Lydian Mode Explained – A Complete Guide In Theory And Practice

The Lydian mode is the 4th mode of the major scale. It is a frequently used mode in modern music across a number of styles. The only difference between a major scale and the lydian scale is that it contains a sharp 4. It therefor sounds quite similar to a major scale, but with perhaps a ‘brighter’ sound.

In this post we are going to explore exactly what the lydian mode is and how to construct it.

If you have read the post on guitar modes explained, or if you have read any of the other posts on the individual modes, you should have a good understanding of how modes are constructed and the theory behind them. Of course, I will go into as much detail as possible in this post just to drive home the theory.

If you have not read any of the above posts, I highly recommend reading guitar modes explained. If not, a solid understanding of major scales is the main requirement for understanding modes. You need to understand what a major scale is, what it sounds like and how to play it in any key. If you do not know this, read the post on major scales before reading on.

Parallel vs Derivative.

The key to understanding any mode is to understand the parallel approach and the derivative approach. At the moment, we know two things about the lydian mode:

  • It is the 4th mode of the major scale.
  • It contains a raised 4 (or sharp 4, depending on what terminology you wish to use).

Let’s explore what this means and how it applies to the two approaches. Let’s first look at the derivative approach. As I mentioned, the lydian mode is the 4th mode of a major scale. To put it simply, that means that if you play a major scale and start on the 4th note, you  are playing the lydian mode. Here are a few examples:

The C Major scale contains the following notes:

C – D – E – F – G – A – B

The 4th note of C Major is F. Therefor if we play the C Major scale starting on F, we get the following:

F – G – A – B – C – D – E

What we have there is an F Lydian mode. Simple! Let’s do another example.

The A flat major scale has the following notes:

Ab – Bb – C – Db – Eb – F – G

Db is the 4th note of the A flat major scale. Therefor if we play the A flat major scale and star on D flat, we get the following:

Db – Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C

We have just constructed the D flat lydian mode. Both of these examples have used the derivative approach. This is because we ‘played’ the lydian mode by deriving it from a major scale. The lydian mode is the 4th mode of a major scale, therefor we can derive the lydian mode play playing a major scale and starting on the 4th note.

Let’s just look at one more thing before moving on to the parallel approach. Suppose we want to play a G lydian scale. If we were to use the derivative approach, we would need to know what major scale produces the note ‘G’ as the 4th note. If you are familiar with major scales, you would know that G is the 4th note of the D major scale (D – E – F# – G – A – B – C#). This means that to play a G lydian scale, all we have to do is play the D major scale and start on the 4th note:

G – A – B – C# – D – E – F#

Let’s now look at the parallel approach. The lydian mode contains a ‘raised 4th’. This is the information we need to play the lydian scale using the parallel approach. Put simply, it means that to play the lydian mode, you need to play a major scale and then raise the 4th note by a semitone. Again, let’s test this out with a few examples.

The C major scale has the following notes:

C – D – E – F – G – A – B

F is the 4th note of the C major scale. If we raise the 4th note (F) by a semitone, we get F#. Therefor, C lydian is simply a C major scale with an F# instead of an F:

C – D – E – F# – G – A – B

It’s quite simple. The lydian mode is actually quite a simple mode for a number of reasons. Firstly, the fact that the only difference between it and the major scale is the 4th note, means that it is very easy to construct using the parallel approach. The other simplicity is that because it is similar to the major scale, it does not sound very unusual to the ear and can therefor be used a lot more easily than other modes.

Let’s do another example using the parallel approach. Suppose we want to play Bb lydian. Bb major contains the following notes:

Bb – C – D – Eb – F – G – A

The 4th note is Eb. If we raise Eb by a semitone we get E. Therefor, Bb lydian looks like this:

Bb – C – D – E – F – G – A

It is important to remember that both approaches produce the same results. To prove this, let’s look at one more example using both approaches. Suppose we want to play E lydian. The derivative approach tells us that we need to know which major scale contains E as the 4th note. It is in fact B major:

B – C# – D# – E – F# – G# – A#

If we play the B major scale and start on the 4th note (E), we get the following:

E – F# – G# – A# – B – C# – D#

We have just produced the E lydian mode. Now let’s get the same result by using the parallel approach. E major has the following notes:

E – F# – G# – A – B – C# -D#

The parallel approach requires us to raise the 4th note (A) by a semitone. If we raise A to A# we get the following:

E – F# – G# – A# – B – C# – D#

As you can see, both approaches have produced the same result.

We won’t go into too much detail in this post about using the lydian mode for improvising and composition etc. The main thing is that you understand what the lydian mode is, how to construct it and how to play the mode in every key.

Here is a list of Lydian modes in every key:

A Flat Lydian
A Lydian
A Sharp Lydian
B Flat Lydian
B Lydian
B Sharp Lydian (impractical)
C Flat Lydian
C Lydian
C Sharp Lydian

D Flat Lydian

D Lydian
D Sharp Lydian
E Flat Lydian

E Lydian
E Sharp Lydian
F Flat Lydian
F Lydian
F Sharp Lydian
Gb Lydian
G Lydian
G Sharp Lydian


 

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About Genaaron Diamente

I play guitar. I teach guitar. I like making music. I'm trying to build this site up to be a valuable resource for guitar students and teachers.

Comments

  1. Guitar Man says:

    Thanks Mitch for correcting me on the error!

  2. This is great. very detailed answer. Easy to understand. thanks very much.

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