A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

The Dominant (Mixolydian) Scale and Chords

Prior to starting that IIB class on Music Theory for Bass, I was practicing scales and chords. I’ve completed a basic write-up of the major and minor scales already, so I’m going to continue with the rest of the modes of the major scale and their related chords.

The Dominant (Mixolydian) scale is a variation of the Major (Ionian) scale. There’s a difference of one note in the pattern. Here’s what one source says about it:

Bass Guitar Exercises for Dummies:
The dominant scale, or Mixolydian mode, is the most commonly used scale for bass grooves. You can think of it as a major scale with a lowered seventh.

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Playing the Dominant (Mixolydian) Scale (Pattern 1)

Now, with the above in mind, here’s the Major Scale pattern that we’ve looked at before, followed by the Dominant/Mixolydian. By comparing them, its easy to see how the pattern differs (the lowered 7th note). Later on, we’ll see how chords based on the pattern are formed.

Major (Ionian) Scale (pattern 1)

Dominant (Mixolydian) Scale (pattern 1)

See how the only difference is the 7th note? Its one fret lower. So, its played with the middle finger instead of the ring finger.

As before, here are some notes and instructions about playing the above pattern:

  1. The pattern above can be played from any position with 3 strings (so start on the E or A string). Try to maintain 1 finger per fret, but not to the point where you have to painfully stretch your fingers to do so. Just try to have each finger in the general area where they’re on neighboring frets, ready to shift slightly if needed, so that they each can play one.
  2. The scale degree shows the 8 notes to play, in order, from lowest (root) to highest (octave).
  3. The diagram to the right of the scale degrees shows what finger to use for each fret. By maintaining use of those fingers, you don’t need to dramatically shift your hand up or down the neck to play the scale. This gives you the ability to reach the notes needed for the pattern faster. Eventually, you’ll be able to reach them without looking too much. Its really just muscle memory.

Based on the above, start the scale on a fret of your choosing, on the E or A string. Make sure that you assign one fret to each finger. For this example, I’m going to start on the 3rd fret of the E string.

  1. Play the first note using your middle finger (m) on the 3rd fret. (This is the root.)
  2. Play the 2nd note using your pinky finger (p) on the 5th fret.
  3. Play the 3rd note using your index finger, one string up (A string) on the 2nd fret.
  4. Play the 4th note using your middle finger on the A string – 3th fret.
  5. Play the 5th note using your pinky finger on the A string – 5th fret.
  6. Play the 6th note using your index finger, one string up (D string) on the 2nd fret.
  7. Play the 7th note using your middle finger on the D string – 3rd fret.
  8. Finally, play the 8th note, or octave with your pinky finger on the D string – 5th fret.

See how its just the old Major Scale with a one-note change? The only difference in playing it is #7 in the list above. Here’s a link to the previous entry about the Major Scale. Now that I think of it, I should have called that “The Major (Ionian) Scale and Chords:

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Now, how does this relate to chords?

Ok. So we’ve looked at how to play the Mixolydian Scale using a common pattern, above. Now, we’re going to look at its chords compared to the Major Scale. Refer back to that article on the Major Scale & Chords (above) if you need to brush up on what a chord is and what its used for. Also, in a previous post, we looked at the idea of broken chords. Refer to the link below for more information about that.

Now, there are two different types of basic chords: triads and 7ths. We’ll look at how to construct and play these next.

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How to play Triads:

Triads are the smallest type of chord. They’re made up of three notes: the root note (1), the 3rd note in a scale (3), and the 5th note in a scale (5). The image below shows a major triad, which uses the pattern/notes from the major scale to determine where its 1, 3 & 5 are found.

Now, because the first 6 notes of the Mixolydian mode are the same as the Major Scale, and triads are made up of the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of that scale… the Dominant/Mixolydian triad is the same as the Major/Ionian one. So, basically, if you went over the stuff on the Major Scale & Chords, you already know the first chord for the Mixolydian Scale/Mode. 😉

Just like before, to play a major triad, pick a position and do the following:

  1. Start by playing the root note (1) with your middle finger (m).
  2. Next, play the 3rd note from the major scale with your index finger (i).
  3. Finally, play the 5th note from the major scale with your pinky finger (p).

See how it uses the same notes as the triad in the Major Scale? If you play it in ascending or descending order (1-3-5 or 5-3-1) you’re playing an arpeggio. If you play it any other way, its a broken chord. As before, if you’re so inclined, and if you like the sound, you can play the octave (8) as part of a triad. Because its the same note (has the same name) as the root (1) it doesn’t change the actual makeup of the chord. The octave for the Major and Dominant scales are the same.

Here are some links to previous entries about major triads:

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How to play 7ths:

7ths are played just like triads, but with one more note at the end, namely: the 7th note of the corresponding scale (the 7). Triads have 3 notes, and 7ths are made up of 4 notes. Now, the 7th note of the Mixolydian/Dominant Mode is the only one that differs from the Ionian/Major Scale. The corresponding 7th chord is called a Dominant Chord or a Dominant 7th Chord. Here’s what the difference looks like:

Major 7th chord

Dominant 7th chord

See what happened? The 7th note moved back a fret. Other than that, its the same as the Major 7th. To play a Dominant 7th, pick a position and do the following:

  1. Start by playing the root note (1) with your middle finger (m).
  2. Next, play the 3rd note from the Dominant scale with your index finger (i).
  3. Now play the 5th note from the Dominant scale with your pinky finger (p).
  4. Finally, play the 7th note from the Dominant scale with your middle finger (r).

Everything that was said about triads holds true for 7ths. Playing them in order is an arpeggio. Playing them out-of-order is a broken chord. Just as with a triad, you can play the octave (8) as part of a 7th chord.

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Summary & Theory

Here’s a summary about the Dominant (Mixolydian) Scale and its chords. Refer to it the Summary & Theory section of the Major Scale and Chords entry for more detailed information:

  1. The formula for constructing a Major Scale is R-W-W-H-W-W-W-H
  2. The formula for constructing a Dominant Scale is R-W-W-H-W-W-H-H
    1. See how the only difference is that half-step before the last note (octave)? That’s the Dominant 7th.

Here are the patterns for the Dominant (Mixolydian) Scale and its basic chords. Compare the scale pattern with the triad and 7th patterns to see how they’re related via scale degree.

Here are some links to previous entries about scales & chords:

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One response

  1. Pingback: 7th Chords: Major, Dominant, Natural Minor, Harmonic Minor & 1/2 Diminished | Ugly Bass Face

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