The Lydian Mode

The Lydian Mode

The Lydian Mode Expanding the Musical Vocabulary © Larry Allen Brown

One of the interesting things that can be done when improvising over a major chord is to shift into the Lydian Mode. It's easy to do.

The characteristic note in the Lydian mode is the raised 4th. ( flatted 5th ). When improvising on the guitar for example, spotting that note in the heat of the moment can be difficult. There is a very simple way to do this.

Knowing the Scales

Using the key of C as an example ( no sharps or flats to deal with ) the notes from that scale are C, D, E, F, G, A and B. The Lydian mode will invoke a raised 4th degree. In this case that would be the F. The easiest way to accomplish this would be to simply play a scale that has all the same notes as C with one exception. An F# is needed . The key of G supplies that. Every note in the G scale is also in the C scale with one exception: The F is now F#. All the other notes are the same as the C scale. The formula is simply to play a scale that is rooted up a 5th from the key of C. That would be the G scale. When playing in G, play up a 5th and superimpose the D scale and so forth. In the course of improvising, hitting the #4 ( #11) will naturally occur and the difference will be noticeable.

Using the pentatonic

Another way of accomplishing this and adding additional color tones would be to play a major pentatonic scale a whole step up from the key of the moment. ( or the minor pentatonic a half step lower then the parent key). If C major is the chord, play the D major pentatonic ( or B minor pentatonic - same notes ). When doing this, the notes that would be emphasized would be B which is the major 7th of a C chord. D which is the 2nd ( 9th ), E which is the 3rd, F# which is the # 4 ( # 11 ) and A which is the 6th ( 13 ). Since the pentatonic scale has no leading tone like a major scale, it works great. A D major scale for example would have a C# in it and that note played against a C natural is likely to set ones teeth on edge. Playing the D pentatonic avoids that minor 2nd interval.

George Russell brought the Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization ( LCCOTO ) to the public awareness over fifty years ago. Russell’s work represents a radical expansion of the harmonic language for both composition and analysis. It marks an abandonment of the major-minor system, which dominated Western music for over 350 years. Russell’s root scale follows the natural overtone series and runs from C to C with F#, rather than with the customary F natural of the major scale. Russell made a powerful argument that the Lydian scale is the true parent scale rather then the accepted major scale. Anybody who has listened to jazz over the past 50 years has heard his concepts being put to use. Russells concepts are more likely to be found in private conservatories such as the New England Conservatory, or the Berklee College of Music.

Jason Gross explains the reasoning behind the LCCOTO- "For Russell, the Lydian mode (with, in the key of C, its tonic F and dominant C) was a more logical candidate to become the primary scale because it suggests a greater degree of unity between chords and scales. Russell argues that a major scale, for example C, consists of two tetrachords that embody two tonalities, not one. But if you adapt the major scale to Lydian mode (in the key of C that would be a C major scale with F-sharp instead of F), it removes the duality of conflicting tonics, and more fully satisfies the tonality of the major chord. With one tonic used for each respective scale, Russell reasoned that a greater variety of chords could be stacked. This offered a new path for adventurous musicians: Standard chord progressions need not dictate the course of an improvisation, as each note is equidistant from a single tonic center. Notes could flow more freely beyond the strictures of a song's chords."