The Lydian grouping of pitches goes all the way back in our musical heritage, a couple of thousand years, maybe more. Modern day players enjoy the addition of the equal tempered harmony and the evolution of Lydian tonality towards a tonality without a tritone, perhas our next evolutionary musical step. Can playing Lydian melodies transport us to another time? Would this ability apply to other modes? Maybe, I like to think they can. They do it in Hollywood yes?
The Lydian mode is one of the three modes contained within our equal temperament system that creates the major tonal environment. A close cousin of the Ionian / major scale, the Lydian colors uniqueness stems from the tritone interval created between the root and fourth scale degree, lessening the tonal gravity in regards to key center and adding a taste of whole tone color. What we gain in unusual color we potentially loose in tonal stability. Lets look at the intervalic construction of the Lydian color using C as the root. Example. 1
|interval from root||root||maj 2nd||maj 3rd||augmented 4th||perfect 5th||maj 6th||maj 7th||octave|
|Lydian mode pitches||C||D||E||F#||G||A||B||C|
So ... exactly the same as the C major / Ionian mode except for the 4th scale degree ...? Yep. Here is the sound of the Lydian scale. Example 1a.
Cool sound eh? The initial three whole steps hint at a bit of the whole tone color n'est pas?
So why is the Lydian mode potentially important to the creative musician? Well, when used as a tonic, the Lydian mode provides a non-diatonic polytonal melodic and harmonic environment. With the chord built on the fourth scale degree being half diminished, the usual cadential motion strengths of the major scale group vanishes. What we are left with is a shifting of the resources creating a less resolute tonic, creating a "whole new major tonal environment" that is significantly different from our typical Ionian / major key color. I think the Lydian tonality is something a player naturally evolves towards after exploring and exhausting the traditional major / minor tonality. The lack of tonal stability is more than compensated for in melodic and harmonic freedom, which many advanced players dig. Thus, with a lessening of tonal gravity, the creative artist potentially enjoys a wider range of artistic expression, one that may also involve evolve greater artistic responsibilities.
When used not as a tonic, the Lydian color is oftentimes used as a melodic substitution over various types of chords. Due to its unique intervalic structure, emerging artists are given alternative groups of pitches and intervals for creating ideas than in the perhaps more common Ionian tonal environment. A common alteration to the Lydian color is to lower the seventh by half step, creating what is commonly called the "Lydian flat seven scale." This group of pitches is a bit more complex, modally contains an important minor scale and can be used as a "softened" diminished color in creating resolving and non-resolving lines in both the major and minor tonalities. With these possibilities in mind, lets explore the Lydian properties discussed above.
In regards to creating a polytonal environment, perhaps the easiest way to initially "get there" is to move the #4 up an octave and place it on top of a tonic chord as the #11. We can derive this color by simply creating an arpeggio from the scale. Using C as the root, lets create a C Lydian arpeggio from the C Lydian scale group of pitches. Example 2.
To create the arpeggio, we simply respell the scale in major and minor thirds. The non-diatonic polytonal aspect comes mainly from the D major triad whose root is found on the 9th degree of the arpeggio ( D / F# / A ). Here is the sound of the C major seven tonic chord, followed by the D major triad, then combining the two colors together. Example 2a.
|C major 7||D major triad||C major 7#11|
Believe it or not, this C maj 9 #11 harmony is a basic tonic chord for a lot of players. It potentially takes awhile to "tonally evolve" and get there, but because of the polytonal nature and reduction in tonal gravity, it can become a very cool place to hang out. Advanced players oftentimes simply sub out this color for tonic functioning chords. See tonic families of major chords to continue your exploration with this unique color.
As a substitution color, the Lydian group provides some interesting possibilities. Some players would also call this a form of polytonality, which in the present case simply implies creating a second and different tonality "over" the tonality of the written chord. The combining of different tonalities together can dramatically enlarge one's artistic palette. So, simultaneous tonalities, in a sense two different keys at once. Why would we want to do this? Well, this is a very easy way to create some tension and get outside the diatonic scheme of things and our Lydian mode is a cool vehicle to get us there. The following example subs out Ab Lydian over G 7b9 resolving to C minor 7. Example 3.
The polytonal world is a wonderful place to hang out, but can we still hear and sing our lines? Tis the trick indeed eh ...?
Another substitution use of the Lydian group is "over" the common diatonic Two minor seventh chord. In the following example in C major, we sub out the diatonic F Lydian over the common jazz chord progression of Two / Five and resolve to the tonic One. Example 3a.
|D min 7||G 7||C maj 7||C maj 7|
Some "schools of thought" discourage this kind of thinking as discussed above. Why not just view the above line as being diatonic from the third of the Two chord? Well, it partly has to do with how I initially learned the resources. Early on, professional demands created the need for me to quickly get something under my fingers as I evolved from a blues / minor pentatonic sound to the world of jazz standards. With so much of this new music based in the major tonality, it became quickly apparent to me that the quickest solution to my soloing problems was to create a melodic resource based in the major scale / Ionian mode color, through the 12 keys over the entire range of my instrument. This gave me a solid pitch resource for creating improvised lines over the Two / Five / One chord progression, common in so many jazz standards. Once under my fingers, I used these same scale shapes to explore the modes, all of which are diatonically contained in the major scale, thanks to equal temperament. What evolved from this exploration was my own melodic lines or licks that characterized what I thought the color of a particular mode meant to me.
When my theory musings showed me the potential for modal substitutions, as done in example 2a above, I would fall back on what I had been shedding and just experiment with different modal colors, apply them to diatonic chord progressions and just sort of "go for it." Yes, the Lydian substitution from the third degree of the Two chord is diatonic, but I had practiced creating Lydian modal ideas, so why not use them? So I did and still do. Is this right or wrong? Hard to say, but please realize that how one learns the theory potentially affects how one evolves musically, so be careful. My overwhelming concern here is not to bias the reader as to what is important for them without discussing their artistic direction, but to simply look at the musical resources, discuss the theory that glues them all together and encourage the reader to explore and experiment, based on their artistic aspirations, while creating a door into new possibilities. Perhaps our true test of artistic integrity in creating the improvised dialogue of American music, regardless of how we understand the theory, is simply "but can we still sing our lines?" Anyway, just food for thought, whatever works best for you is probably best.
Here is a chart spelling out the Lydian mode as created from the 12 pitches of the chromatic scale, using the cycle of fourths as an organizer. Example 6.
|B Lydian||B||C#||D#||E# (F)||F#||G#||A#||B|
|E Lydian||E||F#||G#||A# (Bb)||B||C#||D#||E|
Here are the above groups written out in standard musical notation. Example 6a.
As a tonal environment, the Lydian color is a unique and wonderful world. Here is a simple12 bar Lydian blues I call "Go Figure" composed by Joe Craig © 2000. Perhaps use the standard format of head twice, going in and out, repeat the last four bars 3 times and then take it out. Solo on the written changes or one's of your choice, in F Lydian, straight ahead blues @160 or so. Example 5.
George Russells text the Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization is a brilliant theoretical treatise on the Lydian grouping of pitches, potentially essential reading for the career American improvising musical artist.
|Where to next?|
Courage is being scared to death - and saddling up anyway. John Wayne