“Maiden Voyage” and the Mixolydian Mode

May 7, 2018

When I have asked students, “What is the Mixolydian mode?” they usually tell me that it is the major scale where you flat the 7th.This would be the wrong answer, however. It is the mode within a major scale that starts on the 5th degree and the chord it would produce is the dominant 7th chord.

This sound should be familiar to us all because of its prevalence in popular music with such songs as “Tequila,” “Norwegian Wood,” “On Broadway,” “Mustang Sally,” and “Old Time Rock and Roll,” to name just a few.

For the song “Maiden Voyage,” we can use the this sound exclusively for the entire song. This would mean this song is a constant structure song (all the chords are the same). Other examples of songs that are constant structure would be “Inner Urge” (Lydian major 7th chords) and “Brother Mister” (dominant 7th sus chords). Like “Brother Mister,” all the chords are dominant 7th sus4 . I know on the bridge there is a minor 7th chord listed, so what we do is use its relative dominant (i.e. the Dorian scale and the Mixolydian scale would have the same key signature). Now what we have is the key of the moment. Because the chords are sus 4 chords there are no void notes. A void note would be the 4th on a major chord, although part of the scale you are not supposed to land on it – in other words, a void note. Every four bars we are in a new key. D would be the 5th note in the key of G, therefore D 7sus4 would have one # in the key signature. F Mixolydian would have two flats. E flat Mixolydian would have four flats and F# Mixolydian would have five sharps.

At the bottom of the next page I have seven melodic shapes – one for each degree of the scale. First the student needs to play these shapes in the aforementioned keys. The idea here is we make the sound on the chord using the same notes in different orders. The only way to develop a jazz vocabulary is to use numbers in order to earn as many different melodic shapes as possible. The scale is a tool, but creating different melodies from the scale equals vocabulary. Playing any of the aforementioned songs would also be helpful in learning the most important mode in music. These lines should also be sung and then our minds can visualize, our ears can hear, and our fingers can execute.

For the song “Maiden Voyage,” the drill (written out on the next page) is to play the line that starts on 1 and then rest a measure and then the line that starts on 2 and continue this method for the whole song. This forces the player to have a target note for each chord as the progression unfolds. After doing the drill with no mistakes then it is time to try improvising and teach yourself through trial and error the exciting journey of jazz improvisation. Keep in mind, as you improvise, which key centers you might be less familiar with. If you struggle with some of the chords, you will understand why you need to be able to play everything you know in all 12 keys.

Preparation is the key to be able to improvise freely on any given chord progression. After doing the drill for this song the student will be able to grasp what takes place when you are improvising.

In a career spanning 50 years, New England–based bandleader, sax player, and jazz educator Miles Donahue has performed and recorded 14 albums, many of which are available on iTunes. His site, www.jazzworkbook.com, offers an effective course for new players to learn jazz improvisation and for seasoned players to learn fresh approaches to soloing.

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