Illustration: Nhung LÃª
Known as the âbrightestâ of these modes, the Lydian mode can be used in an incredibly wide array of musical contexts. In this article, letâs discuss what exactly the Lydian mode is, some popular compositions that make use of it, and how to apply it to your own music.
Feel free to use the table of contents below to quickly navigate to a specific section.
What youâll learn:
Letâs get started!
What is the Lydian mode?
The Lydian mode is a mode thatâs in many ways similar to major, but features a raised fourth (â¯Ë4) as its distinguishing feature. If we started on F, then its ascending scale would consist of F, G, A, B, C, D, E, and F.
The F Lydian scale
Whatâs the difference between the Lydian and Mixolydian scales?
Out of the seven common modes, Lydian is the only one that raises notes when compared against the major scale, which earns it its title as the brightest mode. For example, while the Mixolydian mode is also a âmajor mode,â itâs distinguished from the major scale by its flattened fifth (âË5).
The history of the Lydian mode
The Lydian mode gets its name from the ancient kingdom of Lydia in Anatolia, where it was believed to have originated thousands of years ago. In ancient Greece, the mode was primarily used in hymns and instrumental music, while it was adopted by the church in the Middle Ages and later employed by the likes of Beethoven and Charles-Valentin Alkan in the Romantic era.
Today, the Lydian mode is used to create melodic and harmonic interest in an expansive range of genres spanning jazz to progressive rock. Itâs also commonly featured in film and video game soundtracks to achieve feelings of wonder and energy.
Lydian mode intervals
As you can decipher from the previous example, the Lydian mode consists of the following intervals:
- Major second
- Major third
- Augmented fourth
- Perfect fifth
- Major sixth
- Major seventh
If you were to sequence an ascending scale, the intervals could be expressed in shorthand as WWWHWWH (âwhole whole whole half, whole whole halfâ).
Applying this formula, here would be the notes for a C Lydian scale:
Letâs do one more example for good measureâthe A Lydian scale would consist of the following:
Once you familiarize yourself with the pattern, you can apply it to construct a Lydian scale off of any other root note. If youâre a guitarist, you can refer to the following tablature for a transposable scale:
Guitar tabs for the A Lydian scale
The Lydian scale in all âkeysâ
While familiarizing yourself with the sequence of intervals is far more valuable (and easier) than memorizing every scale one-by-one, hereâs a table outlining the Lydian scale associated with every root note for easy reference:
|Root||Notes in the Lydian scale|
|C||C â D â E â Fâ¯ â G â A â B â C|
|Câ¯||Câ¯ â Dâ¯ â Eâ¯ â Fâ¯â¯ â Gâ¯ â Aâ¯ â Bâ¯ â Câ¯|
|Dâ||Dâ â Eâ â F â G â Aâ â Bâ â C â Dâ|
|D||D â E â Fâ¯ â Gâ¯ â A â B â Câ¯ â D|
|Dâ¯||D# â E# â F## â G# â A# â B# â C## â D#|
|Eâ||Eâ â F â G â A â Bâ â C â D â Eâ|
|E||E â Fâ¯ â Gâ¯ â Aâ¯ â B â Câ¯ â Dâ¯ â E|
|F||F â G â A â B â C â D â E â F|
|Fâ¯||Fâ¯ â Gâ¯ â Aâ¯ â Bâ¯ â Câ¯ â Dâ¯ â Eâ¯ â Fâ¯|
|Gâ||Gâ â Aâ â Bâ â C â Dâ â Eâ â F â Gâ|
|G||G â A â B â Câ¯ â D â E â Fâ¯ â G|
|Gâ¯||Gâ¯ â Aâ¯ â Bâ¯ â Câ¯â¯ â Dâ¯ â Eâ¯ â Fâ¯â¯ â Gâ¯|
|Aâ||Aâ â Bâ â C â D â Eâ â F â G â Aâ|
|A||A â B â Câ¯ â Dâ¯ â E â Fâ¯ â Gâ¯ â A|
|Aâ¯||Aâ¯ â Bâ¯ â Câ¯â¯ â Dâ¯â¯ â Eâ¯ â Fâ¯â¯ â Gâ¯â¯ â Aâ¯|
|Bâ||Bâ â C â D â E â F â G â A â Bâ|
|B||B â Câ¯ â Dâ¯ â Eâ¯ â Fâ¯ â Gâ¯ â Aâ¯ â B|
We use the term âkeyâ loosely to refer to these because modes donât follow the same functional behaviors of traditional major and minor keys, which are a requisite of the term in its strictest definition. Also note that several of these are enharmonically equivalentâfor example, the modes built off of Câ¯ and Dâ share all of the same pitches, but are simply expressed differently in writing.
