The Lydian Scale is a lovely scale indeed, reserved for pre-choruses, or to evoke the silly sounds of a circus, and often employed by hollywood composers for alien song, because we all know the universe has been socialized with music, as per Close Encounters and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Let’s take a look and a listen at this scale, to see why it’s so suited for carnival, cosmos, and the feeling of languishing a lone in love.
The Lydian scale is like a Major Scale with a Sharped Fourth. To make C Major into C Lydian, we simply sharpen the F to an F#. Like so:
If you drag over the G enough, you will notice that the C Lydian Scale is actually a G Major Scale in disguise. Moving the Root note of a major scale will produce different scales known as The Seven Sacred Modes, named after ancient Greek tribes. Thus, the Fourth Mode of G Major (the Ionian Mode) is C Lydian.
If a song resolves on G Ionian, its tonality might suggest the C Lydian Scale, but ultimately the G will win out, and be declared king of the key. After all, both are strong sturdy Major Scales, with only a single tone difference.
It is difficult to really hold down Lydian and not let it spill over into its relative Major Key. To achieve this end, we must imply the C Root often enough, and make use of altered chords that are specific to the Lydian Scale. One such chord is called the Lydian Chord. It’s basically a C Major chord with a B Minor chord on top.
If you click on the Play button, it will suspend the chord forever, a pedal point for eternity. This is one easy way to make sure Lydian stays Lydian. If you scroll back up, and take a little solo on the C Lydian Scale, you will hear how even excessive G Major noodling will ultimately resolve back to the C Root.
Suspension is one way to pull off a stable Lydian environment, but composers often rely on the classic Lydian progression, a simple I to II, doh to ray.
Most Lydian Pop Music will make use of this Chord Progression to capture the Lydian spirit. Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” and Jane’s Addiction’s “Jane Says” are two such examples from recent history. (See the Lydian Songs Listing at the bottom of this article.) By withholding the natural resolve of these chords to G Major, an unconscious longing is created in the listener, much like the feeling of unrequited love.
But to really represent Lydian tonality, we must make good use of altered chords. If we stack the chords of a Lydian Scale in Third intervals, we will be left with the familiar Major Minor chords. If we instead stack the chords in intervals of a Fourth, we can evoke the eerie cosmic sound of Lydian tonality.
All of the extra dissonance actually strengthens the ambiguity of this scale and gives more weight to the C Root. There’s no chance of that pesky G usurping the tonality here.
Without any harmonic context, the Lydian key can still be expressed within the notes of a melody. Take for instance, “The Simpsons Theme” by Danny Elfman. Lydian is often used in Elfman’s music to evoke the playful Burtonesque carnival it is scored to.
Heavy use of the Lydian Sharp 4th―the “fah of fah”―makes the tonality of the above melody apparent. It is clearly C Lydian and not G Ionian, further accentuated by the inclusion of the dominant 7th (the B-flat) at the end of the melody. This shows off the silly side of Lydian. To learn more about the dark mystical side of Lydian, read Devils in Love―The Major Seventh Augmented Fourth Chord.
Do you know any good Lydian songs? Just let us know in the comments!
“Blue Jay Way”, The Beatles (C Lydian with heavy diminished chords.)
“Kissing the Lipless”, The Shins (B Lydian)
“How I Miss You”, Foo Fighters (C# Lydian)
“Jane Says”, Jane’s Addiction (Classic G Lydian)
“Momentary Lapse of Reason”, Pink Floyd (G Lydian Riff)
“Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough”, Michael Jackson. (A Lydian or B Mixolydian.)
“Wanna Be Startin’ Something”, Michael Jackson (D Lydian)
“Man in the Mirror”, Michael Jackson. (The End Section is a suspended C# Lydian.)
“Here Comes My Girl”, Tom Petty. (Verses are in A Lydian, but resolve to the relative E Ionian.)
“The Simpsons Theme”, Danny Elfman. (Many Lydian Switcheroos)
“Suicide Machine”, Hum (C Lydian)
“Stay Out of Trouble”, Kings of Convenience (Norwegian Lydian)
“Hole-Hearted”, Extreme. (Just the Intro. Worth it.)
“Cathedrals”, Jump Little Children. (D Lydian. Will make you cry.)
“Reba”, Phish (Ultimate Lydian Jam [in Eb])
“Karnov”, Nintendo Entertainment System (Ab Lydian to B Lydian)
“Tearing in my Heart”, Sunny Day Real Estate (The Best. A Lydian all the way!)
Los Doggies Lydian:
Tackleberry (Classic Lydian Chord Progression of D Major to E Major is beefed up with Add Nines)
Onebody (Opening verses feature the A Lydian Chord)
At Moonrise (A to B)
A demo song inspired by this post: