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Mixolydian mode

From Academic Kids

The Mixolydian mode is a musical mode or diatonic scale. It may be considered as having the same order of tones and semitones as the major scale except the fifth (dominant) note is taken as the tonic or starting pitch of the scale. It may also be considered a major scale with the leading tone moved down by a semitone.

The order of tones and semitones in a Mixolydian scale is TTSTTST (T = tone, S = semitone), while the major scale is TTSTTTS. The key signature varies accordingly (it will be the same as that of the major key a fifth below).

Some examples:

  • The G Mixolydian mode (Based on C major- on a piano it is all the white keys from one G to the next)
  • The C Mixolydian mode (Based on F major)
  • The D Mixolydian mode (Based on G major)
  • The E Mixolydian mode (Based on A major)

Greek Mixolydian

The idea of a Mixolydian mode comes from the music theory of ancient Greece. However, what the ancient Greeks thought of as Mixolydian was very different from the modern interpretation of the mode.

In Greek theory, the Mixolydian is the Hypolydian mode inverted: a descending scale of a whole tone followed by two inverted Lydian tetrachords (each being two whole tones followed by a semitone descending). This is the equivalent of playing all the 'white notes' of a piano from B to B, or B C D (E) | E F G A | B. This happens to be theoretically the same as Hyperdorian mode, but Mixolydian seems to have been the preferred name. It also seems that this Mixolydian mode was little used by the ancient Greeks, and that it was deemd unfit for any kind of music.

Mediaeval Mixolydian and Hypomixolydian

Mediaeval European music scholars understood the Greek system of modes through the Latin works of Boethius. However, his work was misinterpreted, and the name Mixolydian came to be applied to one of the eight modes of mediaeval church music: the seventh mode. This mode does not run from B to B on white notes, as the Greek mode, but from G to G. This misinterpretation led to the current use of the term for the natural scale from G to G.

The seventh mode of western church music is an authentic mode based on and encompassing the natural scale from G to G, with the perfect fifth (the D in a G to G scale) as the dominant, reciting note or tenor.

Hand in hand with this mode goes the plagal eighth mode, which was termed Hypomixolydian (or under Mixolydian). This mode was based on the same scale, but used the perfect fourth (the C in a G to G scale) as the reciting note, and had a melodic range from the perfect fourth below the tonic to the perfect fifth above it.

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