Songs that use the Lydian mode
While scales are a necessary starting point, they donât paint a complete picture of the sound of the Lydian mode by themselves. Letâs begin to familiarize ourselves with the mode by listening to a few pieces of music from varying genres and generations that feature it.
1. âFlying in a Blue Dreamâ by Joe Satriani (1989)
Take a listen to the opening chords in Joe Satrianiâs âFlying in a Blue Dream.â Here, the indescribably floaty feeling is made possible due to the augmented fourth, which is the defining note of the Lydian mode. Satriani also repeatedly incorporates the note in his lead guitar licks that enter shortly after, effortlessly evoking the feeling of flying in a dream.
2. âGiant Stepsâ by John Coltrane (1960)
In his signature tune âGiant Steps,â John Coltrane traverses through a succession of the C Lydian, Aâ Lydian, and E Lydian scales. While the entire composition isnât centered around the Lydian mode like Satrianiâs piece, Coltrane draws on the raised fourthâs unique color in sporadic bursts to grab the listenerâs earâwhich is very much in line with how modes are often applied in jazz.
3. âZeldaâs Lullabyâ by Koji Kondo (1991)
The music from the legendary video game series The Legend of Zelda is ripe with the use of various modes. In âZeldaâs Lullaby,â we hear the Lydian mode in the second chord of the opening progression, which is continued underneath the main melody. Here, the mode helps establish a delicate and etherealâyet somehow simultaneously larger-than-lifeâfeel, making the lullaby feel as though it has existed as long as time itself.
How to use the Lydian mode in your songs
As heard in the examples above, thereâs truly no single ârightâ way to use the Lydian mode. Depending on your arrangement, harmonies, and an infinite range of other factors, the mode can sound anything from chaotic to nostalgic.
With that said, below weâve highlighted a few ideas that you can experiment with to develop your own unique applications and associations.
1. Use the Lydian mode as the harmonic foundation of your music
If youâre always gravitating towards major and natural minor by default and want to try building a song entirely around a new palette, the Lydian mode can be just the right thing for you. Though it only has one note that separates it, the augmented fourth alone introduces enough new color to generate a wealth of new ideas.
If youâre not sure where to start, simply adding the augmented fourth over a major chord will instantly create a Lydian sound. You can also try tucking it into a more closed chord voicing to get a sound akin to Satrianiâs âFlying in a Blue Dream.â
The augmented fourth over a major triad
2. Use the Lydian mode as a passing color
Thereâs also no need to use the Lydian mode (or any other mode) as the sole harmonic backbone of your composition. In fact, many pieces will simply borrow its color in a single section, but then âresolveâ into a different key.
Take âLost Woods,â another iconic track from Zelda, for example. The piece is often referenced as a go-to example for the Lydian mode, as it starts off with a figure that immediately emphasizes the augmented fourth.
However, the second half of the passage quickly reveals that the piece actually feels more grounded in C majorâKondo simply draws on the augmented fourth to achieve an enigmatic color that effectively evokes the feeling of being lost.
The opening melody in âLost Woodsâ
You can apply this idea in your own music by treating the Lydian mode as more of a borrowed colorâuse it to create a moment of intrigue, and then revert to major, minor, or perhaps even a different mode.
4. Use the Lydian mode as inspiration for improvisation
Lastly, if youâre an instrumentalist, experimenting with modes can be a great way to expand your horizons for soloing and improvisation. Try playing phrases using the Lydian mode over a backing track, and hear how it sounds. What happens when you use the raised fourth as a quick passing tone? Is there a feeling of tension or release when you emphasize it more prominently? The Lydian mode can be a great way to add some unexpected but controlled character to your music.
While thereâs no one way to use it, the Lydian mode provides a distinctive color thatâs a great addition to any composerâs toolkit. Hopefully this article gave you a foundation for how itâs structured, and provided you with some initial ideas for using it that you can apply to create your own unique musical settings.
Do you have any questions around using modes in your music? What topics in music theory would you like to see us cover next? Start a conversation with us and other music creators via the Splice Discord.
Continue your exploration of modes in music:
April 7, 2023