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This is a mode that is great to get a feeling of floating in your songs since it has a floating, ethereal and epic type of sound. 

This mode is said to be brighter than the Major scale. In a way it sounds a bit like an unstable Major scale. We’ll get deeper into what that means in a moment. 

This mode can often be found in movie soundtrack scores but also genre’s like Psychedelic Pop, Psychedelic Rock, Prog Rock and Jazz.

Words that will come to mind when hearing this sound might be “floating” and “psychedelic/ethereal”. It makes it a great mode for light and heavenly ambiences. 

To write songs in Lydian you will have to establish a Major key and stress Lydian’s #4 interval, both in your chords (using the Major II chord is a common way) and your melodies. This #4 note is the important note which makes Lydian unique and gives it its floating psychedelic sound.

The Sound & Moods of the Lydian Mode

So I mentioned earlier this ethereal/psychedelic sounding Major mode sounds a bit like an unstable Major scale. 

The reason Lydian sounds ethereal is because it is a Major scale with a raised 4th interval. This gives it a bit of an unstable sound and feeling while keeping its Major scale sound.

What is the Lydian Mode?

Lydian is a scale derived from the Major scale, which comes from the 4th scale degree. Every note in a major scale (also called scale degree) has a mode assigned to it, so there are 7 modes just like there are 7 notes in a Major scale. 

The name assigned to the first note in a Major scale is called Ionian, second is called Dorian and so on. Look below for a list of the modes attached to each scale degree. Lydian is the 4th scale degree. 

  1. Ionian
  2. Dorian
  3. Phrygian
  4. Lydian
  5. Mixolydian
  6. Aeolian 
  7. Locrian

If we look at the Major scale we can see that it has a formula created by a series of whole steps and half steps between notes. Let’s use C Major as an example:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C

W – W – H – W – W – W – H

Formula for the Lydian Mode

If we play the Major scale but start on the 4th degree (or F note) then what we are playing is F Lydian. The Relative Lydian of C Major. 

Relative Lydian of C

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

F, G, A, B, C, D, E, F

W – W – W – H – W – W – H

With this pattern of whole steps and half steps that we took from the Major scale starting on the 4th degree, we can create Lydian. 

But what if you want to play C Lydian and not F Lydian?

In this case you simply scoot the pattern over to start it on C. 

You might’ve noticed something with moving this pattern over, which is,,, there is a difference between Relative Lydian and Parallel Lydian. 

  • F Lydian is the Relative Lydian of C Major. This is the Lydian mode within the C Major scale. 
  • C Lydian is the Parallel Lydian of C Major. This is the Lydian mode starting on the C note. 

C Major: 

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C

W – W – H – W – W – W – H

C Lydian

1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7

C, D, E, F#, G, A, B, C

W – W – W – H – W – W – H

Looking at them side by side you can see that these are two different scales because Lydian has a #4 interval. 

Parallel vs Relative Lydian

So this difference between Relative and Parallel can be confusing for some. 

We say a mode is Parallel because if you put the C Major scale and the C Lydian scale side by side (or parallel to each other) you will notice the notes are different and so is the sound. C Lydian will have a #4 interval.

So you can think of C Lydian as its own scale, even though the pattern comes from the C Major scale. 

In contrast, when you play the C Major scale but start on the 4th note (the F note), you would be playing the Lydian pattern but within the context of the C Major scale. This is called the Relative Lydian because it is the pattern as relative to the C Major scale. So in the context of a C Major key this doesn’t really sound that different. 

How to Write Lydian Melodies

Have you ever wanted to write some super epic sounding melodies? The kind that sound like you are flying over a range of mountains. Well then look no further. Lydian is an excellent mode for this. 

To create melodies in Lydian you will need to highlight the notes that make this mode different from other scales and modes. These would be the Major 3rd which establishes the chord quality and the #4 which is the note unique to Lydian. 

Let’s compare the Major, Minor and Lydian scales starting on the C note.

C Major: 

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

C, D, E, F, G, A, B

C Minor: 

1, 2, ♭3, 4, 5, ♭6, ♭7

C, D, E♭, F, G, A♭, B♭

C Lydian

1, 2, 3, #4, 5, 6, 7

C, D, E, F#, G, A, B, C

In this example above you can see that the 3rd note (E note) stays the same as the Major scale, but the 4th note (F note) is raised by a half step. 

Since Lydian is a Major mode, you can use it over Major chords and it will pair up nicely given they are similar scales with a Major scale quality. If you want to play Lydian over an entire chord progression however, make sure all the chords are taken from the Lydian key.

How to Write Lydian Chord Progressions

Now that we know how to make melodies, what about chord progressions? Maybe you want to have the sound of Lydian in your progression without necessarily having a melody over it. 

