The Lydian Mode: People ask me about Lydian mode all the time, and I believe it’s because it’s in a lot of chart-topping songs, soundtracks for TV, and blockbuster movies. Also, incredible guitar players like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai have great songs using the Lydian mode.
The Lydian is the fourth mode (or degree) of the major scale. It right in the middle between the Ionian (first degree) and the Locrian (seventh degree).
I have songs where before I even started writing, I said, “I’m going to write a song using Lydian!” Just like Steve Vai, Satriani, Andy Timmons, and so many other great players. I’ll sometimes start a composition knowing that, from a theory standpoint, it’s going to be a “Lydian” song.
The most important thing when discussing modes is: it’s not so much the theory, but what kind of feeling do you get when you hear those note combinations?
In a major triad, the notes are the root, third, and fifth. What gives the Lydian its unique characteristic is the sharp fourth — the rest of the notes (second, sixth, and seventh) are all major intervals.
The pattern for the Lydian scale is a whole tone, whole tone, whole tone, half step, whole tone, whole tone, half step. The magic comes from the first three whole tones. Otherwise known as the tritone.
It’s an interesting scale because you can play all seven notes in perfect fifths. Very musical.
That gives it a very natural or open feel. It sounds mysterious but gives you a feeling of hope and has a very celestial quality to it.
In musical theory, the characteristic of every mode is due to the tritone. And the tritone is especially important in this scale because it’s starting from the root. That’s what makes this scale so special.
The Lydian’s tritone is the sharp fourth. You will see major chords from other scales having this tritone, but then add a sharp fifth or a flat seventh.
One example you can try any time you want to have that Lydian sound is to play a major arpeggio, then move one whole step up and play the same arpeggio. That will immediately give you that Lydian characteristic.
I use Lydian a lot. In the song “Vital Signs” off my new album, the whole intro is Lydian over Cmaj and Dmaj chords.
You can also play using only the triads of the Lydian scale over those same chords.
One way to get to know the notes and intervals is to play the scale linearly on a single string.
All the modes in music are based around the tritone. It creates that tension that has to be released somehow.
That’s why you have dominant tonic and harmonic movements to provide that release and make it musical. In music theory, any song with a major key chord chart is treated as Lydian right away.
Another way to use Lydian would be to imagine a metal, power chord progression of E, C, B, and G, but instead of focusing on the E minor scale, use an E Lydian, C Lydian, B Lydian, and G Lydian; all four chords in that chart are Lydian.
I do this in my song “Escaping” from my No Gravity album. It starts in A Lydian and then goes to D Lydian and C Lydian.
The interlude contains those four chords (E, C, B, and G), all Lydian. To improvise over those four Lydian chords, you have to know the whole step, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, half step.
It sounds very fusion. A good jazz reference for exploring music theory and the modes would be Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.
This sound was used a lot in jazz and fusion from the ’60s and especially the ’70s. Of course, you can add it to metal music — not a problem at all.
Another good exercise example would be to play the E Lydian, C Lydian, B Lydian, and G Lydian on the same string. The trick is to keep the same mode when changing the keys — you’re always in the Lydian mode.
There’s a lot more to explore, but I hope you enjoyed this introduction to the Lydian mode. If you want to join us for my upcoming Guitar Experience livestream here is the link to register:
Q&A from chat
How do you combine this with other modes?
The more experience you get, and the more you understand the characteristics of this mode, you can use it anywhere. I do it in songs like “Eminent Threat” from my new album, and on an old song called “Escaping” off No Gravity. I’m using the same idea for both of those. I’m ripping off my own ideas, just years later!
Do you use the Lydian mode when you want to sound ethereal?
Yes, exactly. You notice that ethereal feeling, and anytime you want that feeling, you will know what to do. With any chord progression, you can use the Lydian, or major chord with a sharp fourth, or those two major triads — it always works.
Can you mix the whole tone scale with the mode?
You can always go further. Right now, I’m just focusing on the Lydian from the major scale. You have the melodic minor, which is a Lydian with a sharp fifth and a sharp ninth.
The whole tone scale contains the same tritone (sharp fourth) but then has the minor seventh, so it sounds quite different. Also, the whole tone scale can create a very musical, ethereal sound in the style of Debussy. It has a kind of crazy vibe as well because there are no half steps, just whole tones.
Am I using this mode a lot in Megadeth?
Not really, because Megadeth is very minor and Phrygian. If you go to my 7 Factor course, I show a spectrum from the brightest scales like Ionian and Lydian, to all the darker sounding modes.
I would say Megadeth is on that darker side, where the Lydian is more celestial, open, and bright. Megadeth is more Phrygian and sometimes Dorian. The Dorian works well when the music is more in a rock and roll key.
Right now, I can’t think of any Megadeth song where I played a Lydian.
Can you use this mode for Jazz music?
Yes! It’s used everywhere. Within any chord chart in jazz compositions, all the modes, from Ionian to Locrian, and everything in between are explored.
Carolina IV by Angra
That’s an Angra song from the ’90s. It’s an example of a song that starts with a Lydian with a flat seventh.
The Mixolydian and Brazilian music.
In Brazil, they use a lot of Mixolydian and at some point, they added a raised the fourth, so it’s not like it’s just one scale. It’s Mixolydian but with an extra note added that creates some tension, then returns to a normal Mixolydian.
Phrygian vs. Lydian mode.
The Phrygian is like on the other side of the spectrum. For example, it’s a darker mode that has a major third. Without getting too theoretical, the tritone creates tension between the major third and the seventh.
The concept of the pentatonic — the minor pentatonic — is that it’s a minor triad with a minor seventh and a fourth.
7 Factor from Modes to Music
Check out my online course on modes and scales. I designed 7 Factor to help you discover your own voice and not be a copycat. It covers all the modes, including Lydian, and helps you understand intervals, scales, and how to use them.
Above all, my goal is to make sure you never get stuck playing the same patterns over and over again. As a result, you will be able to really feel the music, connecting to it on a deeper level.
How would you feel if you could always play creatively and never sound boring ever again?