The Lydian Scale | Is it the Key to Dreamy and Hopeful Melodies?

Songwriters have a hard time creating melodies that are both memorable and uplifting. But, if you aren't careful, your song can quickly sound like it belongs in children's daytime television.

The Lydian mode could be the key (pun intended) to getting those optimistic, hopeful melodies into your songs if you use it correctly.

lydian scale

The Lydian mode has a brighter sound than the traditional major scale. It can give melodies and harmony an open, dreamy, and hopeful vibe.

However, be careful because Lydian can also come off as dissonant and jarring. This instability of Lydian is what makes it such a unique scale for your music.

I created this guide so that everyone could learn how to master the Lydian Mode quickly. In this post, we’ll cover the basic music theory behind Lydian and how to apply it to your songwriting process!

Let’s begin!

The topic of Music Theory is vast and complicated. It doesn’t have to be complicated and I’ve created a resource that goes through everything you need to know to be a competent musician, songwriter, and producer. I would highly recommend checking out that article as a primer to the rest of this article and other theory posts I have on this site. It’s titled “The Ultimate Guide on Music Theory for Musicians Who Dislike Theory.

Lydian Mode Vs. Lydian Scale

The Lydian Mode and the Lydian Scale represent the same thing. However, it’s technically inaccurate to call a mode a scale.

However, for the sake of simplicity, it’s easier for songwriters to grasp modes as a type of scale.

What Are Scales?

A western music scale is a series of seven musical notes. The most common scale is the major scale.

The major scale is your typical Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do you learned in grade school.

For more explanation of the Major Scale please refer to my article “The Major Scales: The Keys to Great Songwriting” now.

What Are Modes?

There are many different modes in music. Modes are derived from a particular scale like the major scale or minor scale.

What separates a mode from a scale is the order of intervals (distance between notes) concerning its derived scale.

The major scale has seven modes, and these modes are the ones you will find in modern pop songwriting.

Each mode has a distinct sound that can elevate the melodies and harmonies you create.

For more explanation of the Modes please refer to my article “How Music Modes Enhance the Feelings in Your Song” now.

What is the Lydian Mode and its Sonic Characteristics?

The Lydian Mode is the fourth mode of the major scale. It’s considered the “brightest” of the modes and can be considered a lifted major scale.

The Lydian Mode shares the same notes with the major scale except for the raised (augmented) fourth scale degree.

The augmented fourth creates a sonic quality that can be described as:

  • Ethereal
  • Mysterious
  • Open
  • Haunting
  • Hopeful
  • Heavenly

The Lydian Mode would be an excellent choice for big dreamy melodies that inspire a sense of wonder.

The Lydian Scale is used a lot in film music and can be heard in many movies like Toy Story, Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, and Star Wars, to name a few.

However, the Lydian Mode is also known as a harmonically unstable mode. It’s unstable because the raised fourth and the tonic (first note of the scale) of Lydian creates a tritone. Tritones are a series of three whole note intervals (space between notes) that are found in diatonic scales. Tritones create tension that wants to resolve to the next stable interval.

In a typical Major Scale, the tritone is between the fourth and seventh scale degrees. This tritone resolves perfectly to the major scale’s first and fifth scale degrees (the two most stable notes of the scale).

However, because Lydian’s tonic note is part of the tritone, the only resolution we get is when the fourth scale degree moves up to the fifth scale degree.

This creates a “partially resolute” sound, creating an open, floating sense of mystery that never entirely feels resolved.

This tension isn’t a bad thing and can be used to significant effect in your melodies and harmonies. Just be aware of it so you can properly harness its sonic powers.

The first pass is C Major. The second Pass is C Lydian. Notice how C Lydian feels less resolved.

What Scale Degree Does the Lydian Scale Start On?

The Lydian Scale starts on the fourth scale degree of the Major Scale.

For example, if you are playing in the C Major Scale, you would count up four scale degrees to the note F. If you played the C Major Scale with F as your tonic, you would be playing the F Lydian Mode.

The F Lydian Mode (C Major Relative Scale)

What Are the Intervals Of the Lydian Scale?

The intervals (distance between notes) are what alters the sonic characteristics of the mode. Each mode has its unique combination of intervals.

The intervals of the Lydian Mode concerning the Major Scale are:

IntervalC Major Scale NotesIntervalC Lydian Scale Notes
CF
Whole StepDWhole StepG
Whole StepEWhole StepA
Half StepFWhole StepB
Whole StepGHalf StepC
Whole StepAWhole StepD
Whole StepBWhole StepE
Half StepCHalf StepF

Is Lydian Major or Minor?

The Lydian Mode is a major mode. It’s a major mode because it has a major third above the tonic.

Major Scales are considered to be happy and upbeat, and the Lydian is no exception. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t get more contemplative and melancholy moods out of Lydian.

Here is an example of something I noodled out on my guitar to demonstrate:

What is Lydian Dominant?

There are other styles of the Lydian Scale that you may come across. The most common will be the Lydian Dominant.

The Lydian Dominant has the raised fourth, as well as a flat seventh scale degree.

This sound can be heard in the Simpson’s Theme Song:

How To Play the Lydian Mode

Now that we have a basic understanding of the music theory behind the Lydian Mode let’s look at how we can experiment with it in our songwriting.

The Chords of the Lydian Scale

When you first begin writing music within the Lydian Scale, I find it’s best to start with Lydian chord progressions to get a feel for its sonic character.

