The Lydian Scale on Guitar
The Joyful Magic of a Raised Fourth
The Lydian scale and its variations are very common in movie soundtracks and cartoon themes. It is a mode that is often bright and happy, and it can have a very dreamy quality.
So, it is not uncommon for popular songs that use it to have the words "flying" or "dream" in the title, sometimes both!
By the end of this article, you will easily be playing some Lydian songs on your guitar!
What is the Lydian Mode?
Don't let the word mode frighten you, it is just a specific kind of scale. Diatonic modes are simply the same notes of the major scale, but in a different order. A normal major scale in the key of C is:
C D E F G A B C
And depending on which note of that scale we begin on will determine the mode we are in.
As you can see, the Lydian mode or scale is built on the 4th degree or the subdominant.
Anytime you need to find the Lydian scale just start on that 4th note of the major scale and keep the same notes, just in a new order.
Tip: Check the parallel vs relative approach to modes tutorial to completely understand modes.
Many guitar players ask, if F Lydian has the same notes as C Ionian, why shouldn't they sound the same? It is simply that our intervals have changed. When playing F G A B C D E, it still has a little bit of a bright sound, but it's just not the same as playing C D E F G A B C
Lydian Scale Formula
The formula that these new intervals create is:
So, C Lydian is C D E F# G A B.
Therefore the mode still has a nearly major sound to it. But that raised 4th is what makes it seem a little off.
Even though we are making a simple change it will affect the way the rest of our chords are built with that 4th raised.
If you take some time to play around with both the C major and C Lydian scales, you will see that subtle differences can make it more uplifting and brighter. Once you have practiced some other Lydian modes in different keys you are ready to try out some chord progressions.
These intervals also mean there is a tritone above the tonic. This causes issues with what our ears like, so often we are using pieces of the Lydian mode and other variations.
This dissonance is also what leads us to this often dreamy world.
Lydian Guitar Scales Patterns
Here are some fretboard diagrams showing the most common ways to play a Lydian scale on guitar:
Lydian Scale Fretboard Pattern Starting with Index Finger
Lydian Scale Fretboard Pattern Starting with Middle Finger
Lydian Scale Fretboard Pattern Starting with Pinkie
Find more scale patterns across the entire fretboard in my ebook Scales Over Chords | Learn How To Play The Right Scales Over Any Chord
Note Names for Lydian Scale in Any Key
Chords Generated from the Lydian Scale
|C maj||D maj||E min||F# dim||G maj||A min||B min|
|C maj7||D 7||E m7||F# m7/b5||G maj7||A m7||B m7|
Common Chords and Progressions
Not all songs with Lydian use it the whole way through, due to some resolution issues it can be used along with other modes. And of course it is an overgeneralization to say all Lydian songs are dreamy and movie-like, but you will find it the case often.
Here are the chords built using the formula above (if you need help with Roman Numbers notation, check the Nashville and Roman Numbers tutorial
I II iii iv(dim) V vi vii
Any progressions you want to build will revolve around those scale degrees. And of course they can be used in other scales and situations.
Rush uses the F Lydian progression F-C-G "Freewill". The F, C, and G are familiar chords as we use them in the order C-G-F in the major or Ionian mode.
But when played in this order, it does seem to have a more uplifting and almost epic vibe. Which is perfectly suitable for that song!
In the song "Dreams" they leave out the V and it now isn't as bright, but more dreamlike! But that song also uses Aeolian mode in the melody.
Another song that uses this simple I-II movement is "Man on The Moon". And Tom Petty uses it for the verse of "Here Comes My Girl".
This is used in the song "Man on the Moon" also , that song has a few different orders of available Lydian chords.
This is another Fleetwood Mac used progression in the song "Landslide". That entire song stays mostly true to Lydian.
This is a progression that can be used in a major way, but it can also have a Lydian melody like here. He uses a raised 4th in the verse and then moves to Ionian.
Another way to make a song work in Lydian mode is with a #11, which is the same note as the #4. The only difference is, it is used in extended chords. In the key of C chords like; Cadd#11 Cmaj7(#11) and C7(#11) are great ways to make sure our tune really stays in the Lydian mode. Steve Vai makes use of the #11 in his awesome "For The Love of God".
Tip: You find many other chord progressions in my ebook 52 Chord Progressions | Learn How To Connect Chords and Create Great Songs
More Notable Lydian Examples
It is no surprise that Frank Zappa was a fan of the mode, and loved to explore the varieties. As we mentioned a lot of music isn't fully in Lydian mode. When you look deeper there is more than just the raised 4th.
It is also heavily used in movie soundtracks and cartoons where you just need background emotional music that doesn't distract the viewer with such worries as tonic and great resolution! Just enough uplifting vibe to give you that movie or TV high!
We will find it in video game soundtracks like Super Mario and Zelda. Other pop examples are "Waltz #1" and Michael Jackson used it in "Human Nature".
And "Jane Says" is another I-II progression like above. It's not hard to find parts of songs in Lydian, the pure mode is rare.
Lydian Scale Variations
There are also slight variations on the scale that are popular such as Lydian dominant
Most people assume The Simpsons is pure Lydian but it has hints of the mixolydian b7.
There is also Lydian #2:
Which is most famous in "Blue Jay Way". That raised second almost makes the dream a nightmare in this song.
Lydian without the 7th
And if you use just the first six notes you have a mazurka!
Or the more Polish version here.
That is one of the best things about playing the Lydian mode or scale on your guitar. It struggles on its own, so you have a lot of leeway in keeping it dazzling and beaming, yet still sounding good!
Lydian Scale: Conclusions
Keep your eyes and ears out for songs and soundtracks with these qualities and there is a good chance you're hearing some form of Lydian!
When you practice on your guitar it is fine to play Lydian scales and learn some popular songs in them.
But in the end, it is best to find ways to mix the mode and its variations with other modes and scales, otherwise you will be frustrated trying to play in pure Lydian.
It doesn't have to be perfect; it just has to sound good!
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