Introduction to the Lydian Mode
Learn what the Lydian Mode is and how to play Lydian scale guitar shapes in this step-by-step, easy lesson.
Table of Contents
What is the Lydian Mode?
The Lydian mode is built from the 4th degree of the major scale (Ionian), which makes it the 4th mode of the major scale.
Due to its intervallic structure, Lydian is considered a major mode. Major modes always have a major triad/ arpeggio stemming from the root note.
Lydian scale formula
Scales are built from formulas, which are sequences of intervals used to determine the notes relative to the root.
The Lydian scale formula is: 1-2-3-#4-5-6-7
The Lydian scale has just 1 different interval than the major scale, the #4.
For comparison, here the major scale (Ionian) formula: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7
- The Lydian mode is built from the 4th degree of the major scale
- The Lydian scale formula is 1-2-3-#4-5-6-7
- Lydian is a major mode, and its unique “bright, haunting” sound comes from its #4 interval played over a major triad with the same root note.
Understanding the Lydian Mode
To understand the Lydian mode, you’ll first look at how it compares to the Ionian mode, which is the major scale. The examples will use the same root note.
Lydian parallel to the major scale
Notes in C Ionian
Notes in C Lydian
As a whole, the interval that makes the C Lydian mode different than the C Ionian mode is the #4, which results in an F# note.
This means raising/sharpening the 4th degree of the Ionian mode is the only step you need to take to get the Lydian mode.
Lydian relative to Ionian
You can find the notes of a Lydian mode/ scale by deriving it from the parent major scale. This is done by taking a major scale and building it from the 4th degree.
This gives you the relative Lydian scale for that major scale.
For example, building the C major scale from the 4th degree gives you the notes:
This results in the F Lydian mode.
So F Lydian is the same as C Major?
The F Lydian mode has the same notes as the C Ionian Mode (C major), but they do not have the same function.
This principle applies to every Lydian mode. It possesses the same notes as its parent major scale, being built from the 4th note/degree of that scale, but functions differently due to the implied intervals relative to the root note.
What does the Lydian mode sound like?
The Lydian Modes’ unique and distinct sound makes it an eccentric and less common mode in contemporary music. This distinct sound comes from it’s Sharpened 4th interval, making it a unique alternative to the typical Ionian mode (major scale).
For guitar in particular, the mode is often described as having a bright, but haunting sound. This sounds great in instrumental rock, jazz fusion, and progressive genres.
When should I play the Lydian mode?
As a general rule you can play the Lydian scale over any major chord or Maj7 chord with the same root note.
The difference between the Lydian scale and Lydian mode
The Lydian scale and mode refer to two distinct musical concepts that are often confused with each other.
The Lydian scale is a sequence of seven notes containing a beginning and end point. The scale follows the pattern of tones:
This tonal structure results in a “bright” sound.
In contrast, the Lydian mode is one of the modes derived from the major scale, its root note stemming from the fourth degree.
Therefore, while both concepts share similarities such as their underlying tonality, their structure and origin differ significantly in their application within music theory and practice.
Rick Beato explains this extremely well.
Despite all this, they are usually treated the same way. This gives you this modal principle:
As a general rule, when asked to play a Lydian scale or Lydian mode, it means the same thing.
For example, the F Lydian mode is essentially the same as the F Lydian scale.
Hopefully you got it! Now let’s move on to actually playing Lydian guitar shapes.
Lydian Scale Guitar Shapes
You’ll use the F Lydian Mode for these shapes, because all of its notes are natural. Plus, these shapes will feel familiar to you if you know the C major scale.
Lydian Scale 3 Notes Per String Shapes
3 NPS = 3 Notes-Per-String
Lydian scale shape 1 (3 NPS)
Lydian scale shape 2 (3 NPS)
Lydian scale shape 3 (3 NPS)
Lydian scale shape 4 (3 NPS)
Lydian scale shape 5 (3 NPS)
Lydian scale shape 6 (3 NPS)
Lydian scale shape 7 (3 NPS)
F Lydian Scale Tab (One Octave)
You can take this shape and move it to any octave on the fretboard. This means you can play this shape at any root note if you keep and follow the same interval structure!
Pay attention to how the #4 sounds relative to the root note.
Lydian Scale Guitar Fretboard Diagram
Lydian Scale Guitar PDF
Harmonizing the Lydian mode
When you harmonize the Lydian scale diatonically you get these chords:
This legend shows the full names of the shortened chord names.
Constructing Lydian chord progressions
Knowing the chords in the key of C major is a good first step in learning to create progressions in Lydian, because is has the same chords as the F Lydian Mode.
From there you can use standard progressions, but use F as the root note to imply Lydian.
One of the most important chords for emphasizing the Lydian mode in progressions is the Maj7#11 Chord.
The #11 is the defining note in the Lydian mode, which makes this the ideal major chord candidate to use as a 1 chord (I) in a Lydian chord progression.
Conclusion and final thoughts on using the Lydian mode in guitar playing
Now that you understand the Lydian mode and Lydian scale guitar shapes, it’s time to apply everything you’ve learned.
Practice your Lydian scale shapes over a backing track using the same root note. This will give you an idea of how it sounds over a typical major or maj7 chord progression.
Remember to emphasize the #4 interval at all times!
Listening to the Simpsons’ theme song is a great example of the Lydian mode, and will help you understand the sound of the #4 interval.
You can also train your ear by shifting between Ionian and Lydian over a drone backing track with a single root note, such as C or F.
Overall, practicing over these backing tracks will help you understand the distinct, outside tone that sets the Lydian mode apart from the Ionian mode.