Crazy Scales: The Lydian Mode

Another one of my favourite modes, the Lydian mode. It’s essentially the same as the major scale, but with a sharpened 4th degree.

a lesson about the lydian mode for the guitar

Some people would even argue that the Lydian mode sounds brighter, happier and more “major” than the major scale! The 4th note sounds “lifted”, because it’s a semitone higher- this can give the scale a “floating”, hopeful or “dreamy” vibe.

Most famously, this scale is used a lot by Joe Satriani in songs such as ‘Flying in a Blue Dream‘. It’s sound is also used in the opening to ‘Wake Up’ by Rage Against the Machine, and by Beethoven the third movement to his String Quartet No. 15.

If you change just one of the notes (flatten the 7th) of this mode you also get the scale for the Simpsons theme tune.

Scroll down for the tab.

The Lydian Scale

This scale was one of the medieval church modes- the ones that many people will tell you were the original modes. In fact, the Lydian mode goes back way before these times as it was used in ancient Greece. It’ s actually named after the ancient Kingdom of Lydia in Anatolia.

Although the scale has been used slightly differently in each time period.

Scale Formula

This scale could be thought of as taking the major scale and starting on the 4th note. This is not my favourite way to think of it, because why would you define one scale by it being part of another? That’s just confusing! The major scale is the major scale, and the Lydian mode is the Lydian mode. They don’t have to be related.

The general logic goes like this: first, lets take the A major scale.

the A major scale in tab on the guitar neck

Then, we start that from the fourth note.

Tab for the D Lydian mode on guitar

This gives us the D Lydian mode- because the new scale starts on a D. This is how you will generally find it taught, however this does leave some questions. The A major scale and the D Lydian scale are not related in any other way! Check out my post on modes if you want to know more about the theory.

It’s much more useful to compare the D Lydian mode with the D major scale. Then you can see that it’s mostly the same scale- except for the fourth note, which is sharpened (raised up by a fret). This is how I prefer to think of the scale, as I said at the beginning of this post.

How to Use this Mode

The sharpened 4th- just one note- makes a big difference to the sound of the scale. For starters, it takes away the main avoid note from the major scale- the natural 4th. This makes the scale sound brighter, and happier than even the major scale- and it’s a lot less cliche!

Also, the sharpened fourth wants to resolve upwards to the 5th. This creates a sense of yearning, or longing. It can also give the impression of floating, or drifting upwards. You’ll have to listen to some Lydian tunes to fully get what I mean. Sounds can be difficult to describe in words!

When to Use the Lydian Mode

The Lydian mode can be used over many of the same chords as the major scale. So, major chords, major 7th chords, major 9th chords, power chords and riffs etc. You can also use it over major 6th chords, if you’d like.

The interesting note is the sharpened 4th. In chords this is usually written as a ‘sharp 11’ (the 11th being an octave above the 4th). So, the sound of this scale is best represented by a major 7th sharp 11 chord.

Example Solo

In the example solo, I’ve used melodic phrasing and scale runs to accentuate the Lydian vibe.

Here is the recording of the full solo:

…and here is the backing track for you to play along to:

an example guitar solo using the Lydian mode

Playing the Solo

Although the solo looks long on paper, it really isn’t. I’ve tried to show as many different aspects of this scale in a short space, so hopefully you can take something from this for your own playing!

I’ve also marked picking directions, although these are only suggestions and not exactly what I actually play, myself. Just find something that works for you.

First 8 Bars

The solo starts off with a sliding melodic idea. Notice how there are two phrases, that start off the same way, and both end on the 6th (the B, first on the 4th fret, G, then 9th fret, D).

Then, a legato scale pattern ending on the sharp 4 (8th fret; G string), which I bend up to the 5th, and back down. This ramps things up a bit and increases the tension before the (slightly) heavier section.

Next 4 Bars

The next four bars are another two phrases that kinda link together.

For the first 2 bars of this, I’m thinking of an A major 7th sharp 11 arpeggio. The order of notes I play is: root, 3rd, sharp 11, 5th, 7th, root, 3rd. Then I’m using the shape of the last part of the sequence (5th and 9th frets on the B strings) for a tapping idea. I’ m tapping on the 14th and 16th frets. Then, to end it off, I’m sliding with my tapping finger from the 16th to the 17th fret on the B string.

For the second couple of bars, I’m thinking of the 3nps E major shape (starting on the 12th fret). However, I’ m starting the shape from the D string, instead of the E. This is again, another legato idea, with plenty off hammer-ons an pull-offs.

Importantly, I end the second two bars of this section one note higher than the lick in the first two bars. This creates more of a sense of uplifting.

Solo Ending

After another melodic idea, I end the solo with a downwards legato run using the same shape as before. Watch out for the part on the A string, where you need to hold your little finger on the 16th fret just a touch longer than the others, and then slide down to the 11th fret before ending on the A (12th fret; A string).

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