SMG Guitar Lesson #15: Lydian Mode


The fourth mode of the major key is the Lydian mode, and is named after the ancient lydians who were at their height of power around 600 B.C. The Lydians were the first people to use gold and silver coins as a form of currency, so it’s no wonder that this mode sounds so rich and exotic. It’s also for this reason that Lydian mode is most popular with today’s progressive rock guitar gods like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. I wonder how the ancient Lydians would react if they could hear how far their music has echoed into the future…. it would probably blow their minds!


Below is the scale pattern most commonly associated with Lydian mode, as the lowest note of this scale is also the fourth degree of the major scale of which Lydian mode is based, so it tends to sound grounded there. Keep in mind though, you can play in any mode of the major key within this scale pattern, it’s just that Lydian mode tends to be more closely associated with it.


Notice how the root note of the parent key is found in both third and fourth octave position, and includes a set of duplicate notes.

Below is an example of a C Lydian scale, from the parent key of G Major:

As with all scale patterns, they tend to sound very linear if you just play them straight up and down. For that reason, it’s important to learn them in a way that is musical so that you’ll have a place to start while improvising. Ideally, you’ll want to explore and come up with your own ideas, but here’s an example of how to make this scale pattern musical:

While scales alone tend to be very linear and one-dimensional, it’s their chords and especially chord progressions that make them multi-dimensional and bring out the true color of the mode.

Below is an example of a F Lydian progression from the parent key of C Major. Notice how we’ve used some borrowed chords from nearby keys to create added movement and color.


Modes also lend themselves well to extended harmonies within the key, especially those built on the degree the mode is based on. As there are over 60+ chords that can be constructed in each major key, there are a lot of possibilities to choose from. F-5 and FMaj9 are just two of eleven chord types that can be constructed on the fourth degree (F) of the key of C Major.

Here’s a couple of examples of how these chords could be used in a progressive-rock-like riff spanning the fretboard.






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