To write chord progressions in Lydian all the chords need to be from the Lydian key, and the Major II chord is especially important to include because it strongly highlights the Lydian sound.

Let’s start off with a Major chord progression since Lydian is a Major mode. 

TIP: Borrow chords from modes of the same scale quality. Major modes for Major keys and Minor modes for Minor keys.

C Major Chord Progression

I – V – vi – IV

Cmaj, Gmaj, Amin, Fmaj

Let’s compare the C Major key chords with the chords of C Lydian.

C Major

I – ii – iii – IV – V – vi – viio

Cmaj, Dmin, Emin, Fmaj, Gmaj, Amin, Bdim

C Lydian

I – II – iii – #ivo – V – vi – vii

Cmaj, Dmaj, Emin, F#dim, Gmaj, Amin, Bmin

As you can see there are some chord differences in C Lydian from C Major. 

  • Dmin is a Dmaj in Lydian 
  • Fmaj is a F#dim in Lydian 
  • Bdim is a Bmin in Lydian 

If we add all of these chords to our chord progression it would help to highlight the #4 interval of Lydian because they all have this note (F# note). But let’s consider what would be the best choice if we had to choose only one chord to add to our progression. 

Dmaj (II) would be a great option because it has the F# note as its third, which dramatically defines the chord and helps highlight the Lydian sound in the context of C. 

F#dim has the F# as its root but diminished chords are a bit dissonant so they are not used as often, although I guess still an option. 

Bmin has the F# note as its fifth so it doesn’t really stick out so much in the chord because that interval is very stable. It tends to blend in. 

So our best option is to use the Dmaj chord (II chord). And it would be especially great if we could have a movement between the root I chord and the II chord. This chord movement really highlights the sound of Lydian. 

TIP: If you have a major chord progression and want to add a Lydian sound, use a Major II chord instead of the expected Minor ii chord. It also helps highlight the mode if the I chord and the II chord are right next to each other in the progression.

So to get a Lydian sound, our progression could change from this:

C Major Chord Progression

I – V – vi – IV

Cmaj, Gmaj, Amin, Fmaj

To this: 

C Lydian Chord Progression

I – II – Vmaj7 – I

Cmaj, Dmaj, Gmaj7, Cmaj

The Dmaj gives it that floaty feeling of Lydian when we play it after Cmaj. Then we went to the Major V chord but made it a Major 7th chord to stress the F# which helps to make it sound more Lydian. Try using the Lydian scale over it and you’ll see the elevated sound you get. 

One thing to note with Lydian that is unique from other modes, Lydian tends to sound resolved if you land on the iii or the V chord too much, so this can take you out of a Lydian sound and into a Major or Minor sound. 

To combat this you want to make sure you stress the Root chord of your Lydian key in your progression by using it more, so it feels grounded in that chord. 

Some people also use pedal notes for this. This could mean you play the C root note on the bass over all the chords, or just hold the C note on a keyboard for ambiance on top of the progression. 

Songs with Lydian Mode and their Sound

Songs with the Lydian mode tend to have a very psychedelic, floaty sound. The songs below are good examples to get the gist of it. They won’t be entirely in Lydian though. A lot of the time songs will eventually resolve to something else like a Major or Minor key to ground the song. You’ll see that for example in the Tears for Fears song below where they ground to a G Major chord in the chorus.

Lost woods from Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

This was probably one of the first melodies I ever heard that made me fall in love with the Lydian mode. The Legend of Zelda games use it in a few songs to give this very mystical, otherworldly vibe. In the melody for Lost Woods you can get a really good feeling for the vibe of Lydian from the first few notes played, which include the #4. 

Head Over Heels by Tears for Fears

The intro of Head Over Heels is very Lydian as well. The intro of this song goes back and forth between a C and a D, both Major. This movement of the Major I chord to the Major II chord is a common way many songs highlight the sound of Lydian to give a floaty, epic, ethereal feeling. 

Flying in a Blue Dream by Joe Satriani 

This song is another great example of the floating, spacey feeling you can get with Lydian. 

The beginning of the song basically just plays a Csus2 and sometimes adding the #11 note. The #11 is the same as a #4 but just an octave higher. 

This shows you how with just one chord, you can get a modal sound if you add the #4 (or #11) that makes it Lydian, and this is something that works with any mode. Playing the notes that define a mode using chord extensions is a great way to get a modal sound in your progressions. 

Wrapping it up

This mode is a really great tool to use for transitions because of its tendency to sound resolved when you use a iii or a V chord. So rather than see it as an issue, you can use it as an advantage to take your song to different places. 

Also, if you want a section of your song to sound floaty and elevated, this mode is your savior. It’s always good to line it up with a melody that highlights the #4 to help stress its sound.

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