The Lydian scale is the fourth mode of the major scale and is used when you want to bring tension to your major family soloing ideas, especially Imaj7 and IVmaj7 chords.
Closely related to the major scale, Lydian contains the #4 interval, which makes this scale sound “brighter” when used in your solos.
Because of this, it’s used to add variety when soloing over major family chords, when you want to go beyond Ionian in your solos.
In this lesson, you’ll learn how to build Lydian, apply it to your solos, play it on guitar, and practice scale patterns and licks in the style of Wes Montgomery and others.
Lydian Scale Construction
The Lydian scale contains seven notes and has no accidentals when written in F Lydian, the fourth mode of C major.
This means that if you play F Lydian on the piano, you play only white keys, no black keys, on the keyboard.
These seven notes can be written a number of ways such as intervals:
Or you can think of them as specific intervals such as:
In this case, the legend for each symbol would be:
- P = Perfect Interval
- M = Major Interval
- A = Augmented Interval
You can also think of the upper notes as extensions of the Lydian scale, rather than lower notes.
This means that you think of Lydian with this pattern:
I prefer this way of thinking, as it allows you to visualize the upper extensions of the scale.
Here’s how the F Lydian scale looks on the fretboard with both notes and intervals.
You can use either system, 2-#4-6, 9-#11-13, or a mixture of both depending on the musical situation.
Try both and go forward in your studies with that interval system that best fits your fretboard concept.
Either way, notice that Lydian has a #11 (#4), the characteristic note of the scale and what distinguishes it from Ionian, which has a natural 11th.
Highlighting the #11 brings out the Lydian sound over any major chord, which you’ll hear and see in the licks below.
Lydian Scale Application
Now that you know how to build the Lydian scale, take a look at how to apply this important scale to a soloing situation.
The Lydian scale is used to solo over a number of chords in the major family.
These chords include:
- Maj7#11 (And all of the above with a #11 added to the chord symbol)
These major family chords are all built from notes from the Lydian scale, and therefore Lydian is used to solo over these chords.
Here’s an example of a Lydian fingering and three chords that are derived from that scale fingering.
This allows you to see how the scale and these fingerings relate to each other on the fretboard.
To begin using this theory, put on a maj7, maj9, maj6#11, etc. backing track and solo using any Lydian fingerings in this lesson.
You can also practice soloing between the major scale and Lydian over the same chord.
This teaches you to hear the difference between these two major family scales.
Though that difference is only one note, the #11, that one note makes a big difference in your solos.
To help you practice the exercises and fingerings in this lesson, here’s a C Lydian backing track.
To expand your Lydian chord knowledge, here are eight more chord shapes that are built from the Lydian scale.
Here are four Lydian chords with a 6th-string root that you can practice, take to other keys, and apply to your comping over major family chords.
You can use these chords in the same way as you would the Lydian scale.
This means that you can use any of these shapes over a IVmaj7 chord, such as the Cmaj7 in bar four of Autumn Leaves.
As well, you can replace a Imaj7 chord with any of these shapes when you want to add tension to your jazz guitar chords.
Be careful when playing Lydian chords as tonic chords in a major key.
The #11 will sound “hip,” but it can also sound out of place if not approached and resolved properly.
Make sure to experiment with that type of chord application at home first, before taking it to a jazz gig or jam session.
Here are four Lydian chords with the root note on the 5th string, which you can learn and apply in the same way as the 6th-string shapes you just learned.
Lydian Scale One Octave Fingerings
Here are a number of common one-octave Lydian shapes that you can work on in your practice routine.
These shapes will come in handy when soloing over fast moving chord changes or at fast tempos.
There are three main fingerings that you can learn, starting with shapes that use your index finger on the first note of the scale.
When learning these shapes, work them in 12 keys, as well as solo over major chords using these shapes as the basis for your lines.
This ensures that you work Lydian scales from both a technical and improvisational standpoint.
You can also learn Lydian scales with your middle finger on the first note of each one-octave shape.
Once you have these four shapes under your fingers, move between the first four and these four in your technical and improvisational practice routine.
Lastly, here are four Lydian shapes that begin with your pinky finger on the first note of each shape.
Again, work these shapes in all keys and solo over major backing tracks in order to be creative with these scales in the woodshed.
Once you have these shapes under your fingers, move between any of these scales in your practice routine.
As well, over time you’ll explore all 12 fingerings, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll always have these Lydian shapes under your fingers.
Over time, you’ll pick your favorites and they’ll work their way into your playing, while others you won’t use very much.
This is fine, and is part of the learning process as you work through any technical item, picking the ones that suit you and adding them to your vocabulary.
Lydian Scale Two Octave Fingerings
You can take these patterns a step further by learning two-octave Lydian shapes in 12 keys on the fretboard.
Two-octave shapes come in handy when you’re soloing over longer chords or tunes that don’t change keys very often.
Here are four of my favorite Lydian two-octave fingerings to get you started in the practice room.
Learn these shapes one at a time, and then combine two or more in your practice routine as you expand on these important scales.
Lydian Scale Patterns
You can now check out scale patterns over any or all of the Lydian shapes that you’ve learned.
To begin, here’s an ascending pattern that you can use to expand your technique and learn scales at the same time.
The pattern is built by playing 1234, and then repeating this pattern from each note in the scale, in this case ascending.
This means that you play 1234, 2345, 3456, etc. as you work your way up the scale.
Go slow, work it through both one and two-octave shapes and in different keys as you take this pattern around the fretboard.
Click to hear lydian scales 1
You can also work this pattern descending any scale shape, such as the F Lydian scale used in the example below.
Here, you play four descending notes from each note in the scale, creating the intervals 8765, 7654, 6543, etc. as you work down the fingering.
Click to hear lydian scales 2
Once you have one or both patterns under your fingers, put on a major backing track and add them to your solos.
You don’t have to play them in every phrase, but adding these patterns here and there will spice up your major family improvised phrases.
3 Lydian Scale Licks
As well as learning patterns, you can study Lydian licks to expand your vocabulary and build your understanding of Lydian in a soloing context.
The first phrase comes from the Wes Montgomery school of ii V I licks and highlights Lydian over the Fmaj7 chord in the last bar.
Click to hear lydian scales 3
Here’s another Wes inspired lick that uses Lydian over the Imaj7 chord.
Click to hear lydian scales 4
You’ll finish with another Wes line that utilizes Lydian over the last chord in the phrase.
Click to hear lydian scales 5
Once you have these licks down, write out 3 Lydian licks of your own to build your soloing vocabulary with this important scale.