Remember, the Lydian Mode is based on the major scale. So the chord structures (major, minor, and diminished) will be the same, just in a different order.

Chord NumeralChord Type
IMajor
IIMajor
iiiMinor
ivºDiminished
VMajor
viMinor
viiMinor

Guitar

Here’s a graph of all the Major CAGED position scales.

D Lydian in Major CAGED C Position
A Lydian in Major CAGED G Position
F Lydian in Major CAGED D Position
C Lydian in Major CAGED A Position
G Lydian in Major CAGED G Position

Using Lydian Mode for Songwriting

Lydian isn’t found in pop songwriting often, and it is much more prominent in film music.

However, this shouldn’t stop you from experimenting with it to spark new creative ideas.

Again, the Lydian Mode can be very open, ethereal, and mysterious. Using Lydian can open up a lot of creative possibilities for communicating to your audience.

Here are some basic ideas to get you started when writing with the Lydian sound.

I Chord to the II Chord

An easy way to establish the tonic chord of Lydian is to incorporate the Major Second Chord. Because the other major modes (Mixolydian and Ionian) have a minor second chord, playing a major second can help indicate to the listener you are in Lydian.

Play Tonic Note Under Other Chords

It’s very easy to create chord progressions that start to feel like the relative major scale of the Lydian Mode.

One way to infuse the Lydian flavor, so there is no mistaking it, is to add the tonic note in the chords you are playing.

For example, the F Lydian Mode would have the note of F as its tonic. The notes will be G, B, D if you play the Major Second Triad (three-note chord).

If you add the F into that chord, you will create a very Lydian sound.

Avoid Modulating Into the Major Scale

It can be easy to modulate back into the relative major scale of the Lydian Mode you’re playing.

It’s important to remember that the chords and notes are the same in Modes and the relative major scale it’s based on. It’s just the order and intervals that change.

Lydian is the subdominant (fourth note) of its relative major. The dominant and subdominant note harmonically sound complete when they resolve to the tonic chord.

If you aren’t careful, you can fall into this “gravitational musical pull” and modulate Lydian into the Ionian Mode (Major Scale).

The first three notes could be C Lydian, but the next part of the chord progression resolves to G Major.

It’s good to understand chord harmony to best utilize these concepts. For a more in-depth look please refer to my article “Use Harmony in Music to Bring Vibrancy and Depth To Your Songwriting.

Lydian Scale and the Pentatonic Scale

The pentatonic scale is a five-note scale that is difficult to make sound bad. It comes in two variations: major and minor, and both are well-suited for the blues genre and jazz improvisation.

It is straightforward to add a Lydian Mode flavor to your pentatonic scales.

Because the Lydian Mode is a major mode, adding it into the major pentatonic scale would work best.

You could remove a note from the scale and replace it with the raised fourth or add it in as a passing tone.

Just remember to be strategic with how you add in the raised fourth. If you are playing over chords that don’t have this augmented note in the harmony, what you play will clash.

Here are the major pentatonic CAGED patterns for guitar and where you could add in the Lydian Note for extra flair.

D Major Pentatonic CAGED C Position
C Major Pentatonic CAGED A Position
A Major Pentatonic CAGED G Position
F Major Pentatonic CAGED D Form
G Major Pentatonic CAGED E Position

Please refer to my article “The Songwriter’s Guide to the Tasty Pentatonic Scale” for a more in-depth explanation of the Pentatonic Scale.

The Notes of the Lydian Mode

Disclaimer: I will be combining enharmonic scales (same notes/different names)

ModesNotesRelative Major
C Lydian ModeC D E F# G A B CG Major
C#/Db Lydian Mode
(Enharmonic Scale)
C# D# E# F## G# A# B# C#
Db Eb F G Ab Bb C Db
G# Major for C# Lydian
Ab Major for Db Lydian
D Lydian ModeD E F# G# A B C# DA Major
D#/Eb Lydian Mode
(Enharmonic Scale)
D# E# F## G# A# B# C## D#
Eb F G A Bb C D Eb
A# Major for D# Lydian
Bb Major for Eb Lydian
E Lydian ModeE F# G# A# B C# D# EB Major
F Lydian ModeF G A B C D E FC Major
F#/Gb Lydian Mode
(Enharmonic Scale)
F# G# A# B# C# D# E# F#
Gb Ab Bb C Db Eb F Gb
C# Major for F# Lydian
Db Major for Gb Lydian
G Lydian ModeG A B C# D E F# GD Major
G#/Ab Lydian Mode
(Enharmonic Scale)
G# A# B# C## D# E# F## G#
Ab Bb C D Eb F G Ab
D# Major for G# Lydian
Eb Major for Ab Lydian
A Lydian ModeA B C# D# E F# G# AE Major
A#/Bb Lydian Mode
(Enharmonic Scale)
A# B# C## D## E# F## G## A#
Bb C D E F G A Bb
E# Major for A# Lydian
F Major for Bb Lydian
B Lydian ModeB C# D# E# F# G# A# BF# Major

Songs that Use Lydian

REM “Man on the Moon” – the first verse is in Lydian Mode, and then the chorus goes to the relative major.

Elliott Smith “Waltz #1”

What to Do Next?

The Lydian mode is a beautiful way to add an ethereal quality to your melodies and harmonies. It’s not as common in pop music today but has been used successfully throughout the history of popular music.

If you need help using what you learned about the Lydian Mode in writing great melodies, please check out my “How to Write a Melody That is Catchy and Awesome” today!

Happy songwriting!

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