Lydian Mode

Recall that we defined scale as:
a group of notes within an octave (and any octaves of those notes) usually played one at a time.

We can describe (define) a scale in any of these ways:
- by letters (representing specific pitches)
- by numbers (representing specific intervals)
- by step pattern (describing intervals from note to note)

So for example the major scale (ionian mode) can be described/ defined as/by:
C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C (in the key of C), 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,
and W-W-1/2-W-W-W-1/2.

We define a major scale as a scale containing the notes (intervals) 1,3,5.
(In other words, using the notes in the scale we can construct a major chord off the root note)

What is a mode? (of a scale)
- I will have a lesson on modes next time, but for now...

Let us define a mode as a scale within a family of scales that are related by their step patterns. We can derive the modes of a scale by moving the first step of a step pattern to the end, and repeating until we return to the first scale we started with.

As a practical example we will derive the modes of the major scale (major scale = WW1/2WWW1/2). We remember that we sometimes call the major scale the ionian mode (or ionian scale), and we sometimes call the minor scale the aeolian mode.

WW1/2WWW1/2 = Ionian
W1/2WWW1/2W = Dorian
1/2WWW1/2WW = Phrygian
WWW1/2WW1/2 = Lydian
WW1/2WW1/2W = Mixolydian
W1/2WW1/2WW = Aeolian
1/2WW1/2WWW = Locrian

So we note that the lydian mode is the 4th mode of the major scale, and that its step pattern is WW1/2WW1/2W.

Another way to explain modes (more commonly seen) is to rotate through the pitches to derive modes.

In the key of C:

C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C = C-Ionian
D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D = D-Dorian
E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E = E-Phrygian
F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F = F-Lydian
G-A-B-C-D-E-F-G = G-Mixolydian
A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A = A-Aeolian
B-C-D-E-F-G-A-B = B-Locrian

So we note that the lydian mode is the 4th mode of the major scale. We also note that the pitches (letters) are the same, so the modes share the same key (and key signature).

From either Lydian = WWW1/2WW1/2, or F-Lydian = F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F we can find the intervals (from the root note) to be 1,2,3,#4,5,6,7.

Looking at the numbers, we can deduce that the lydian mode is a major scale (not THE major scale everyone talks about - that would be the ionian mode, but a major scale none-the-less). that is, it contains the notes 1,3,5.

We also note that it is very similar to THE major scale. The ionian mode (THE major scale) has the intervals 1,2,3,4,5,6,7; and the lydian mode has the intervals 1,2,3,#4,5,6,7. So we could view the lydian mode/scale as an ionian scale with a sharped fourth ( an augmented fourth in place of a perfect fourth)[ionian #4]. We can use this idea as a stepping stone to learning the scale. If you already know the ionian scale (THE major scale), then you could play those patterns , replacing the 4 with the #4. this idea of thinking of one scale as being another scale with altered notes (e.g. ionianb7, lydianb7, etc.) or with missing notes (e.g. pentatonic major, etc.) occurs from time to time, and may give some perspective/context/comfort in learning new scales.

Recall that the pentatonic major scale is made of the notes 1,2,3,5,6. we could use the pent. maj. scale to substitute for both the lydian mode (1,2,3,#4,5,6,7), and the ionian mode (1,2,3,4,5,6,7). It's a possibility, but we will lose some of the flavor (which is probably why we're using lydian in the first place).

So lets look at some patterns (moveable shapes) with which we can play the lydian scale.


lydian mode "E-shape" (root note on the 6th string)


lydian mode "D-shape" (root note on the 4th string)


lydian mode "C-shape" (root note on the 5th string)


lydian mode "A-shape" (root note on the 5th string)


lydian mode "G-shape" (root note on the 6th string)


We recall, that we can derive chords by harmonizing scales. We've previously harmonized the major scale in thirds to get triads, and seventh chords (see August 19th's, and august 16th's lessons)

We found for the major scale (ionian mode) The following triads:
and 7th chords:

Recalling from above that the lydian mode contains the same notes (pitches) as the ionian mode, it also contains the same chords (starting with the 4th chord of the ionain mode). So we have the following triads for the lydian modes:
and the following 7th chords:

We can create "lydian" progressions. Doing so will give us a framework to analyze songs, and find good opportunities to employ the Lydian mode. it's also good practice for songwriting, etc.
We see above the following chords for Lydian:
in triads: I-II-iii-#ivo-V-vi-vii
in 7th chords: Imaj7-II7-iii7-#iv7b5-Vmaj7-vi7-vii7
(in 9th chords: Imaj9-II9-iii9-#iv7b9b5-Vmaj9-vi9-vii7b9)
(in 11th chords: Imaj9#11-II11-iii11-#iv11b9b5-Vmaj11-vi11-vii11b9)
(in 13th chords: Imaj13#11-II13-iii11b13-#iv11b13b9b5-Vmaj13-vi13-vii11b13b9)
I've not covered the extensions in parenthesis yet, but I've listed them for those who would find such info useful.

So we could take any of the chords in the above paragraph and create a lydian progression out of it. We really should include some type of I chord (I, Imaj7, Imaj7sus#4, Imaj9, Imaj7b5 etc.) and it should be the predominant chord in our progression, with a feeling of resolution when we come back to it.

Take a minute to compare and contrast the chords from the Ionian, and lydian modes.
Ionian = I-ii-iii-IV-V-vi-viio
Lydian = I-II-iii-#ivo-V-vi-vii

They share the following chords (triads) in common: I,iii,V,vi.
Creating a progression using only these chords would be slightly ambiguous, and could be interpreted as either Ionian or lydian. In fact, such a progression would be a good one to record (or have a friend play) and solo over to uderstand the subtle differences between Ionian and lydian (try switching from I-Ionian to I-lydian and back, etc. over such a progression and see what different moods are created).

If on the other hand, you want to create a progression that has a more lydian character, you should include at least one of the other 3 chords (II,#ivo,vii) not found in ionian.

Where/when does one usually decide to use lydian?
- some would use it over the IVmaj7 chord in the major scale/key context (play IV-lydian over IVmaj7)
- many jazz players use lydian over any/every maj7 chord that pops up (ex. play C-lydian over Cmaj7, etc.)
- over several chords that fit within a lydian context (see above chords for lydian). ex. over G-A-Em-D (I-II-vi-V) you could play G-lydian.
- over a related modal progression, use the relative lydian scale (ex. over an ionian progression i.e. I-IV-V, play the IV-lydian; over a Dorian progression i.e. i-bIII, play the bIII-lydian)

As easy as it would be to think of lydian in a key context (i.e. that it's the major scale with emphasis on a different note). I would make a plea that you take the time to get to know the lydian scale for its own sake.

Likewise there are times when you want to use ionian or lydian. Make sure you become familiar with the subtleties between the two. It takes time to breed familiarity with any scale/chord/rhythm/progression/effect/genre.

We can increase our familiarity by singing every note as we practice our scales/soloing. In previous lessons on scales i've given some basic pointers on starting to solo. Those things transfer here too. Just replace the scale in question with the lydian scale (see lessons from May 24th, june 7th, july 5th, and august 2nd).

Christopher Roberts

How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart

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Last updated January 1, 2003
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