonic scale are found in the Mixolydian mode as well, except C natural, so you could play either the A minor or A major pentatonic scale within this A Mixolydian song.
“L.A. Woman” leaves Mixolydian mode for about a minute around 5:00 into the song while Jim Morrison sings the Mr. Mojo Rising line before returning to Mixolydian to finish the song.
11. All Blues – Miles Davis
“All Blues,” performed by Miles Davis on his album Kind of Blue, released in 1959, is a perfect example of Mixolydian blues riffs.
Although “All Blues” follows a standard 12-bar blues structure in 6/8 time, the tonal progression follows a classic G Mixolydian scale, which Davis uses to stunning effect.
The Mixolydian progression makes it stand out from many 12-bar blues riffs of the time.
Although his famous trumpet riffs tickle notes up and down the scale through octaves, the melody and improvisations stick to the general Mixolydian blues structure of Tonic-Dominant-Subdominant-Tonic.
The blues master’s use of Mixolydian mode inspired many artists who followed to implement the melodramatic scale themselves, and it is now commonly used across the blues and rock genres.
12. Royals – Lorde
The song “Royals” by pop artist Lorde uses triplets for a royal “trunpety” fanfare effect on top of a D Mixolydian scale structure.
The simple chord arrangement of D-C-G fits nicely into Mixolydian mode, and the instrumental triplet run-up after the chorus’s words, specifically “We’ll never be royals,” gives the song a Renaissance flavor.
As one of the newer pop artists of the 20-teens, Lorde proves that the Mixolydian mode will live on in modern music, allowing music artists to create inventive new musical works while drawing from the old-school basics of traditional, even ancient, music composition,
We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about Mixolydian mode and some of the songs through the ages that make use of it.
Found in nearly every style of music from medieval Gregorian chant to Baroque and Post-Romantic Classical periods to modern blues, jazz, rock, and even Indian music, Mixolydian is one of the most common musical modes used throughout history.
Whether you’re playing or listening to songs in Mixolydian mode, we hope you have a better understanding of the sound and structure of Mixolydian compositions.