The Efficient Guitarist - Part V - Mad About Modes

Mad About Modes: Lydian
We’re back to talk about modes, and this month, it’s one of my favorite modes: Lydian. Of all of the modes, lydian has the most distinctive and unique sounds out there. It’s just a beautiful scale, brimming with possibilities!

Key Facts
Lydian is a derivative of the major scale. It’s the fourth mode of the major scale, but it’s much easier to think of lydian as a major scale, with a raised fourth.
Forumla: R 2 3 #4 5 6 7
All you have to do to convert your major scales to lydian scales is just raise the fourth note up one fret and you have the lydian mode. Figure 1.1 is an example fretboard diagram showing you how to play the D lydian scale in two locations on the neck.  Remember that you can move these around the neck as you see fit, just move the entire diagram to the fret you want.

Figure 1.1a

Figure 1.1b

How Lydian is Used
As you can tell from just playing through this scale, lydian sounds a lot like the major scale, but it’s quite a bit brighter. Lydian isn’t very common in most rock and pop music, but you will occasionally find it. Lydian is a favorite sound of jazz musicians and film composers who want an alternative to the stock sound of a major scale and lydian fits the bill nicely for that. Lydian is used in three main situations, so let’s talk about what those are now:
1) As an alternative major scale when vamping on a single major chord
We’ve all been in the vamp/jam/play over one chord situation before…The next time you vamp over a major chord, go ahead and try the lydian scale!
2) On a jazz gig, when playing over a Major7#11 chord
As a jazz musician, you will encounter all sorts of extended chords when you improvise. One such chord is the Major7#11 (major seventh sharp eleventh). Traditionally, major chords are matched up with major scales. In the case of the #11 chord above, a pure major won’t work as the #11 (which is just the #4 up one octave to make the chord sound better) conflicts with the natural 11th in the major scale. Lydian is the perfect choice because it hits every chord tone in the Major7#11 chord. Check out how the two relate below:
C Lydian: C D E F# G A B

CMajor7#11: C E G B D F#

As you can see, the C lydian scale is the perfect choice as all the notes line up.
3) If you’re playing the lydian chord progression™
The lydian mode is associated with a very simple chord progression I-II-I (in roman numerals). For example, the chord progression of C-D-C is a C lydian chord progression. As you can see, C and D are only a whole step apart, so playing lydian chord progressions is as easy as playing and two major chords two frets apart (a whole step is two frets).

Why Lydian is So Unique
I want to point out one reason that lydian is so unique. We’ve talked about the mighty I-IV-V (one-four-five) chord progression before. It’s the basis for the blues and so many other genres of music. As a chord progression, it really is ubiquitous.  As you remember from above, lydian is a major scale with a #4 or raised fourth. The raised fourth in the lydian mode destroys the I-IV-V progression. You can’t have a regular IV in the chord progression and a #4 in the scale; they will clash and sound quite bad. Each mode has their own particular harmony that’s associated with them and that’s really what makes the all unique: the combination of the melodies they create and the chords that support them.

Sample licks
Here are three sample licks with notation and audio to get you started playing the lydian mode. Again, it’s not the easiest mode to just throw into your playing, but I personally think that the #4th is beautiful and I love getting the chance to use it when I improvise.
1) Lydian Chord Progression
This example uses the I-II-I-II chord progression that we discussed earlier and plays it in the key of C lydian. To keep things interesting, I keep the note C in the bass the whole time, so the progression is really D/C-C-D/C-C.

Lydian1 by The Efficient Guitarist

Figure 1.2

2) Pedal tone lick
Here’s a nice riff that uses a very old technique called a pedal tone where I keep bouncing back and forth between C and D, using the lydian mode for the upper notes.

Lydian2 by The Efficient Guitarist

Figure 1.3

3) Emphasize that #4
If you’re going to play lydian, you might as well try an emphasize the #4th, since it’s the only note that’s different from the major scale. In this example, I combine an arpeggio and the E lydian mode, intentionally focusing my phrase to hit the #4th, which is the key note for the lydian scale. I play the lick twice, the first time ending on #4 and the second time, ending on B, the 5th of the E major chord I’m implying.

Figure 1.4

Lydian3 by The Efficient Guitarist

See you next month!

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