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Welcome to my Harmony and Theory Bible series.

These articles will aim to teach you how to approach theory and harmony,in a fun and creative way. Here you will find everything from beginners' areas like intervals, chords, scale construction and modes, to more complex harmony analysis and soloing approaches. Whether you are total beginner or somebody looking to recap on some knowledge, this is the place for you.

In today’s article we are focusing on the 4th mode of the major scale – Lydian mode




Lydian Mode

Last time we discussed Phrygian mode and its harmony. Today we are focusing on Lydian mode which is original major scale/Ionian played from 4th scale degree! We will cover formula of this mode as well as cadences (chord progressions) that describe Lydian mode. By the end of this article you will have improvisation example of my approach over F Lydian mode. Let’s get started now.

F Lydian mode is C major scale played from the 4th scale degree. For example, C major scale has following notes: C, D, E, F, G, A, B and C (as octave!). F Lydian mode in C major scale is the 4th mode starting from the 4th scale degree. We therefore end up with C major scale starting on the 4th note - F G A B C D E and F. Notice how F Lydian mode has a different order of half and whole steps. This is what essentially makes each mode unique and interesting. F Lydian mode is associated with major type chord (major triad or major7th chord) simply because these chords exist on the 4th scale degree of any major scale. Mode itself has a very bright sound and is used in all styles of music especially in film scoring. Very important thing to remember here is to associate Lydian mode with major type chords. Why? Simply because it is mode built on the 4th scale degree in major scale and our chord on that same scale degree is major triad or major 7th chord. So remember, every time you see a major chord , major6th, major7th or major7th chord with tensions 9, #11 or 13, you can play Lydian mode. Let’s now move onto construction formulas of Lydian mode.


Here are 3 types of formulas for Lydian mode.

  • Interval formula from Root of the mode: Root, Major 2nd, Major 3rd, Augmented 4th, Perfect 5th, Major 6th, Major 7th and Octave.
  • Formula using whole and half steps: Root, W, W, W, H, W, W and H.
  • Formula using numbering system: 1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 (same as 1).


Lydian Cadence

In one of the previous articles we have covered importance of cadence. For those of you who missed that, short and quick version is following: Cadence is a chord progression that describes the given scale or mode. We have also covered 3 chord families where everything falls in. Those families are Tonic, Subdominant and Dominant. Any chord from major scale falls under one of those 3 chord families. In order to have a strong cadence, we have to use chords that contain Tonic, Subdominant and Dominant sound. If we want to just have simplified version of the cadence we would have Tonic and Dominant sound. When you think about Tonic functioning chords, your ear should tell you it feels like "home harmony". Subdominant functioning chords go a little but out while Dominant functioning chords are really out there and have tendency to resolve back to Tonic functioning chords. Think of those 3 chord families as different levels of consonance and dissonance. The Tonic being most consonant and pleasant, to the Subdominant which is in the middle, while the Dominant is the most dissonant of all.

One final thing worth mentioning is following: Every mode has characteristic note or notes. Those notes must be contained in the chord progressions (cadence) as they give complete sound to a given scale or mode. Lydian mode has augmented 4th (#4 or #11) and major 7th as characteristic notes. How do we know this? Well simply by checking interval formula for all major type modes! Ionian, Lydian and Mixolydian mode are all major type modes (major triad is assigned to all of them!). Difference between those modes lies in the type of 4th or 7th they have. Ionian has perfect 4th and major 7th; Lydian has augmented 4th (or #4) and major 7th while Mixolydian has perfect 4th and minor 7th (or b7).  All other notes in those modes are common or the same. In other words, difference between C Ionian and C Lydian is the fact that Ionian mode has F note while Lydian has F# note. By using this method, we came to know characteristic note(s) of the mode.

Now we will look at F Lydian cadence using Tonic type chord and chord containing tensions with characteristic note(s) of the mode. Characteristic note of F Lydian mode is B so our characteristic chord should contain B note in it. Another important note (not as important as augmented 4th in the mode though) is major 7th which is E note. By following that rule, we should try to use B and E notes in our characteristic chord. Here is couple of examples using Tonic type chord with characteristic chord.

Example 1a (3 part harmony)

//: F maj / G maj ://


Example 1b (4 part harmony)

//: F maj7 / G7 ://

Both examples 1a and 1b use Tonic type chord first (F maj chord describes that we are using some sort of major mode in F) while chord with characteristic notes gives us rest of important information of that mode (G maj or G7 both contain B and E notes which are augmented 4th and major 7th from F – essential notes for F Lydian mode!). Let’s look at two more examples now:


Example 2a (3 part harmony)

//: F maj / E min ://


Example 2b (4 part harmony)

//: F maj7 / E min7 ://

Here we see how E min or E min7 both contain B and E notes (augmented 4th and major 7th) which fully describe sound of our F Lydian mode along with F maj or F maj7 chord. Notice how these chord progressions were using only two chords! Feel free to mix them up or extend them by adding some more harmonic rhythm (F maj7 to G7, F maj7 to Emin7 for example).


Improvisation and Assignment

Now we reach final chapter where I am providing you with my improvisation in F Lydian mode. Notice how I used example 1b as a backing track and improvised using F Lydian mode. Perfect assignment for all of you is to:

  • Transcribe my improvisation and analyze what I did
  • Record your own improvisation, transcribe it and analyze what you are doing right or wrong.

My improvisation example

With all this information I will leave you to enjoy audio examples of F Lydian cadences and my improvisation. Study each cadence carefully and try to apply it in your playing/improvising/accompanying/composing.

Feel free to leave comments, ask any questions you might have or simply share your opinion regarding this article. I will be happy to respond and help everybody.

Have fun studying this material and I will see you in part 9 where we will focus on G Mixolydian Mode.

Pedja Simovic


Related articles:

Harmony and theory bible (part 7) - Phrygian Mode

Harmony and theory bible (part 6) - Dorian Mode

Harmony and theory bible (part 5) - Ionian Mode

Harmony and theory bible (part 4) - Major Scale modes

Harmony and theory bible (part 3) - Major Scale

Harmony and Theory Bible (part 2) - Chords (Triads and 4 Note Chords)

Harmony and theory bible (part 1) - Introduction to intervals and chromatic scale