Below is a brief introduction to the mixolydian mode for guitar. Also included are some practice ideas to help incorporate this mode into your clinical tool box.



 Mixolydian Mode

  • The relationship to the major scale (5th degree)
  • Relationship between major scale and Mixolydian
  • Based on the 5th scale degree of the relative major scale
  • Varies from the major scale by the flatted 7th.
  • The scale degrees are R, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and b7

Mixolydian: Basic Chords/Triads

I Chord Major G-B-D
ii Chord Minor A-C-E
iii Chord Diminished B-D-F
IV Chord Major C-E-G
V Chord Minor D-F-A
Vi Chord Minor E-G-A
VII Chord Major F-A-C

Practice Techniques

 Exploring the Mixolydian: It’s a Process

  • Sing the scale and begin to anticipate and “hear” the b7 (minor 7th)
  • Sing & develop short melodic themes that you repeat (emphasize the b7th)
  • Create tonal center (we are in G mixo, not C major, yes?)
  • On piano/guitar begin with a simple ostinati in the left hand and begin to sing
  • Continue with osinati and play in the right hand/sing your simple created melody
  • Understanding harmonies (develop chords on each tone)
  • Choose 2 chords and play a melody between the 2 chords
  • Let’s not forget about rhythm, tempo, range (piano/guitar) and singing
  • Guitar: Play the scale with 1 finger on 1 string, slowly and evenly
  • Guitar: Play 1 octave scale (see above), then 2 octaves
  • Guitar: Develop simple melodic themes with guitar
  • Follow same ideas as piano

 Additional Ideas: Simplicity is Key!

  • Start with a simple short idea
  • Listen to what you’re playing
  • Create a beginning, middle, and end
  • Transitions: process of change in the music to take place
  • Enjoy the experience of doing it

You need to start somewhere

  • 1-note, 2-note, 3-note, and 4 note improvisations
  • Improvising on a single chord
  • Improvising with one hand
  • Melody improvisation alone

Tonal Center

  • Finding and announcing the tonal center
  • Understanding triad for each tone (i.e. major, minor, ½ diminished)
  • Constantly emphasizing tonal center
    • Focusing on identifying tone/s in the mode (i.e. G mixo- F, D mixo-C, etc.)
    • Chord placement
    • If your in G mixolydian to hear the resolution going to C or G?

 Group Exercises

  • Sing the mode up and down
  • Conducting: Half class sings mode & half class sings tonic (conductor incorporates elements)
  • 2 students (guitar and vocal)
  • Improvise freely over either ostinati and/or chords

Improvisation with melodic instrument

  • Guitar improvisation with melodic instruments
  • Guitarist follows instrumentalist, using ostinati and/or chords
  • Use your voice/accompaniment to facilitate engagement and musical relatedness

The initial focus of the music therapist (improviser) is to use music to facilitate musical engagement and interaction

  • Observe
  • Listen
  • Musically approach
  • Follow musical cues
  • Meeting music
  • Extend the play: deepening the experience

Playing experiences to do in the lab

  • Create simple melodies, and write them down
  • Create musical themes for your melodies and play variations of the theme
    • Be able to go back to the original theme
    • Now, take your theme, repeat it, feel it, experience the theme-then create a B section
    • Now, take you’re A and B sections and massage them, begin to play variations of the themes
    • Now, try and transcribe your melody into another key, maybe the relative
    • Remember to use your voice and interchange musical elements and various strumming and picking
  • What is the relevance of the above assignments?
    • Was it difficult? Fun? What was the most difficult part of the assignment?
  • Playing with another student (one on guitar the other on another instrument)
  • Create musical profiles for each student
    • What are the musical traps you fall into?
    • What is your main instrument?
    • What are your musical strengths and weaknesses?
  • Write down each style, mode, etc. and write down the characteristics of each music (i.e. emotional qualities, differences, especially within the musical elements, etc.) this can only be done while playing.
  • Experience the music, begin develop a relationship/understanding of what the music may be saying/conveying


Partial excerpts taken from “Orchestrating Affective Relationships®” Training Module I:  Clinical Improvisation

John Carpente, PhD, MT-BC, LCAT, NRMT

Copyright © 2009 all rights reserved


About drjohnmtbc

John A. Carpente, PhD, MT-BC, LCAT, NRMT, Assistant Professor in Music and Music Therapy at Molloy College, is the Founder and Executive Dir

7 responses »

  1. This is the good step u have taken. Thanks for writing this, its clear you have spent a good amount of time on your sites development.

  2. Jorge Mclean says:

    If I had a dollar for each time I came to Superb post.

  3. […] appreciate the perspective he brings to music therapy practice.  I love his recent posts on using different modes and scales on guitar in clinical settings, and back when I was in internship, I took a good hour and a half to […]

  4. Crista says:

    Hi John! Thank you so much for this! Would you be able to explain what the diagrams represent at the top? I know they aren’t chords. Thank you!!


    • drjohnmtbc says:

      Hi Crista,
      Great question!! wow, i should’ve clarified that when i originally posted it, however, i must have over looked it. thanks for asking!
      ok, diagram:

      I= Root is G (6th string 3rd fret)
      II= Root is open E
      III= Root is C# (5th string 4th fret)
      IV= Root is A (6th string 5th fret)
      V= Root is A (6th string 5th)- this one is similar to diagram IV, however, has a couple of different fingerings.

      I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any other questions.



    • drjohnmtbc says:

      Ps. yes, you’re right. they are not chords they are scales/fingerings to play mixolydian in different positions

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