Making the way up the ranks as a guitarist, one could be forgiven early on for feeling as though the modes were another language altogether, one that would evade understanding, like audio-linguistic eels. However, like much of Western music theory, they have much more to do with mathematics and formulas (cue the Pythagorean mode!), so with some dedication in a logical mindset they can be mastered with ease.
What makes modes unique is their ability to relate to one another, and to trigger certain emotions across a whole spectrum of people, perfect for tone painting or improvising to evoke a specific feeling. Where scales are ordered sequences of notes that can feel rigid in their ability to express, the modes are permutations of these same scales that each offer forth their own unique flavour.
And this ought to be taken very literally. The Ionian Mode, for example, is the major scale, pure and simple. The Lydian mode is one of the simplest of the modes, after the Ionian, which, in the next step of metamorphosis, is the chosen major scale modified by a sharpened (or augmented) 4th, lending the harmonic quality an air of intrigue and mystery, even of magic or the supernatural, owing to the tension between the augmented 4th note and the inherent 5th of the chord, as well as with the major 3rd of the major chord in this major mode.
What is the Lydian Mode?
The Lydian Mode is often referred to as the fourth mode of the major scale, conjured when the 4th scale degree functions as the tonic, and it is perhaps in this sense that it is best to think about it with regards to the guitar.
What exactly does this mean on the guitar?
Being simply a fretboard of similar-looking notes, approaching and attempting to understand note placement, intervals, and everything in between can seem rather daunting. However, I might argue that this is precisely to your advantage, with the right outlook. This very sameness across the fretboard means that almost any shape can be easily transposed next to anywhere else; once you have learnt the shape or progression of a mode or scale in one area, you can quite simply map this out almost anywhere else on the guitar (granted there are enough frets of course)!
Pictured below we have some abstract shapes for the Lydian mode in one octave, starting on each of string E, A, D, & G, which I would encourage you to familiarise yourself with. The first notes, depicted with a #1, are the root notes, and in this spirit can be transposed anywhere on the fretboard.
It is in applying your own intuition to the learning that it will better and more concretely root itself in your mind and studies, and eventually in your fingers and muscle memory too!
This being said, here are some example of various keys and modes within them to stimulate your cognition – try running up and down each of the modes along to the accompanying drone until you are at least somewhat more comfortable:
C#m – D – E – F#m – G#dim – A – Bm
A Major; A Ionian; F#Gb Natural Minor; B Dorian; C#/Db Phrygian; E Mixolydian; F#Gb Aeolian; G#/Ab Locrian
C – D – Em – F#dim – G – Am – Bm
G Major; G Ionian; E Natural Minor; A Dorian; B Phrygian; D Mixolydian; E Aeolian; F#/Gb Locrian
C#dim – D – Em – F#m – G – A – Bm
D Major; D Ionian; B Natural Minor; E Dorian; F#/Gb Phrygian; A Mixolydian; B Aeolian, C#/Db Locrian
C – Dm – Em – F – G – Am – Bdim
C Major; C Ionian; A Natural Minor; D Dorian; E Phrygian; G Mixolydian; A Aeolian; B Locrian
The modes can certainly be a tricky concept to get your head around! Like much logic, however, once you master or are comfortable with one aspect, the rest slots itself into place. By this token, I would encourage diligent practise of this or another mode at least once a day. On their own or atop the drones attached, the conscious and subconscious mind will be most engaged and neuroplastic, adapting to learning new tasks and skills.
And the modes are certainly a fruitful topic to plunder! Their inherent emotive power makes them ample and potent songwriting devices, as well as tools through which to evoke emotions in improvisations and the like. And, though this mode seems instilled with a power to provoke emotional responses beyond human understanding, there is still plenty of room for its use in crafting your own musical vocabulary, alongside the use and abuse of other scales and modes, all over the fretboard. Everything about our existence in Western culture is centric on things and stuff, and this is no exception! So, why not own the Lydian mode today? Make it yours with diligent practise and dedicated study each day, hopefully for a set amount of time, to encourage a consistent routine for the mind to warm around.
Why not try learning or improvising over a song that uses the Lydian mode? Can you find a favourite of yours in here?
FAQ’s Lydian Scale Guitar
Just about anything you can imagine! Like most modes, it is often called upon in improvisation or composition to evoke a certain mood or feeling, often in this case one of intrigue or mystery, owing to the light tension between the augmented 4th and the notes around it.
There is very little that separates this mode from its kindred Ionian Mode (itself a fancy way of describing a major scale). What makes it unique is its augmenting (or sharpening) of the 4th degree of the scale only.