Bass Advice

More improv ideas this month starting with a sound you’ve no doubt heard and probably played - mixolydian. Figure A shows one octave of G mixolydian. Remember there are always more than one fingering for any scale and to really get a handle on these try them all over the neck, not just in comfortable/favourite/go to type positions. Does the 7th note (F) stick out when you first play it? Up til then it’s a G major Scale that our ears are very familiar with. Usually we’d have an F# but mixolydian uses the b7 giving us an F natural. Sounding a bit funky/bluesy, the mixolydian mode works great with dominant 7th chords (and a heap of according substitutions – 9th, 13th etc.) and is used in styles such as funk, pop, jazz and blues amongst others.

Figure B shows a typical mixolydian sounding line that (obviously) incorporates the b7. This could be a funk line from a one chord G7/G9 groove or even in a funky 12 bar blues. The b7 (F in this example) really accentuates the dominant 7th sound along with the B natural (the Major 3rd). Note – sometimes you might hear Bb (intentionally and unintentionally) in these situations too as it’s part of the Minor Pentatonic scale. (Often this is purely as the player might not be aware of the differences or not know). This definitely has a ‘sound’ but use with caution as the minor 3rd can really clash against the major 3rd from a dominant 7th chord. Anything from James Brown to Tower of Power to Prince to Marvin Gaye to Chuck Berry to Jimi Hendrix tunes have all contained mixolydian lines and sounds (bass lines, riffs, solos etc.).

For some up the neck improv lick ideas check out Figure C. This example moves around some positions so experiment with fingerings to see what works for you. Again, these examples are sticking to mixolydian, with its Major 3rd, so get your ear accustomed to the sound rather than always hankering for the b3.  

Figure D also makes use of the upper register across a number of strings. Try practising these licks over G7/G9 to give you context, a drum machine of looper is great for creating some feel and vibe too. The dominant 7th chord is super common in most styles of music so knowing how to treat it is important. These few ideas don’t even scratch the surface of mixolydian and its uses. There are then substitutions, chromatic ideas, static grooves, functioning chord movement and harmony and a whole host of other ideas that take this further. Check out more, listen to heaps of music in different styles and try and work mixolydian ideas into your own playing.